The cover of the book entitled Một Chiến Dịch Ở Bắc Kỳ (A Campaign in Tokin or originally Une campagne au Tonkin in French) by French doctor, explorer and photographer Charles-Édouard Hocquard. The book is re-published in Vietnamese by three of Việt Nam’s prestigious publishing houses. — Photo thethaovanhoa.vn
HÀ NỘI — Readers who are curious about the people, landscape, lifestyle and customs of Việt Nam at the end of the 19th century can find their answers in a book by French doctor, explorer and photographer Charles-Édouard Hocquard (1853-1911) that has been published this May.
Entitled Một Chiến Dịch Ở Bắc Kỳ (A Campaign in Tokin or originally Une campagne au Tonkin in French), the book is published by three of Việt Nam’s prestigious publishing houses – Omega+, Đông Á and Nhã Nam. Its first version was published in France in 1892.
Hocquard was born in Nancy, France. In 1884, he volunteered in Indochina to serve the expedition war and became a historian by photographing this land. Hundreds of rare photos of the local people and landscapes of the new country brought Hocquard the prestigious gold medal at the Antwerp Universal Exhibition in 1885.
In 1889-1891, Hocquard published stories about his journey to the battlefield under the headline Trente mois au Tonkin (Thirty Months in Tonkin) in Le Tour du monde (Around the World). His photos became illustrations in the newspapers through the elaborate engravings by artisans Pranishnikoff, E. Ronjat, D. Lancelot or Th. Weber. as the technology back then did not enable direct image copying.
In the following year, 1892, Hocquard used the content and the illustrations to jointly publish a book entitled Une campagne au Tonkin with Librairie Hachette Publishing House.
Despite its title, its author actually participated in four different campaigns, including three fierce battles. However, he did not focus on the battles but to mainly write about new things he witnessed himself and learned about the Far East that “was mentioned much in France.”
The book is divided into 23 chapters, taking readers on a journey around Hà Nội, Bắc Ninh, Hưng Hóa, Nam Định, Tuyên Quang, Lạng Sơn, Phú Thọ, Đà Nẵng, Huế of doctor Hocquard over two years (1884-1886). During this journey, the author had the chance to meet people from all walks of life, from merchants, transporters, mandarins, local families and children and even King Đồng Khánh (1864-1889).
He observed landscapes, architecture to people and customs and then noted down, studied and took photos. Therefore, A Campaign in Tonkin is considered an important historical resource to learn about the politics, economy and society in northern and central Việt Nam in the late 19th century.
A photo captures a morning by Hoàn Kiếm (Sword) Lake, taken by Hocquard in 1884.
The book is translated into Vietnamese by translator Đinh Khác Phách. Born into a family with a traditional fondness for learning in the northern province of Thái Bình, he learned French at a young age and developed an interest in poetry and history.
“Frankly speaking, when I first encountered the book, I still had some prejudices about the views by many French authors in writing about colonial Annam (a French protectorate encompassing Central Việt Nam). But this time, such views have been much alleviated,” Phách said. — VNS