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A Vietnamese professor argues that it's high time Vietnam gets serious about the preservation of its cultural relics


A procession during the Giong Festival in Phu Dong Village in Hanoi. The festival was recognized as a World Heritage last year.

Vietnam now boasts 13 sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritages.

In 2010 alone, three new entries joined the list: the Thang Long Emperor Citadel, 82 steles engraved with the names of ancient doctorate-holders at Hanoi's Temple of Literature and First National University, and the Giong Festival.

Professor Pham Mai Hung, vice chairman of the Vietnam Heritage and Culture Association, warns Vietnam not to rest on its laurels and get to work preserving its treasures before they're gone.

Thanh Nien Weekly: What do these honorifics mean for Vietnam?

Pham Mai Hung: Getting recognition for both tangible and intangible heritages has contributed to the promotion of Vietnam's cultural assets to the world. We have the right to be proud of international recognition. In economic terms, heritage sites provide a wonderful draw for tourists who contribute to state and local economies.

Everyone benefits. World heritage sites also serve as diplomatic envoys, of sorts. When heritages are recognized, they attract political, diplomatic, cultural, and economic benefits.

Are we focusing too much on winning international recognition for our cultural heritage?

In general, attracting that recognition is a necessary first step. But getting that recognition is not easy. We shouldn't hasten to submit everything for recognition, especially when these sites are not in good condition. It is costly and a waste of time.

Some argue that we should let heritages shine by themselves, and international recognition is unnecessary. I can't say I agree with this camp; it's an extreme view. Every country has its treasures, but some effort must be made to let people know about them"”especially if you want the whole world to know about them.

Can Vietnam handle the added responsibility that the recognition of these 13 sites carries?

Vietnam should be proud of the recognition it has won for its heritage sites, but that recognition requires greater efforts in the area of historical preservation"” and preservation isn't easy. This isn't just a job for the government. Everyone has to make an effort.

So far we've been too preoccupied with the honor these recognitions bring. We should start to think about the weight of our new responsibility. UNESCO has threatened to take some of these heritage sites off their list if more effort isn't made to preserve them. Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh Province is an example.

We have the money to preserve these sites, but we have to use that money in a productive and rational way.

Some sites, which have not yet been recognized as "world heritages" are worth visiting and being proud of. Duong Lam ancient village in Hanoi is a prime example.

The preservation and development of heritage sites is no easy task. Relics excavated at the Thang Long Citadel are in danger of being ruined by the elements. Many ancient carvings have washed away in the rain and wind. We will contribute to the destruction of the things we intend to preserve if we aren't careful.

Has the international recognition improved heritage preservation in Vietnam?

Obviously, the preservation of a given site improves after it wins international recognition. After the Thang Long Citadel received international recognition [in October 2010], we had sufficient legal basis to demand a more significant preservation effort. Our constitution features a regulation on heritage preservation, and we also have the heritage law issued in 2001. We have applied advanced technology to our efforts and begun training heritage preservation specialists.

What is the biggest challenge we face in preserving our heritage?

For me, the biggest challenge in heritage preservation is to minimize the environmental impacts. This is difficult, given our country's natural conditions of high humidity and high temperatures. For the preservation of outdoor archaeological heritages like the Thang Long Citadel, several measures have to be taken to limit the impact of the natural environment. At the same time, it is necessary to improve the community's awareness of the importance and relevance of heritage preservation, and make the best use of international support in doing it.

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