Chang’an News from Vietnam

I came across a Vietnamese newspaper from the late 1930s-early 1940s called the “Tràng An Báo.” This name is interesting.

“Tràng An” is usually written now as “Trường An” and comes from “Chang’an” 長安, the name of the Han Dynasty capital, a city that continued to serve as the capital of various other Chinese dynasties, including the Tang.

Perhaps because the city served so long as an imperial capital, its name eventually became synonymous with the word “capital” and one can find it in Chinese writings where its use does not literally mean “Chang’an” but simply “the capital.”

It is undoubtedly in this sense that the name was chosen for this newspaper. “Tràng An Báo” can thus be translated as “Capital News” or the “Capital Newspaper.”

What is interesting, however, is to think about how different Vietnam is today. I cannot imagine anyone in Vietnam today naming anything “Tràng An,” except perhaps a Chinese restaurant. . . Times have changed.

Equal Rights to Makeup in 1930s Vietnam

I came across this nice image in an early issue of the journal Phong Hóa.

A wife is surprised to see her husbands powdering his face, and he responds that it’s “equal rights for men and women.”

The discussion of “equal rights” in the 1920s and 1930s was of course more about increasing the rights of women so that they could enjoy the same rights as men.

But in this image, it is the man who wants some “women’s rights.”

This was meant to be funny. Now, however, it would be interesting to see how the person who made this image would react if he saw a men’s makeup advertisement like this one from contemporary Japan. . .

Duplicate Translations and the Work of Colonized Scholars

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 (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.

Việt Nam Hồn

I haven’t had much time recently to post anything new here. I’m still busy, but I thought I would post a document which some people might find interesting.

It’s a page from a newspaper from the 1920s called the Soul of Việt Nam [Việt Nam Hồn]. It appears to have been registered in France, and it looks to me like that is where it was published, as I don’t think one could publish articles in French Indochina at the time which directly called for independence, like the articles in this paper did.

To read the paper, click on the following link: Viet Nam Hon

Announcements in the Indigenous Language in Colonial Vietnam

I recently came across a journal that was published in colonial Vietnam called the Official Bulletin in the Indigenous Language. It was an official publication for Tonkin (Bắc Kỳ) which announced to the public laws and decisions which had been made by the colonial authority.

It is a very interesting journal, because while it contains announcements about laws and decisions which were made by the French, it also contains statements by Emperor Bảo Đại. So for anyone who wishes to examine the overlapping authority of the French and the Nguyễn Dynasty in its last days, this journal looks like it would be a great source.

Another point which caught my attention is that this journal contains announcements for journals and newspapers which the colonial authorities approved for publication. What is interesting is that one can find many publications mentioned here which I don’t think anyone has ever heard of before.

Are historians of colonial Vietnam familiar with the Saint Dominic Bimonthly? How about the Women’s Weekly? The Moscow Journal? Theater and Cinema?

I didn’t think so. That’s why this journal is fascinating, as it opens a window onto parts of a past world which historical writings to date have not revealed or examined.

Cruisin’ in a Chevy Six in Colonial Vietnam

Chevrolet advertisement from colonial Vietnam

A six-cylinder car which is sumptuous and affordable for everyone.

Everyone’s been waiting a six-cylinder car which is really powerful, pleasant to look at and manufactured in a way which is deserving of the name of a six-cylinder car – comfortable and neat, and not too expensive.

The Chevrolet Six fulfills all of the above requirements.

Based on four years of research, General Motors, an automotive manufacturer of six-cylinder cars which are very powerful and expertly-made, has made [? can’t read the word here] the Chevrolet fully reliable and added a dose of gentleness as well, which has surprised automotive experts.

Baron Folke Bernadotte, who is someone well-versed in the automotive field and is also an expert engineer, has praised the good qualities of the Chevrolet.

Mr. Wittig is a famous engineer said, “We have truly entered a golden age of automotive manufacturing.”

In the past year, because of extensive purchases – as many as 7,000 a day – General Motors has been able to sell this six-cylinder beauty at such a low price.

General Motors advertisement from colonial Vietnam

Women Reading in Colonial Vietnam

Phu Nu tan van cover image

This is one of my favorite images. It is from the cover of a journal which was published in Saigon in the late 1920s and early 1930s called Women’s News. It says at the top that it is a weekly which is published every Thursday. It then employs terms which today sound archaic as they come from classical Chinese, a language which Vietnamese had only recently ceased using in favor of writing in the vernacular using a Romanized script, to say that “The powdered and rouged [ones] embellish the mountains and rivers.” “Powdered and rouged” was a term which meant “women” and “mountains and rivers” indicated the “nation.” This journal was created in part to promote the “modernization” of women, and yet this statement on its cover strikes me as exceedingly conservative. I’d appreciate any ideas as to how this comment should be understood.

An Earlier Đổi Mới

1930s Vietnam fashion - the áo dài

Đổi mới,” or “renovation,” is a term which is now associated with the economic reforms which the Vietnamese government began in 1986 in an effort to move away from a command economy and towards a market economy. People, however, are probably less familiar with this earlier instance of “đổi mới” which took place in the 1920s and 1930s. This image is from the 1930s, and it contrasts the “woman from before” with the “woman of now, after đổi mới.”

The text at the top can be translated loosely as something like “Women engage in the talk of the times about progress.” I’m assuming that the point of this comic is to criticize women who just focus on the superficial aspects of modern society.

Romance in 1930s Vietnam

Romance in 1930s Vietnam

This is a comic from the 1930s. The man says, “I love you too much, maybe even to the point that I will die.” To which the woman declares, “Oh I beg you. If you die then I will have to wait an entire three years before I can remarry.”

This comic captures the changing times of 1930s Vietnam very well. These two are obviously members of the small group of Westernized elite in Vietnamese society. He is dressed in Western clothes, and she is wearing a form-fitting áo dài, an “invented tradition” of the 1930s, as prior to that point the “purpose” of women’s clothing was to conceal the form of the body rather than to accentuate it as the modern áo dài did. Futher, they are alone together by one of the lakes in Hanoi, a very popular and romantic setting at the time (and today too, as anyone who walks around some of the lakes in the evening can tell. . .), romantic settings being a new concern for the educated youth of Vietnam who had recently become exposed to the idea of “free love” – the “right” of young people to chose their own marriage partners. All of this is very modern, but their conversation also reveals aspects of tradition, albeit tradition in the process of change. According to Confucian teachings, a wife should mourn for her husband for three years. However, she is never supposed to remarry. Hence the humor in this woman’s comment, that she has to wait three years before she can remarry. This simple statement and the image accompanying it do a wonderful job of capturing a moment when social practices were changing in Vietnam.