“Museum of poetry” at Hue’s royal architectural constructions
Literature on Hue Royal Architecture was recently honoured as a documentary heritage at the Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific (MOWCAP)’s 7th General meeting in May. Under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), the literature was carved, enamelled and applied in different materials on royal buildings as a unique decoration and for preservation of Hue literature.

The poem boxes and paintings are arranged at alternating angles

Unique way to decorate royal buildings

It was not until it was recognised as an UNESCO heritage that the royal literature collection caught the attention of cultural researchers. In the early 1980s, experts from the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre started conducting research and translating poems carved on the Hue Royal Architecture for decoration purposes under the Nguyen Dynasty.

Also around that time, Professor Huynh Minh Duc from Ho Chi Minh City and his students visited Hue to study and annotate hundreds of Chinese-language verses and poems at Ngo Mon (Noon Gate), Nghi Mon gates and Thai Hoa palace, which featured pride for the Nguyen Dynasty and the nation, as well as praising the landscape of the Hue Imperial Capital City. The outcome of Duc’s work was presented in 1994 in his research entitled ‘Tu Ngo Mon Den Dien Thai Hoa’ (From Noon Gate to Thai Hoa Palace).

According to researcher Phan Thuan An, decorative verses and poems carved at Thai Hoa palace were carefully selected since it was the most important palace, holding the throne and hosted royal events.

Although the literature there was anonymous, the contents of nearly 300 poem boxes at the palace made the researchers assume that they were authored by the Nguyen’s Kings and brilliant mandarins.


A tablet with script which literally means "Let the righteous shine’ hangs in the centre of a Nghi Mon gate at Hue imperial citadel

At Thai Hoa palace, the researchers paid special attention to a four-line poem, which is considered the Nguyen Dynasty’s declaration of the establishment of the State.

Master Phan Dang from the Hue University of Science said that the poem asserted the national independence as well as the pride of possessing a time-honoured culture. It argued that a nation with a long-standing culture must maintain a long-standing independence.

The royal buildings were decorated following the “one poem and one painting” style, which means that the poem boxes and decorative paintings were arranged in an alternating pattern.

In the following years, researchers extended the scope of their project to study decorative poetry carved at palaces, tombs and pagodas build under the reign of the Nguyen Kings.

The verses mostly focussed on eulogising the royal dynasty, the peace and prosperity and national independence gained under the Nguyen Dynasty, and the beauty of Hue, while encouraging agricultural production and featuring people’s aspirations.

Verses at national pagodas in particular also hymned Buddhism, the unity of religions as well as the Kings’ guidelines on Buddhism.

Valuable treasure


Poem boxes at Thai Hoa palace

According to Director of Hue Monuments Conservation Centre, Dr. Phan Thanh Hai, the number of existing scripted boxes comes to a total of 2,967 poem boxes which were carved in ceramics, painted in red-lacquer trimmed with gold, or inlaid with mother-of-pearl or with ivory on wooden panels at royal buildings.

The poem collection is dubbed a unique “museum” and “library” of the Nguyen Dynasty’s literature.

Prof. Dr. Luu Tran Tieu, Chairman of the National Council for Cultural Heritage said that the Royal Literature on Hue Royal Architecture is a unique way to “publish” and “archive” literary works.

Fine arts or paintings on architectural building have been used in many countries, such as India, Egypt, China and Japan, but the “one poem and one painting” observed in Hue royal architecture can not be seen anywhere else in the world.

Deputy Director of the Institute of Han-Nom Studies, Dr. Nguyen Tien Cuong pointed out seven characteristics of royal literature on Hue royal architecture: the authenticity, the uniqueness, the use of materials and types of documents, the well-read criteria for the selection of documents, the documentary and artistic value, and the diversity of literary genres.


Visitors to Thai Hoa palace, which housed great decorative poem boxes

Hundreds of royal constructions, which housed great decorative poem boxes, have been destroyed throughout historical ups and downs, and it is really a great loss to Vietnam’s culture and Hue’s culture in particular. Therefore, the remaining royal literature needs further safeguarding and promoting.

Master Le Thi An Hoa from the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre pointed out that most visitors to Hue often pay attention to the landscape of the heritage sites rather than the decorative poem boxes or the royal architectural system.

In a bid to protect and uphold the heritage’s value, the Hue Monuments Conservation Centre has built a plan on digitalising the whole documentary system to ensure preservation of the relic sites, as well as limiting the use of original materials.

The centre has worked out measures to preserve deteriorating royal architectural buildings which contain these documentary heritages.

Further research and surveys have also been conducted by the centre to evaluate the current situation of the royal literature on royal constructions as well as the techniques used in the carving of the poems into the buildings.

 

Royal Literature on Hue Royal Architecture was one of the two Vietnamese documents that won the world status at the MOWCAP’s seventh meeting; the other was “Woodblocks of Phuc Giang School” in Ha Tinh province.

With the two additions, Vietnam now has six documentary heritages recognised by UNESCO, including the stone stele records of royal examinations of the Le and Mac Dynasties (1442 - 1779), woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty, woodblocks at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in Bac Giang Province, Imperial records of Nguyen Dynasty.

 

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