The rickshaw that Emperor Thanh Thai gave his mother was transported to Vietnam by air in 2015 after more than 100 years staying in France.
After more than a century in France, in 2015, the rickshaw that Emperor Thanh Thai gave his mother returned to the ancient capital of Hue. This rickshaw is now on display at Dien Tho Palace in the Hue Citadel, where the empress dowagers of the Nguyen Dynasty used to live.
The repatriation of this rickshaw after more than a century owned by foreign collectors marked a historic turning point. Although the auction took place more than six years ago, Phan Thanh Hai, Director of the Department of Culture and Sports of Thua Thien-Hue Province, former Director of the Center for Conservation of Hue Monuments still remembered the case as clearly as if it just happened yesterday.
According to Mr. Hai, before the auction, the Hue Monuments Conservation Center received an electronic file of artifacts provided by the Rouillac Auction Office (France).
The file included letters, notes, articles from newspapers and magazines, photos, and handwritten receipts signed by Emperor Thanh Thai. Particularly, articles on a magazine published on October 26, 1907 (page 265 to page 269) said that Emperor Thanh Thai sold a rickshaw to a French man named Jourdan.
The file wrote: “Instead of seeing these properties fall into the hands of merchants, Emperor Thanh Thai drafted a handwritten document (October 18, 1907) selling the rickshaw and a bed to Inspector Jourdan, the captain of the local police team, who sympathized with him during his more than two months under house arrest in the Hue Royal Citadel until being moved to the 'White Palace' in Cape Saint Jacques (the southern city of Vung Tau in Ba Ria-Vung Tau province today)".
According to Rouillac’s documents, the rickshaw is made mainly of metal and wood, and is 136cm high, 230cm long (including the handle) and 102cm wide.
On the rickshaw, people can see information about the place where the vehicle was made through the Chinese characters, which mean “made by Dong Kinh store in Hanoi, the northern region".
The wooden part is made by a lacquer technique, inlaid with mother of pearl, a common royal decoration style. In particular, the mother-of-pearl inlaid patterns show the ingenuity of the artisans of that time.
This rickshaw was a present of Emperor Thanh Thai to his mother, Empress Dowager Tu Minh, to use in the royal garden. The Queen Mother was the one who decided the design of the vehicle.
On the back of the rickshaw, there is a picture of a bunch of blooming roses in the middle and 4 flower branches inlaid with mother of pearl on a lacquered black background in the four corners.
“The rickshaw was made by artisans in Kinh Luoc village in Hanoi, ordered by the Emperor of Annam as a gift to his mother - Empress Tu Minh - wife of Emperor Duc Duc, who passed away in 1906. Preserved by the Jourdan family since 1907, the rickshaw was put on display at the Dijon Commercial Market in 1916,” said the documents sent to the Hue Monuments Conservation Center by Rouillac.
On June 13, 2014, the vehicle with a bed for Emperor Thanh Thai was put up for auction at Chateau de Cheverny in France. The starting price offered by auction house Rouillac was 1,000 euros.
At this time, the antique auction team of Thua Thien-Hue province could not fly to France to attend the auction so they joined the auction via telephone, with the support of Vietnamese in France.
After a tough auction, which attracted many participants, the rickshaw was sold to Thua Thien-Hue province at the cost of 55,800 Euro. Besides funding from Thua Thien-Hue province’s budget, Vietnamese in France donated 10,000 Euro and domestic benefactors contributed 3,000 Euros to buy the rickshaw.
In particular, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai, then the director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center, and his sister who desired to see the rickshaw by their own eyes donated more than 1,500 euros to the auction.
“It was difficult to buy this vehicle because of the competition from the Guimet Museum, a large, very prestigious museum in France and the world. Without the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism and the Vietnamese Embassy in France, we could not have won that auction,” Hai said.
After that, the rickshaw was transported to Vietnam by air in 2015 after more than 100 years staying in France.
It is praised by experts as a beautiful and luxurious treasure that is rare in Vietnam today.
An autograph in which Emperor Thanh Thai confirmed that he had sold a number of items for Mr. Jourdan, including this rickshaw.
The front of the rickshaw.
The back side of the rickshaw with meticulous patterns.
This rickshaw is a present of Emperor Thanh Thai to his mother, Empress Dowager Tu Minh, to use in the royal garden.
Quang Thanh - Thanh Hai - Huong Lai
To be continued...
Hundreds of antiques and treasures of the last feudal dynasty in Vietnam - Nguyen Dynasty – have drifted everywhere. Through decades of wandering, many antiques have been repatriated.