In 1932, the École française d’Extrême-Orient published in Hanoi a text called the An Nam chí nguyên/Annan zhiyuan 安南志原. This publication contained an introductory study by Émile Gaspardone in which he attributed this work to a seventeenth century Chinese scholar-official by the name of Gao Xiongzheng 高熊徵, and tried to explain it’s incomprehensible title (The Source of the Treatise on Annan?).

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This book has been in libraries in Western countries since that time, but I’ve seen very few scholars cite it. I know that I have seen John Whitmore and Li Tana both cite it, but I can’t recall having seen any other scholars working in Western countries use this work (there probably have been one or two others, but not many).

The same applies to Vietnamese scholars. Although several manuscript editions of this text exist in Vietnam, I think the only scholar I’ve seen cite it is Tạ Chí Đại Trường, but I’m not sure if he came across it while he was in Vietnam or after he went overseas (and again, there must be other people who have cited it, but not many).

Also, as far as I know, this text has never been translated into modern Vietnamese, even though it is one of the earliest texts we have concerning Vietnamese history.

I once asked someone why that is the case, and that person’s response was that “It is because it’s Chinese. . .”

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In 1992, Zhang Xiumin 張秀民 published an essay on this text in which he argued that it is a combination of two texts: the Annan zhi jiyao 安南志既要 [Summary of the Treatise on Annan] by Gao Xiongzheng and the Jiaozhi zongzhi 交阯縂志 [Comprehensive Gazetteer of Jiaozhi].

According to Zhang Xiumin, the Jiaozhi zongzhi is a local gazetteer (difang zhi 地方誌) that was compiled in the early fifteenth century during the Ming occupation. As such, this is an extremely important text as it contains some of the earliest information recorded about that region.

Vietnamese scholars are skeptical of information about the region that was preserved in “China.” They suspect that this information was altered for political purposes.

Personally I find such suspicions to be very difficult to document, and also difficult to believe. Meanwhile, one of the most valuable texts for understanding Vietnamese history remains un-read, un-researched, and un-translated year after year after year.

For those who read Chinese, I’ve attached Zhang Xiumin’s essay below.

Zhang Xiumin