The Institute of Hán Nôm Studies misplaced 25 priceless antique books

December 22, 2022 - 16:08
It was also mentioned in the statement that the book warehouse staffs realised the books were missing in March-April 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A copy of "Toàn Việt thi lục" was handwritten in the Lê Dynasty style. — Photo courtesy of Việt Nam National Library

HÀ NỘI — Twenty-five priceless ancient books, including "Toàn Việt thi lục" by the famous 18th-century poet Lê Quý Đôn, are said to have been lost from the Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies' archives.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Institute said that the 25 books that had been reported missing had already been scanned and copied in colour, meaning that the books' contents were not lost.

It was also mentioned in the statement that the book warehouse staff realised the books were missing in March-April 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, the Institute's administrators immediately worked with the bookshop manager to propose ways to modify the book management process to avoid loss, while simultaneously planning a total inventory to find lost books and check all other papers housed at the Institute.

By April 2022, when operations were back to normal, the Institute completed an exhaustive inventory of the whole Hán Nôm archives.

This is the first book inventory conducted in almost a decade. After three months of inspections, it was discovered that 29 books were missing from the shelves. The Institute eventually found four books that had been misplaced. Therefore, the total number of books lost is 25.

The Institute added that the search for the originals of the missing books is now a top priority, including rechecking the shelves to avoid further confusion.

Earlier on Tuesday night, Nguyễn Xuân Diện, deputy head of the Textual Department at the Institute of Hán Nôm Studies, posted on Facebook that many books had been lost from the Institute's archives, sparking outrage online.

Diện claims that the incident is being handled, and that he has informed his higher-ups.

He also stated that among the 25 lost books are four "Toàn Việt thi lục" compiled by Lê Quý Đôn and the "Việt âm thi tập" (A book of poems about the sounds of Việt Nam) compiled by historians Phan Phu Tiên and Chu Xa.

"Toàn Việt thi lục" is a large book series compiled by Lê Quý Đôn on King Lê Hiến Tông's orders.

The book series contains 2,303 poems by 173 authors dating from the 10th to 16th centuries, with the most remaining texts (over 11,000 original pages, including versions) that have never been fully compiled and published.

The book was finished in 1768 and presented to the king for reading, but it had not yet been printed. "Toàn Việt thi lục" currently has 11 sets, 10 of which are kept by the Institute for Hán Nôm Studies and the rest are kept at the Asia Association in Paris, France.

The Institute of Hán Nôm Studies is responsible for conducting research, exploitation and translation, and publishing the country's Hán (Chinese script) and Nôm (Vietnamese ideographic script) heritage.

Hán-Nôm documents, including nearly 35,000 books and 60,000 catalogue of Vietnamese inscriptions, are preserved at the Institute of Hán Nôm Studies, where they are available to domestic and foreign organisations and researchers interested in the country's ancient text.

However, according to regulations, researchers can only access printed copies of documents, if they want to access original documents, they must first obtain permission from the Institute's executives. VNS