Dec boasts rich cultural history
stroll: Sa Dec’s river banks add to beauty of the small
town. VNS Photos Tran Am
Sa Dec, once
called ‘Iron Market,’ escaped its boring title and developed into a centre
for revolutionary activity and the arts, even inspiring the famous novelist
Margarite Duras. Nguyen Nhat Thong reports.
At the turn of the
century, a small southern town had the unfortunate luck of being called Phsa Dek
(Iron Market). Today, however, it is better known as Sa Dec and its cultural
influence has spread beyond its city limits and even the country.
Old records show that a
school in Sa Dec taught Vietnamese modern scripts very early in South Viet Nam.
The France-Viet Nam Primary School, later renamed the Male Primary School, was
established in 1885, adding a Female Wing in 1886. Through its doors walked many
children who would become very famous people as adults. At this school a young
female writer, Marguerite Duras, the daughter of then headmistress, Mrs Marie
Donnadieu, got her education. Duras later went on to worldwide success and in
1984 won the Goncourt Award of Literature. She was once Huynh Thuy Le’s lover
and wrote about their life together in her novel, ‘L’ Amant’. Director
Jean-Jacques Annaud brought the story to the silver screen, beautifully
reflecting the reality of early Sa Dec in the 20th century through the love
story between Duras and Thuy Le.
In 1904, the first
engineer of Indochina, Luu Van Lang (usually called Bac Vat Lang or Scholar
Lang), graduated from the same school in Sa Dec. Shortly after, the school
produced the first scientists in the land, Huynh Tan Quang, Luong Van My and Dr
Nguyen Thanh Giang.
Sa Dec students in the
early 20th century were known for their patriotism and burning determination to
fight for the country’s independence and revolutionary will. The Student
Association was established and organised numerous activities to commemorate the
Russian October Revolution right in the school.
To build up the base and
train young communists, Chau Van Liem and his comrades-in-arms set up the Sa Dec
School in 1928 with headmaster and teachers all being members of the Viet Nam
Thanh nien Cach mang Dong chi Hoi (Association of Vietnamese Young Revolutionary
Comrades). This revolutionary movement came in regular contact with such famous
revolutionaries as Ha Huy Giap, Nguyen Kim Cuong, Ung Van Khiem and Nguyen Thanh
The school also educated
many children who later in life became high Party cadres and it contributed to
the establishment of Party cells in Sa Dec, Lap Vo and Cao Lanh. The school was
also a meeting point for patriotic scholars and Confucian masters in the Dong Du
and Duy Tan (Go East and Renovation) movements, including Vo Hoanh, Nguyen
Quyen, Nguyen Quang Dieu and Nguyen Sinh Sac (Ho Chi Minh’s father).
thumb: A man tends to the flowers in one of the town’s
The district of Sa Dec was
also the birth place of South Viet Nam’s famous Cai luong (renovated
theatre). In 1915, Ca Tam (a native of Tan Khanh Village, now Tan Khanh Dong)
set up the first traditional performing troupe in this district. Performances by
the troupe called Thien Tien Bang, counting among its members the famous
actress, Nam Sa Dec, truly brought fame to the new art. Dang Thuc Lieng, a
traditional medicine practitioner and journalist also offered his hand in
polishing the art in his own theatre in Vinh Phuoc Village by combining several
local performing arts into one. As such, in 1917, Andre Than, who set up a
number of circus troupes in the region, decided to apply this new art to his
shows and create cai luong troupes that travelled the region with
tremendous response. Only then did this new art spread throughout South Viet Nam
and eventually the entire country.
Sa Dec established its own
printing house in 1936 employing active journalists like Diep Van Ky, Dang Thuc
Lieng and Truong Duy Toan. A native of Tan Qui Dong, Nguyen Van Dan, later
edited and published the Sa Dec Nhon Vat Chi (Who’s Who of Sa Dec) in 1926.
Renowned archaeologist and antique collector Vuong Hong Sen also spent
considerable time in the region enriching his collection and ended up marrying
cai luong actress, Nam Sa Dec.
Sa Dec’s culture equally
shines through the talents of its craftsmen. A flower growing village blossomed
in Tan Qui Dong and in 1859 Ly Duy Thien established a goldsmith village in Vinh
Phuoc. Thien’s products garnered international attention when they were
featured at the 1878 Paris Trade Fair and the Belgium Trade Fair in 1885. His
children also became famous goldsmiths in the region as well as in France.
The land of Sa Dec, though
small in proportions, is indeed a rich cultural well that has nourished both
this country and the world over. — VNS