In the early 1950s, some members (or employees) of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) microfilmed some of the materials which they possessed in their library in Hanoi.

One item that they microfilmed was labeled Annales Vietnamiennes. This work consists of over 2,000 pages of text in quốc ngữ, Chinese and French which fill eight reels of microfilm.

What exactly is this work? It is a draft translation of the nineteenth-century official history, the Khâm định Việt sử thông giám cương mục (hereafter, “cương mục”).

I was surprised to find this, and did some research to try to determine where it came from. I found the answer in a work that Maurice Durand published in 1950.

Durand stated that in the spring of 1949, he was going through some papers left by Léonard Aurousseau in the EFEO library. There he found this translation.

EFEO director Paul Lévy ordered Durand and scholar Trần Hàm Tấn to examine the document. They determined that it was not precise enough to publish in its current form, and that it appears to have been used as a reference work to quickly identify information and events in Vietnamese history.

In addition to the fact that the translation is written in modern Vietnamese, using quốc ngữ, it also contains the Chinese characters for proper names, and has some comments written in French in between the lines of the modern Vietnamese translation.

Durand concluded that the translation had likely been produced by scholars who were working for Aurousseau. Taking a jab at Aurousseau, Durand stated that the text had enabled him “to detect” the facts for his various historical arguments.

While the translation in this document was not perfect, Durand nonetheless decided to make use of it to produce his own French-language translation of the cương mục. However, he did not get very far.

In 1950 he published a translation of the introductory material and the first chapter – Texte et commentaire du miroir complet de l’histoire du Vị̂et par ordre impérial. Then in 1955 he published a translation of the second chapter in the Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient 47.2 (1955): 369-434.

There are a couple of points about this document which I find interesting. The first is how it points to the fact that behind each “great” French scholar during the colonial period, were incredibly capable Vietnamese scholars whose work often went unrecognized.

Durand acknowledged that he was working with Trần Hàm Tấn (whose picture is to the left), but we have no idea who produced the over 2,000 pages of translation for Aurousseau, or whether it was Aurousseau or a Vietnamese scholar who added the French notes to the text.

Another point that I find interesting is that after French colonial rule came to an end, scholars at the Viện Sử Học produced and published a translation of the cương mục of their own. In comparing the language of these two translations, it is clear that they are different.

Therefore, this means that the cương mục – which consists of over 4,000 pages of classical Chinese text – was probably translated into modern Vietnamese two times!!!

Or was it the case that the scholars at the Viện Sử Học consulted this earlier draft translation?

For anyone wishing to compare the language of these two texts, the Viện Sử Học translation here corresponds to what is in the two images below.

Năm Giáp Thìn (137 tr.c.ng.) (Triệu Vũ Vương năm thứ 71; Hán Vũ đế năm Kiến nguyên thứ 4).

Triệu vương Đà mất, táng ở Ngung Sơn. Đích tôn là Hồ lên nối ngôi.

Hồ là con Trọng Thủy và là đích tôn Vũ Vương, nay lên làm vua, ấy là Văn Vương, truy đặt tên thụy cho Triệu Đà là Vũ đế.

Lời chua – Ngung Sơn: Theo Thái Bình hoàn vũ ký của Nhạc Sử đời Tống, Ngung Sơn cách huyện Nam Hải một dặm về phía Bắc. Theo sách Ngô Lục, Phiên huyện ở Ngung Sơn, là chỗ táng Úy Đà.

Unfortunately the first forty pages of this work are missing. So the first chapter begins with page 41 of the translation (and the first few pages are not in order: 43-46, 41-2, 47-).

For a sample of this work, click the links here: AV 1, and here: AV 11.