VietNamNet Bridge - Researchers have proposed to move steles carved with the name of donors and Chinese pottery vases out of pagodas and historical relic sites.


The vase with inappropriate Chinese lines of verse at the Van Tieu Pagoda.

Han-Nom (Chinese-based ancient Vietnamese scripts) researchers have expressed their concerns over the use of inaccurate Han-Nom scripts at many relic sites.

Dr. Tran Trong Duong, a well-known researcher of Han-Nom scripts, cited many examples as follows:

At the Temple of national hero Nguyen Trai, a national monument, there is a horizontal lacquered board meaning “The kind-hearted people will be long-lived” while Nguyen Trai was unjustly executed.

At the Temple of Nguyen Binh Khiem, there is a Chinese script stele honoring his merits in teaching, meaning “Effortless teaching” but using the wrong script, the stele reads “Inconsolable regret”.

Another board in this temple also uses the wrong Han Nom script so the word meaning “school” becomes “overcooked".

Two lines of verse by Chinese poet Li Bai describing Yang Gui Fei, mentioning the name of the sex god of China, are on a pottery vase at the temple of King-Buddha Tran Nhan Tong at the Van Tieu Pagoda in Yen Tu, Quang Ninh.

Will Vietnamese replace Han?

Ms. Dang Thi Bich Lien, Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said that after moving foreign animal statues from pagodas and relic sites, the Ministry was considering the use of Vietnamese language at newly built temples.

"That is quite strange. Temples and communal houses are traditional architecture, so it is very odd to use Vietnamese language at these places," said Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc, Chairman of the Hanoi History Association.

Researcher Tran Hau Yen The said that Vietnam history was associated with ancient Chinese characters.

"The advantage of Vietnam is multicultural. We can use traditional scripts besides the Quoc Ngu (national language of Vietnam) and it is the best solution. They are new pagodas but in fact they are built on the foundation of the old ones so we need to maintain the tradition,” he said.

Because many relic sites hang horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences with wrong Han scripts, some people have proposed to use national language instead of Chinese characters.

They argue that the scripts must be understandable to all people. However, some others said that horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences must be written in Chinese characters, otherwise they would be not sacred.

"Each perspective has its own extremism. But I think it depends on the place where they are hung. If at a newly built temple, they should be written in Nom or Latin scripts but if at ancient relic sites, they should be in Han-Nom scripts only,"  said Dr. Duong.

Better late than never

Many experts point out that the wrong use of scripts at relic sites comes from the needs of donors who are usually rich people, successful businessmen and officials.

"In many places, the horizontal lacquered boards donated by ‘important donors’ are hung at key positions, replacing the ancient ones. Sometimes the ancient things are put in a warehouse or on the roof of the temple. Antique traders took advantage of this to steal the artifacts. So, the Ministry of Culture should ban the move and relocation of old horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences with the new ones," Dr. Duong said.

Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc said that the Ministry should rectify the wrong Han scripts at the relic sites through the management of craft villages making horizontal lacquered boards and parallel sentences.

Dr. Duong added that the repair, restoration or reception of worshipping items from donors must be checked by a professional agency, possibly the Han-Nom Institute.

Prof. Nguyen Quang Ngoc said the Ministry should not encourage the construction of completely new temples.

T. Van