Drums of war still resound for 18th-century emperor
(VNS) Breathtaking views of the East Sea from the rolling Ba Na Hills, brick-tower relics from the ancient Hindu-Buddhist Cham culture that once ruled powerful sea-trading city-states – and traditional martial-arts villages draw many visitors to the central province of Binh Dinh.
Imperial palace: The Quang Trung Museum preserves many objects from the Tay Son dynasty.
|Booming: A drum performance by Vo Thi Thuan, whose family has played for nine generations. — Photo courtesy Quang Trung Museum
But history buffs also know that the province was once home to one of the most revered national heroes in Viet Nam, Nguyen Hue (1756-92), also known as Emperor Quang Trung.
Nguyen Hue was a leader of a peasant rebellion that conquered Viet Nam, uniting it for 100 years until the French conquest in 1885. People today can reflect on the influence of this dynasty and its ways of thinking on modern society. It was the last independent Viet Nam before colonialism.
Quang Trung Museum in Phu Phong Town, 45km from Quy Nhon City, dedicated to Nguyen Hue. He, together with his two brothers, Nguyen Nhac and Nguyen Lu, led the Tay Son rebels to overthrow corrupt feudalism.
They also defeated the Qing (Chinese) invaders in 1789. Hue led a great force advancing from Phu Xuan in central Hue City to Thang Long (Ha Noi), defeating a Chinese force of 290,000 troops.
His home village, Kien My Village in Binh Dinh, was not only the place where the three brothers were born and grew up, but also the first place they raised an insurgent army.
Quang Trung Museum was built 35 years ago on the site of the Emperor's old family home. In the museum, there is a 200-year-old shrine devoted to the three peasant leaders. It has become a pilgrimage site for tens of thousands of Vietnamese. Nguyen Hue is in the centre, Nguyen Nhac on the left and Nguyen Lu on the right.
In the garden, there is a tamarind tree said to have been grown by their father, Ho Phi Phuc. The tree is still green and is said to bear fruit.
On the right of the shrine, there is a well full of fresh, clean water. It is also said to have existed in the early days of the three heroes. Its water refreshed the souls and patriotism of many followers.
|Still clear; A well from the Tay Son dynasty was used by the brothers Nguyen Hue, Nguyen Nhac and Nguyen Lu. — Photos Viet Nam Pictorial
Inside the museum, there are more than 11,000 original documents and objects relating to Quang Trung and hundreds of restored items relating to the Tay Son peasant movement.
Deputy director of the provincial Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, Dinh Khac Dien, said the museum was one of the few in Viet Nam with such a complete and diversified collection relating to one of the nation's most revered leaders.
Inside the museum there is even a war drum covered with elephant skin. It was made and contributed by the people from the Central Highlands region when they joined the insurgent's forces.
Other items include the Emperor's seal, documents conferring titles on members of the royal family and mandarins, family annals, and bronze pagoda bells.
Many of the displayed items were given by local people and those from other provinces, said Dien.
He said museum director Tran Dinh Ky had immersed himself in the period, collecting and contributing a mass of original materials.
Dien said visitors could still hear the war drum and see the well and tamarind tree.
Another aspect of Emperor Quang Trung and his brothers was their devotion to martial arts. This has left the region with a unique form of martial arts.
The combination of martial arts and drum beating is so awesome that audiences are not sure whether to describe the performers as fighters or dancers or musicians.
Vo Thi Thuan, a drummer in the museum troupe, was born into a family who have played the Tay Son war drum for nine generations.
Nguyen Minh Thanh, an overseas Vietnamese youth from Ukraine, said that martial art shows on television did not compare with the museum's live show.
"I see many simple weapons in the museum and hear stories about the Tay Son brothers and their rebellion. I'm moved and admire those who devoted their lives for the country's peace," he said.
Another performer, Phan Thi Mai, in her early twenties, is being taught by Thuan on how to preserve the ancient drum heritage.
Visitors say that the martial arts and drumming stir their blood. "It helps us feel the spirit of heroic times," Dien said. — VNS