Confucian scholars await world heritage status

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World Documentary Heritage recognition from UNESCO is pending for 82 doctoral steles at Hanoi's famous Temple of Literature.

The temple, whose image appears on the back of the VND100,000 note, is the most prominent of several places with doctoral steles in Vietnam.

It was first built in 1070 as a Confucian temple then, in 1076, a large part was given over to house Vietnam's first university, Quoc Tu Giam, which functioned until 1779.

Of the 116 steles that record more than 2,300 graduating scholars, 82 remain.

"The steles are unique," said temple director Dang Kim Ngoc.

UNESCO has approved the temple's nomination for world heritage status and should receive the final application by September.

As documentary heritage is categorized as historical documents and narratives for further research, each of the 82 steles contains writing that reflects the social and ideological values at the time, Ngoc said.

"Vietnamese steles don't have as many shapes as China's but the patterns on the steles are more diverse. Each stele can be considered a perfect piece of sculpture," he said.

The original wording of the nomination was "Doctoral Steles of Vietnam's Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam."

However, UNESCO suggested changing the wording to "82 Doctoral Steles of the Le and Mac dynasties" as they actually date back to the Later Le Dynasty, 1428-1788, and the Mac Dynasty that usurped the throne in the tumultuous 1527-1533 period.

"UNESCO experts require that everything be clear and accurate, so our researchers need to be better equipped if they are to persuade UNESCO to recognize our heritage," Ngoc said.

His words belie his feelings as the director is confident of a good result because the application has been thoroughly prepared.

"We have spent decades studying the steles. We applied for the recognition with fully understanding of the value of the site," he said.

UNESCO only accepts one application for documentary heritage status from each country a year.

Vietnam's submission in 2008 was 34,555 Nguyen Dynasty woodcuts that record official literature and history.

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