Nguyễn Kings' rewards and punishment methods revealed in online exhibition

January 16, 2023 - 09:24
An online 3D exhibition about Vietnamese kings' bonus and penalty incentives entitled Reward-Punishment: The Past But Not Old Stories has been open by the Hà Nội's National Archives Centre No 1.


Some of the royal documents of the Nguyễn dynasty are displayed at an online 3D exhibition entitled 'Reward-Punishment: The Past but not Old Stories

HÀ NỘI — An online 3D exhibition about Vietnamese kings' bonus and penalty incentives entitled Reward-Punishment: The Past but not Old Stories has open at the Hà Nội's National Archives Centre 1.

The organisers for the first time have introduced to the public 80 of the most featured official papers from royal documents of the Nguyễn dynasty during their reign from 1802 to 1945.

In addition, many vivid documents, photos and artefacts make the exhibition more interesting to visitors.

According to Trần Thị Mai Hương, director of the centre, each item has its own story or part of a specific event, which reflected the ideas, points of views and ways of working of the Vietnamese ancestors.

“The age of monarchy is away, but many of its rules still valid today and needed to be distilled and preserved in life," Hương said.

"They are the strictness in conducting reward-and-punishment regime; the use of talented people and people with meritorious services; humanistic thought when opening the door to live for people and give people opportunities to make atonement for sins; the points of view that respects national morality standards such as the loyalty and piety."

She added that researching the ancestors' work would also help people to find valuable lessons to apply in their lives. Organisers also hoped that the documents would be precious resource for researchers and anyone who were interested in this issue.

The most interesting part of the exhibition is how the Nguyễn kings delivered Tết (Lunar New Year festival) bonuses.

King Tự Đức in 1874 approved that his people were allowed to take their Tết holiday rest from the 28th day of the last lunar month to the eighth day of the first lunar month of the following year. In case of urgent work that could not be postponed, they could ask for permission before doing their work.

King Minh Mệnh's bonuses of gold and silver.  — Photo of Hà Nội's National Archives Centre 1

Under King Minh Mệnh's reign, he released a document in 1826 that specifically stated rewards for mandarins. 

It read: "The Lunar New Year is coming, I will celebrate Tết with you. On that day, there will have a party, and rewards of silver will be given to you based on your ranking. The princes and the princesses, will receive 20 taels of silver each; first-class civilian mandarins and military officers will get 12 taels each."

The document also regulated bonuses for other people working in the palace including eunuchs and low-levelled military mandarins. All of them were allowed to attend the party.

The King also gave reward to the people nationwide. A document released in 1827 stated that people who were over 80 years old would receive a roll of cloth and a bag of rice; over 90 a roll of silk and two bags of rice, meanwhile 100-year-olds would be given two roll of silk, one roll of cloth and three bags of rice.

Sometimes, the kings also delivered gifts for individuals. It could be a very small one, a pear, which was given to the receiver under a solemn ceremony. 

The Lunar New Year was also an opportunity when the kings pardoned criminals.

A person is given stick punishment. — Photo of Hà Nội's National Archives Centre No 1

A document under King Duy Tân in 1909 stated: “On the occasion of the Lunar New Year, all kinds of prisoners will be considered to be released or get sentence reduced. Among them, prisoners of death sentence will be beat 100 times with sticks and exiled and kept in hard labour for nine years.

Also there were years that kings asked to stop Tết celebration and party organisation because of special reasons such as wars and epidemics.

At the exhibition, visitors can also find down kings' reasonable reward and punishment incentives given to both mandarins and normal people.

The exhibition is available at the and VNS