One of the country’s most likely candidates submitted for
UNESCO recognition is a collection of woodblocks from the Nguyen Dynasty, but
the building it is housed in is drawing just as much attention.
The 34,000 woodblocks, illustrating literary and historical
works, are now being preserved in the State Records and Archives Department at
the National Archives Centre No 4, according to director of the centre, Pham Thi
The blocks are made up of a plate of wood with letters carved in
Chinese or Han Viet. The letters are carved in reverse so when the image is
printed it will appear the right way round.
The blocks represent an important part of the country’s feudal
history. Under the Nguyen Dynasty, the woodblocks were made to print information
publicising social standards, articles on the lives and careers of the
aristocracy and historical events. These were original records of the time and
it is for this reason that they are considered so valuable to the nation.
According to Nguyen Thanh Chau, a Chinese and Han Viet teacher
at Da Lat University, most of the woodblocks are made of wood of the thi
tree (which is yellow, soft and tough). According to Chau, this kind of wood is
especially good in preserving the shape of the carvings.
Woodblocks are held up by experts as good sources of reliable
history to help people study, compare, and review materials to help research
There are many valuable and rare woodblocks, including Dai Nam
Nhat Thong Chi (History of the unification of Great Viet Nam) and Dai Nam Thuc
Luc (Royal annals of Great Viet Nam).
They also include poems and literary works written by prominent
Emperors like Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc. Therefore, apart from historical
value, the woodblocks also are important in terms of their art and skill,
marking the development of the woodblock carving and printing profession in Viet
Director Hue says the Nguyen Dynasty woodblocks are being stored
using the country’s most modern equipment. The facility is capable of storing
5,000m of documents, preserved by a concentrated air-conditioner system.
The facility itself is located at the former residence of Ngo
Dinh Nhu, who was the younger brother and chief political advisor of South Viet
Nam’s first President, Ngo Dinh Diem. Nhu was widely regarded as the brains
behind Diem’s autocratic regime. His wife Tran Le Xuan, popularly known as
Madame Nhu, was considered the First Lady of South Viet Nam from 1955 to 1963.
There are three magnificent villas situated on a hill slope
occupying the best view point over Da Lat City.
The first of the three villas is Bach Ngoc (While Gem), which
used to be the venue where Nhu’s family would entertain generals and
high-ranking officers of Sai Gon’s administration. The second building, Lam
Ngoc (Deep Blue Gem), was a weekend resort and finally Hong Ngoc (Ruby) was
built for Xuan’s father Tran Van Chuong who was US-based Ambassador of the
Republic of Viet Nam in that time.
It is said that no one dared to come near Ngo’s private
residence. All they knew was that the buildings housed power-wielding men from
the Sai Gon puppet government.
No one knows how much money Xuan spent to build the villas, but
its exquisite and luxurious facade are still in good condition today. The
grounds cover an area of 13,000cu.m which today include convention halls,
offices, discotheque and guest houses.
Just as in the villas’ glory days, the area still houses a
warm-water swimming pool and a Japanese garden. Behind the garden there is a
lotus lake. When it is full of water, an image of a map of Viet Nam appears.
Reminiscent of the times, there is also a bomb-shelter inside Lam Ngoc Villa,
which is made of reinforced iron that can withstand firepower.
During that time, this private residence was a restricted area.
Tens of policemen and guards were on duty all day and night. It was said that if
a bird strayed into the garden, it would be shot immediately.
After political upheaval in 1963, South Vietnamese president Ngo
Dinh Diem was killed by his own US-backed troops during a coup. After this, the
villas were became the Central Highlands Museum of Ethnic Groups.
The Ministry of Home Affairs invested more than VND50 billion
(US$2.8 million) to set up the National Archives Centre No 4 here to preserve
many important documents including Nguyen Dynasty’s woodblocks.
The area has become a hot spot for tourists. Many domestic and
foreign delegations have registered to visit the area to learn more about the
country’s history. — VNS