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Small Sa Dec boasts rich cultural history

Update: March, 05/2006 - 00:00

Small Sa Dec boasts rich cultural history

River stroll: Sa Dec’s river banks add to beauty of the small town. VNS Photos Tran Am

(05-03-2006)

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 Son.

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).

Green thumb: A man tends to the flowers in one of the town’s picturesque gardens.

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

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