|Antiques king: Collector Hoang Van Cuong is donating most of his antiques collection to raise money for fishermen and national defence. — Photo covattinhhoa.vn
HCM CITY (VNS)— A leading antique connoisseur in HCM City has offered to donate his collection worth several million dollars to support the brave fishermen and other seamen leading the struggle against the Chinese oil rig in Vietnamese waters.
Hoang Van Cuong, known as the king of antiques in this city, owns a treasure trove of about 2,000 priceless objects. Like many other Vietnamese, he became upset and anxious when China set up the rig.
When the Viet Nam Fatherland Front started a fund for fishermen, the Coast Guard and fisheries-surveillance forces, Cuong decided to auction all of his antiques to raise funds.
Cuong worked as a war correspondent for United Press International during the American War. He said he had experienced the violence of the war and understood the cost of living in peace.
He now wants to contribute his wealth to help protect the peace and defend the country. "If war broke out, my treasure would lose its value or could easily be damaged," he said. "It would be better to donate it to help protect the country's borders."
Cuong intends to donate about 70 per cent of the artworks in his possession to Vietnamese fishermen and other seamen defending the nation. The rest will be set aside for his children and relatives.
Cuong was born in 1949 in the central city of Hue. His family has been collecting and trading antiques for three generations - and he inherited the tradition and knowledge.
At the age of 10, he went to HCM City on his own to study and earn a living. He ended up becoming a jack-of-all-trades - and collecting antiques. Soon his pockets were jangling with money.
"Ar first, I collected as a hobby with the skills inherited from my elders," he said. "But I felt like a cat sitting on hot bricks when I saw precious antiques, Vietnamese heritage, being sold abroad."
"From then on, I would only exchange my objects with other domestic collectors," he said, "I refuse to sell anything to foreign dealers at any price. I want to save the quintessence of national culture."
Cuong has some antiques on display at his own house on Dong Du Street, but he stores most of his collection at a private museum in Thu Duc District, which is open to visitors. Former US President Bill Clinton visited the museum in 2000 and showed great interest.
His collection, dating from the Dong Son Culture (1,000 years BC) to the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945), consists of furniture from royal palaces, tea pots, lamps, guns with ivory butts, emerald and ceramic objects and statues from all over the country.
"I want to show visitors, especially foreign tourists, the cultural heritage of all regions throughout the country," he said.
"When foreigners come to Viet Nam, they don't admire high buildings or luxurious hotels, because these can be found in all developed countries. They must surely feel more interested in traditional culture of a nation."
One of Cuong's possessions is a 300-year-old opium bed made in China and used by a mandarin in the Nguyen dynasty. It was made from a single log of wood and carved with great sophistication. A foreign dealer wanted to pay US$2 million for, but he refused to sell.
Cuong also has nine beds used by members of the royal court. His collection was once featured on Asia Life magazine and estimated to be worth $70 million.
Nguyen Dinh Sang from the Viet Nam Fatherland Front in HCM City said he was deeply touched by Cuong's patriotism, love for the sea and awareness of national defence. "We will help him bring the objects to auction," he added.
Hoang Anh Tuan, director of the HCM City Museum of History, said he had not heard of a large antique auction ever being held in Viet Nam. He offered to help Cuong classify his collection and make sure that the whereabouts of special pieces was recorded for future reference by the Ministry of Culture. — VNS