Colonel Dam Tai Hung, a former lecturer in the Department of Military History under the Ministry of National Defence, talks with Viet Nga about his passion for exploring the nation's past.
Colonel Dam Tai Hung has translated many history books and made submissions to the Government to have cultural structures recognised as State relics. Now, he is translating a book in Han (Chinese) script into Vietnamese. The book is Tu Liem Dai Khoa Luc (a book that introduces doctorate holders of the feudal era in Hung's homeland of Tu Liem District, on the outskirts of Ha Noi).
Inner Sanctum: What drives your passion for history?
I was born in 1929 in Van Canh Village, Tu Liem District, which is famous for its focus on literature and history. Also, when I was a child, I learnt French in school and Han script from my father. I always thought that when I grew up I would translate the documents and books our ancestors left us.
I want to restore and maintain our national history, to let new generations know what our ancestors did to defend the country.
People seek me out to help them translate Han script documents and books – these are original documents and books handed down from generation to generation – because they believe in me, even though the Han-Nom Research Institute also translates Han script documents and books into Vietnamese.
Inner Sanctum: Have you had any difficulties translating these scripts?
There have been many difficulties. Firstly, instead of being written in characters that can only be interpreted one way, some documents are written in Han script, in which calligraphy plays a major part. A calligraphic work is easily understood by those familiar with the script style, but it may be unintelligible to those who are not familiar with the particular style. For example, a calligraphic work in cursive can only be understood by people who can read cursive.
This has caused the translations of some works to take much longer than usual. One document took me more than 10 years to translate into Vietnamese.
Secondly, there is a lack of ancient documents so I have to search and study the Han-script-word model carved in steles.
In the past, I went to families to borrow ancient books or documents to learn Han script. I spent a lot of time collecting and studying.
At first, people thought I was a teacher rather than a soldier because I knew so many Han words.
I received support from the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, when I went to register an historical site. They encouraged me because they thought my activities would not only benefit the national history archives, but also the education of new and future generations.
Inner Sanctum: Military strategy also belongs to military history. What are your views of military strategy?
I have never taught military strategy. In my opinion, military strategy is not only a method to defeat the enemy but also to help minimise casualties. Everything has its own strategy.
Inner Sanctum: Your locality elected you as a ritual master (master of ceremonies). What are the qualifications of a ritual master?
As the old proverb says "Honours change manners". Many traditional rituals have been restored and are being held more often, thanks in part to our people's unchangeable traditional moral philosophy.
I am honoured to be chosen as a ritual master. Traditionally, a ritual master prays for a peaceful and prosperous life for everyone on behalf of all local people, so he must have a pure life and a happy family.
In addition, Han script is used in rituals and a ritual master must have a dignified manner and walk to the drum beats of ancient customs.
Ritual masters should be local people who are experts in traditional customs, because each village, as well as each locality, has its own customs.
Inner Sanctum: Is there anything you want to tell the younger generation?
Although our national history has been recovered, I feel sad when I see students graduate from the Han-Nom Research Institute hardly being able to read the ancient Han script. Young generations should cultivate a passionate interest in national history and military history. — VNS