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Corrupt officials once lost their heads

Update: August, 16/2012 - 09:45

 

 
Visitors look at once top-secret administrative documents carrying advice and suggestions for the kings at an exhibition of official documents in Ha Noi. — VNA/VNS Photo Minh Duc
 
Royal stamp: King Tu Duc's signature on an official report about enhancing national defence. — Photo courtesy the National Archives Centre I
HA NOI — Responding to a case involving corrupt officials, in May, 1827, King Minh Mang from the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) wrote critically on a report by mandarins: "Escort the parasite Bui Khac Kham to the town's market. Cut off his head to set an example to others."

This electrifying insight into the functioning of the ancient Vietnamese courts is being presented to the public for the first time at an exhibition of official documents and monarchs' manuscripts which opened yesterday in Ha Noi.

This is a rare chance for the public to see the once top-secret administrative documents carrying advice and suggestions for the kings. The advice was written on special paper made from giay do (poonah paper) and signed by the kings, who added their own comments and instructions.

This provides a panoramic view of how feudal society worked during the Nguyen dynasty, said Ha Van Hue, director of the National Archives Centre where the documents are stored.

"The kings used red ink to approve, reject, correct and give their direction on chau ban (reports and documents presented by mandarins). Through these chau ban, we know how the king was thinking at the time and what he did to reinforce his policies," he said.

"The 28 documents displayed are a precious treasure for people and researchers," Hue said. "They are unique because Viet Nam is the only country in Eastern Asia, apart from China, to use the system. The courts in Japan and South Korea don't have any chau ban - and in China there are only a few preserved. "

The documents are divided into 10 sections, corresponding to the 10 kings of the dynasty, who reigned over the country for nearly 150 years, starting with King Gia Long (1762-1820). The last Nguyen king being Bao Dai (1913-1997).

Documents carrying manuscripts of King Gia Long include medical reports from court physicians.

King Minh Mang wrote his instructions on many reports relating to agriculture, education, administration, training and culture.

The exhibition also displays royal approvals for the court to subscribe to a French newspaper l'Opinion by King Thanh Thai (1889-1907) in January 1899. He was the first king in Vietnamese history to have his hair cut short and to speak French. His idea was to learn from the French and to understand them so that it was easier to fight against them – not surrendering to them.

King Bao Dai left comments in three languages, Vietnamese, Han (Chinese) and French while other kings wrote on chau ban in Han only.

The last manuscript of King Bao Dai was in 1945 when he wrote: "Approve of distribution for the poor in Thanh Hoa Province."

Beside political, military and economic issues, the chau ban also show the kings' opinions about social problems and their personal feelings.

King Gia Long wrote on the royal physician's report on his health in 1819: "I would be how happy if my health was like what you said," and "When it gets warm, then I expect to be healthy." He was sick at the time and died a year later.

Among the 800,000 chau ban written during the Nguyen, only 800 were signed by the kings.

To preserve the delicate originals, only replicas of the chau ban are displayed. If qualified researchers need to consult the originals, they have to show their identity cards or passports, said director Hue.

Professor Phan Huy Le, chairman of the Viet Nam History Science Association, said the exhibition was a great chance for the public and researchers to learn more about Vietnamese history.

The exhibition will run until December 31 at the National Archives Centre I, 18 Vu Pham Ham Street, Ha Noi. — VNS

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