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Our precious national treasures need delicate handling

Update: January, 09/2022 - 07:42

Lê Hương

Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Đức Đam has just signed a decision to officially recognise 23 more national treasures, increasing the number of artefacts and groups of artefacts recognised as national treasures to 238 nationwide.

Ten years since being first used in 2012, the notion of “national treasures” has become more and more familiar to the community.

They include unique original preserved objects, which have special value and represent periods and trends in the history, culture and science of the nation.

Each national treasure has its own story, and there are countless fantastic examples.

Illustration by Trịnh Lập

Recently, the public has paid much attention to the draft collection of Việt Nam’s national emblems by painter Bùi Trang Chước (1915-1992).

The collection has been kept at the National Archives Centre and shows the creative process of the painter. He made 112 sketches and detailed drawings of national emblems. Despite much personal hardship before being recognised by the State, the painter has been much praised for his dignity and hard work.

The Giồng Lớn gold mask collection was unearthed at ancient tombs in Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu and dates back over 2,000 years. The masks are made of pure gold, from which delicately carved eyes emerge.

The masks are thought to have been put on the faces of the dead before burial, a special custom of people living in the pre-Óc Eo civilisation, which thrived in the south between the first and seventh centuries.

A collection of wooden printing blocks for the book Hải Thượng Y Tông Tâm Lĩnh (Knowledge on Medicine Gathered by Hải Thượng) by Hải Thượng Lãn Ông Lê Hữu Trác (1724-1791) in Bắc Ninh records the priceless knowledge the scientist handed down to the country in traditional medicine.

The book series was written in 1770 in ancient Chinese characters. It includes 28 volumes of 66 books on general theory and practice in the field.

The wood printing block collection, consisting of over 1,190 pieces, was hand carved by head monk Thích Thanh Cao, who managed Đồng Nhân Pagoda, in today’s Bắc Ninh City, at the end of 19th century. It was kept for decades in the pagoda before being transferred to the provincial museum.

Those national treasures serve as symbols and highlight the quintessence of Vietnamese culture.

However, how to make use of such national treasures has been a controversial topic, as many of the objects have been properly kept at provincial, local relic sites and religious institutions.

Kiều Đinh Sơn, director of Quảng Ninh Museum, said that since 2018, when its first two treasures – the Đầu Rằm Ceramic Jar and Ngọa Vân Box -- were recognised, the museum has spared a special space to keep them. However, their preservation has been hindered due to a lack of specially-designed cases for the antiques.

The museum, which hosts nine national treasures in total, has asked concerned agencies to invest more so that it can better protect the artefacts.

According to experts, aside from a number of large museums under the management of the central cultural authority, many localities treat the treasures in two main ways, both uninspiring.

They either leave the objects to remain in exactly the same condition as before they were recognised, or lock them away in a storehouse for preservation.

“Both ways show their weak points,” said Đinh Ngọc Triển, an official from the National Museum of Vietnamese History. “The first choice helps preserve the old life of the artefacts but at the same time leaves worries with regards to degradation over time, and there’s also the risk of theft after being officially announced as a ‘national treasure.’”

“The second choice to protect the objects is better, but at the same time deprive the antiques of their own space and time.”

Triển held that with distinguished values, national treasures should be treated in a special way, different from other relics.

In March, the culture ministry asked concerned agencies to draft a plan to bring the national treasures “into full play”.

It’s obvious that to fulfil this mission, localities need proper funds, facilities and human resources.

“I think in the near future, cooperation between large museums in the country is essential to develop the value of our national treasures,” said Ngô Phương Ngân of  Đà Nẵng Museum.

In the longer term, localities should mobilise private capital sources, link with tourism agencies and even private collectors to preserve and showcase the national treasures in the best way possible.

Trần Đình Thăng, a businessman and antique collector in the northern city of Hải Phòng, noted that very few private collectors possessed national treasures.

“Yet these collectors are fairly agile, have more capital capability and sharp knowledge. They have the potential to gather valuable antiques,” he said. VNS