Exhibition reveals calligraphic art in kings’ writings

January 06, 2020 - 22:33

An exhibition of remarks by the kings of Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945) on châu bản (official administrative papers) is on-going in Hà Nội showing the writings as beautiful as calligraphic artworks.


The writing of King Minh Mệnh (1791-1841) is one among 100 calligraphic works displayed at the exhibition. — VNS Photo Nam Nguyễn

HÀ NỘI — An exhibition of handwritten notes penned by Nguyễn Dynasty kings (1802-1945) on châu bản (official administrative papers) is ongoing in Hà Nội.

The exhibition is titled Calligraphy of Nguyễn Dynasty’s Kings and opened on Friday to celebrate the Việt Nam Archives Day (January 3). Besides the original documents, the exhibition also offers translations and explanations in Vietnamese and English.

“The spring comes bringing good fortune, I am happy to see reports of favourable weather. Clasping my hands, I pray for a bumper crop across the whole country,” King Minh Mệnh (1791-1841) noted in a report in 1826.

It’s one of 100 notes signed by the 10 kings of the Nguyễn Dynasty, providing viewers a better understanding of literary and calligraphic styles back then, and the thoughts and opinions of the kings about specific issues such as appointing mandarins, using the national budget, organising exams and punishing criminals.

They were selected from 85,000 documents including laws, decrees, edicts and instructions for resolving problems in various fields such as politics, military affairs, foreign affairs, economics, society and culture, all listed in the Asian-Pacific Region’s Memory of the World Programme in 2014.

The exhibits also provide a reference to administrative documents of the past while revealing interesting facts about the country’s social life from the early 19th to the mid-20th centuries.

The exhibition offers more understanding about art and history. —VNS Photo Nam Nguyễn

Historian Dương Trung Quốc said the exhibition provided an opportunity to learn more about history and contemplate the handwritten notes of the kings and their seals on (poohnah) paper.

Châu bản are unique thanks to the information they contain and the fact they were written by the kings themselves,” said Quốc.

“The kings used châu sổ (a strike) to cross out words they disagreed and châu khuyên (a circle) to express their approval for specific points. In some cases, they wrote in red ink to give directions or comments, which are called châu phê.”

“Although it was not their intention, their writings are beautiful and express the aesthetic sense and skills of the country’s leaders,” said Quốc.

Nguyễn Tuấn Cường from the Institute of Sino-Nôm Studies said the value of the exhibits went beyond simple administrative documents because the exhibition had attracted both history and calligraphy lovers.

“They are artistic calligraphic works indeed with strong strikes and a bright and balanced structure,” he said.

Hosted by the State Records and Archives Department, the exhibition is open to the public for free at the National Archives Centre No1, 5 Vũ Phạm Hàm Street, Cầu Giấy District, Hà Nội until the end of April. — VNS

The exhibition has attracted both history and calligraphy lovers. VNS Photo Nam Nguyễn