Laques (Versions française et anglaise)

English version


Personne ne conteste que la technique du laque est introduite au Vietnam par les artisans chinois. Mais la date d’introduction continue à alimenter les débats et reste toujours l’objet de discussions. Pour certains archéologues, l’utilisation de l’ornement laqué remonta à la première invasion chinoise (découverte des objets laqués dans des tombes des IIIème- IVème siècles de notre ère). Pour d’autres, cette technique fut introduite au XVème siècle par Trần Tường Công, ambassadeur à la cour de Chine. Celui-ci fut chargé par le roi Lê Nhân Tôn (1443- 1460) de trouver un métier susceptible de procurer de nouvelles ressources pour les paysans. Il fut initié dans des ateliers chinois de la province Hunan aux mystères de la laque.

Sơn mài

La laque est en fait le suc laiteux obtenu par incision du laquier. Grâce à la solidification à l’air libre et à la résistance à l’acide et aux éraflures, la gomme résineuse constitue une protection idéale pour les bois et pour les bambous. On se sert de cette résine dans la fabrication des objets laqués. Ceux-ci offrent une grande diversité: paravents, coffres, plateaux, vases, échiquiers etc … Le travail de laque nécessite beaucoup de préparations et de soins.

Version anglaise

Nobody challenges that the technique of lacquer is introduced to Vietnam by Chinese craftsmen. But the date of introduction continues to sustain debates and always remains the object of discussions. For some archaeologists, the use of lacquer adornment dated back to the first Chinese invasion ( discovery of lacquerwares in the tombs of 3rd – 4th centuries of our era). For others, this technique was introduced by Trần Tường Công, ambassador to the court of China. He was assigned by king Lê Nhân Tôn (1443-1460 ) to find a craft able to provide new resources for peasants. He was introduced to the secrets of lacquer in Chinese workshops in the province of Hunan.

Lacquer is in fact the milky juice obtained from an incision of the lacquer tree. Thanks to the solidification in open air and the resistance to acid and scratches, the resinous gum constitutes an ideal protection for wood and bamboo. One uses this resin to make lacquerwares. They offer a great diversity: folding screens, chests, trays, vases, chessboard etc….

Lacquerwork requires lots of preparation and care.


Khải Định mausoleum (English version)

Version française


Ứng Lăng (應陵)

Unlike other mausoleums of the Nguyên Dynasty, especially those of Minh Mang and Tự Ðức, the Khai Dinh  mausoleum  ignores harmony and ingenious and subtle agreement cleverly searched and found so far between architecture and natural environment where the tomb of the Emperor must be built. There is also the abandonment of wood as a main element in the construction of this mausoleum.

On the other hand, it is a building constructed entirely of concrete and beautifully decorated by coatings of granular porcelain and glass of all colors. Despite the absence of the landscape, the mausoleum of Khải Đinh still reflects the exceptional talent of Vietnamese designers and artists at the beginning of twentieth century. It also reflects the character of a megalomaniac emperor who is interested only in the debauchery and is not worried about the fate of his people.

World cultural heritage of Vietnam

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Tự Đức mauseolum ( English version)

Version française



Unlike other royal tombs of the Nguyễn Dynasty, Tự Ðức mausoleum  is primarily a possible place of refuge during his reign. That is why there is not only a palace which was later transformed into a place of worship after his death but also a theater and two small and pretty pavilions in red wood (Du Khiêm and Xung Khiêm) where he liked to sit for the relaxation and the composition of his poems. This mausoleum which was built during 1864-1867 by three thousand soldiers and workers, had approximately fifty buildings surrounded by a stone and brick wall 1500 meters in length in an area of 12 ha.

Khiêm Lăng (謙陵)

Tự Đức was crowned king at a time where he have had to cope not only with development of Western capitalism but also internal strife (war grasshoppers led by  poet Cao Ba Quát, the eviction of his elder brother Hồng Bang at his enthronement etc..). For taking refuge, he did not hesitate to order the construction of his tomb as a place of relaxation in his lifetime and remains a place of residence for eternal future life.


Pictures gallery

In this mausoleum, the pavilion Hoa Khiêm is the main building where the Emperor worked and the pavilion Lương Khiêm is where he lived and slept. One finds also in the domain of his mausoleum two other tombs: those of his wife, Queen Lê Thiện Anh and one of his three adopted son, King Kiến Phúc.

The architecture of this mausoleum reflects not only the nature of the romantic poet emperor Tư Ðức but also the freedom that is lacking so far in the other mausoleums. Nothing is surprising to see this mausoleum become one of the favorite places choosen by most foreign and Vietnamese tourists.




Mausoleum of Minh Mạng emperor (English version)

Version française


Each royal tomb has a particular landscape and a own charm. That of Minh Mang is known for perfect harmony between architecture and  natural environment. It began to be built during his reign (1820-1841) and was completed only in 1843, two years after his death by his successor Thiệu Tri.

The temple Sung Ấn , dedicated to Minh Mang and his wife by his successor, may be achieved through  three terraces and the gate Hiền Ðức. On the other side of this temple, there are three stone bridges spanning Lake Pure Clarity. (Hồ Minh Trung). The central bridge known as the “bridge of the Intelligence and righteousness” (Trung Ðạo Kiêu , built in marble was used only by the emperor. Pavilion Minh Lâu (Pavilion of Light) represent the Triad: Heaven, Human being and the Earth. (Thiên Nhân Ðịa).

Hiếu Lăng (孝陵)

From a stone bridge spanning the lake Tân Nguyệt (Lake of the New Moon), one can reach through a gate in bronze, a circular wall symbolizing the sun and in the middle of this sacred fence it is the tomb of the emperor, a mound of soil surrounded by natural pines.

Map of  the Minh Mạng emperor mauseoleum



  • 1 Ðại Hồng Môn
  •   The red main gate
  • 2 Sùng Ấn Ðiện
  •   The cult of temple
  • 3  Hoàng Trạch Môn
  •    The Hoàng Trạch gate  of pavilion of light
  • 4  Minh Lâu
  •    The pavilion of light
  • Trung Ðạo Kiều
  •     The bridge of the Intelligence and righteousness
  • 6  Mộ của vua Minh Mạng
  •      The mausoleum of Minh Mang emperor


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Forbidden city of Huế (Tử Cấm Thành)

Version française


The forbidden city   is encircled by a 4-metre high  brick wall with a classic coating. This wall also is  surrounded by a ditch filled with water. Each door preceded by one or several bridges gives access on each side. The Ngọ Môn Gate is the main entrance and it is reserved for the King.

It is a powerful  masonry  foundation drilled with five passages and surmonted by an elegant wooden structure with two levels, the Belvedere of five Phoenixes (Lầu Ngủ Phụng). In the East and West of the Citadel, one finds respectively  the gates  of humanity and virtue which are highly decorated and pierced each by  three passages. The gate of humanity has been completely  restored in 1977.


World cultural heritage of Vietnam

Once we have gone precisely through the Ngo Môn Gate, we see appearing on the main axis the sumptuous palace of Supreme Harmony or  Thron palace that can be reached through the Esplanade of the Great Salvation (Sân Ðại Triều Nghi). It is in this Palace that the emperor, seated in a prominent symbolic position, received the salvation of all dignitaries of the empire  hierarchically aligned  on the esplanade at the time of great ceremonies. It is also the only building kept after so many years of war. Behind this palace, it is the imperial residence.


© Đặng Anh Tuấn


  • 1 Nơn gate (Ngọ Môn)
  • 2 Throne palace (Điện Thái Hoà)
  • 3 Archives pavilion  ( Thái Bình Ngự Lâm Thư Lâu)
  • 4  Royal theatre ( Duyệt Thị Đường)
  • 5 Pavilion of  Splendor (Hiến Lâm Các)
  • 7 Gate of virtue (Hiền Đức Môn)
  • 8 Gate of humanity (Hiển Nhơn Môn)

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Huế city (English version)

Version française


For the majority of Vietnamese, Huế always remains the intellectual and artistic foyer of Vietnam. It always looks like a sleeping princess. It knows how to keep its charm and grace that it has had since the Champa occupation with its citadel, the Perfume river and above all the famous Thiên Mụ ( or The Celeste Lady ) pagoda . The cruel beauty of its women wearing the white tunic ( áo dài ) accompanied by a conical hat (or nón bài thơ) , the fineness of its poetry, the union of its parks and pagodas with varnished tiles, the culture of its madarinal court make it more charming, noble, and majestuous.

One remembers Hue through the follwing two famous popular verses:

Gió đưa cành trúc là đà
Tiếng chuông Thiên  Mụ, canh gà Thọ-Xương

While the wind smootly moves the bamboo branches 
One hears the Thiên Mụ bell, and the Thọ-Xương rooster’s song

Before becoming the imperial capital of the Nguyễn, it was first the strong place of Chinese Jenan’s command of emperorQin ShiHuangDi in 3rd century B.C., then it was gradually integrated in the kingdoms of Lin Yi and Champa since 284 of our era. Then it was the object of greed of the Chinese and the Vietnamese when the latter  gained their independence. It was partially controlled by the Vietnamese in 1306. This control was only wholly when Hue became a dowry from king Chế Mẫn of Champa to the Vietnamese in exchange of his marriage with princess Huyền Trân.

Cố Đô Huếtucam

It was the imperial capital of a reunified Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 and knew no less than 13 emperors of the Nguyễn dynasty, of whom the founder was Nguyễn Ánh known under the name of ” Gia Long”. On the left bank of the Perfume river, in the middle of the city center, three surroundding walls circumscribe the imperial city and protect the forbidden purple city whose orientation was set in relationship with four cardinal points by geomancers of the court. As an admirer of the Ming dynasty, emperor  Gia Long did not hesitate to give Huế a striking resemblance of the Forbidden City of Peking.

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The royal tombs were built  at the exit of the city, along the river. Hue was the target of several conquests, French first in 1885, Japanese next in 1945 and then French in 1946. It was the witness of deadly combats during the Mậu Thân Tết offensive in 1968. Many times, it was also the actor of nationalist resistance in colonial time and during the last five decades.

Despite its aristocratic appearance, Huế knows how to conserve in difficult time the history of Vietnam that is to say the Vietnamese soul.

Communal house (Đình Làng : Part 4)

Version française


Communal house 

Its construction is always operated according to a well-defined layout plan identifiable by some Chinese characters Nhất, Nhị, Tam, Ðinh, Công, Vương etc. . A communal house (đình) who stands alone with a rectangular main building (đại đình) evokes the character “Nhất”. This is the case of “đình” Tây Ðằng.

By contrast, we are led to recognize the character Nhị by adding to the main building a second building (tiền tế) (or building reserved for sacrifices). This one is parallel to the first building and preceding it in the new layout. This is the case of the communal house Liên Hiệp. It is rare to find the character Tam in the construction of communal house. In a general way, the “đình” is frequently encountered in the shape of the character Công.

The posterior building Hậu Cung is connected to the main building by a small corridor or a small court (Ống muống) . This is the case of the communal house Đình Bảng, Mộng Phụ. For the character Vương, it is sufficient to connect three buildings (Hậu Cung, Đại Đình, Tiền Tế) with two corridors (Ống muống). It is in this last building “Tiền Tế” where the official ceremony for tutelary genius is performed by notables wearing a blue suit during the feast days.

Decoration art in the communal houses

Thanks to the communal house (đình), we discover that the village life is intimately introduced in the decoration art. This one tries to liberate itself not only from classic conventional models encountered until then but also Confucian straitjacket that Vietnam has known in the feudal system. That is what we see in wooden carvings which take up all free spaces encountered inside the đình (from roof frame to columns).

All imperfections of the construction are hidden with address thanks to the technique of embellishment. In each carved piece, the motif whether it is animal, character, flower etc. .. is unique and cannot be found anywhere else even if it is the same theme. By contrast, one discovers in these sculptures the coexistence through centuries of two cultures, one being national and scholarly and the other popular. One finds not only in the first all motifs relating to four hieratic animals (Rồng, Lân, Rùa, Phượng) (Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, Phoenix), four noble plants, fairies, animals (tigers, elephants etc ..) but also fantasy, imagination, innovation from peasant-sculptor despite his strict obedience to etablished standards. In the popular sculptures, the master craftsman who is, above all, a peasant, let himself be guided by his personal inspirations, his sincere emotions, his frustrations, his spontaneity and his sentiments in the realization of his work with realism and humor. He succeeds in escaping the censoring custom by a unusual aptitude in the description of bawdy scenes through his work of art: a naked young girl taking a bath in the lotus pond or sitting with low-necked dress on a a dragon head (đình Phụ Lão, Bắc Giang) , a young man groping the body of a woman under the watchful eye of his partner (đình Hưng Lộc), a mandarin disturbing a girl who is obliged to hide her body with the lotus sheet in her bath ( đình Ðệ Tam Ðông, Nam Ðịnh) etc …

He dares to denounce the wrongdoings of corrupt mandarins. That is what one sees in the carved piece of the communal house Liên Hiệp. These are taboos and frustrating redtapes encountered every day in the Vietnamese confucian society. Everything found in this popular sculpture largely reflects artist’s freedom of expression, common aspirations and social life of village. The paradox is visible because the communal house is both the garden of Confucian order which is well established in Vietnamese family and social structure and the place where the peasant can find again his freedom of expression and denounce the Confucian straightjacket. By its sculptures and its architecture, the communal house constitutes an inestimable jewel for Vietnamese people. One has the habit of saying in Vietnamese: làng nước ( Village Nation ) because Vietnamese nation is constituted over centuries by the dissemination of villages whose communal house (Đình) is both spiritual, administrative, social and cultural centre. As a consequence, the communal house (Đình) is not only the soul of village but also that of Vietnamese nation.


Communal house (Đình Làng: Part 3)

Version française

Đình Làng (Part 3)

Armature ( Cấu tạo vì kèo )

In addition to the ceremonies scheduled in the year in honor of the tutelary genius, villagers attach great importance to anniversaries of his birth and death. But there are also other occasional sacrifices caused often by a marriage, an appointment, a promotion or a old or siver wedding (khao lão). This allows you to give rise to feasts in the village and allows you to celebrate in large pump the cult in the tutelary genius. The latter may be a man or a woman. It is easy to identify this genius at the time of the procession. For the genius-man, there is always the presence of a horse in red (ngựa hồng) or white ( ngựa bạch) laquered wood. This one is of natural size and mounted on a wooden rectangular plate fitted with castors. The latter is richly harnessed and it is supposed to bring the genius soul. In the case where the genius is a woman, this horse is replaced by the palanquin in red hemp (võng đào) suspended from the beam having the ends carved with dragon head and based on two easels in the form of three crossed sticks.

Mái cong làng Ðình Bảng 


For the duration of the feast, one sacrifices to the tutelary genius with solemnity by moving its char ( kiệu) accompanied by a large number of culte objects, parade weapons, dais (tán) and pennants (cờ), from the communal house (đình) to the his place of residence (nghè) (1) or from the village to another allied village in the case where these ones are united by the cult of the same genius and by organizing multiple entertainment: fighting of cocks, buffaloes and birds, chess games with human pawns, flat hand wrestling etc.

There is also a important rite which recalls the significant characteristics of genius life. Known as the “hèm” in Vietnamese and kept secret, it is always celebrated during the night for geniuses who have not done an honorable act (genius thief, genius with fists, wast collector genius etc … ).. By contrast, it is celebrated in the great day for the geniuses with a quality or an act of bravery. One avoids to pronounce also the name of the genius during the rite by modifying the pronunciation or by substituting a synonym. This is the case of genius Linh Lang for example. We are obliged to tell “khoai dây” instead “khoai lang” (potatoes), “thầy lương” for “thầy lang” (doctor) etc. .. This singular rite is one of the essential features of communal cults. The negligence of this rite could jeopardize the prosperity of the village. READING MORE


     Palanquin in red hemp   (Đình Cổ Loa)   


(1) ghè: Place of residence of the genius often located at the entrance of the village. At the time of the feast, invited the genius is invited to join the communal house “đình”. It is brought back to its “ghè” when the feast is terminated.


Le Ðình, maison communale du Viêt Nam.
Hà Văn Tấn, Nguyễn Văn Kự,
Editions Thế Giới, 2001

Communal house ( Đình Làng: Part 2)

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Đình Làng: Part 2

We are accustomed to say: Cầu Nam, Chùa Bắc, Ðình Ðoài with the aim of evoking the celebrity of three specific regions concerning the Vietnamese traditional architecture. Ðình Ðoài thus insinuates the region Ðoài (Hà Ðông, Sơn Tây) where there is a large number of famous communal houses. (Tây Ðằng, Mông Phụ , Chu Quyến etc. .. ). It is in this region near the mountain and forests that the precious and resistant hardwood is found essentially  for  the construction of đình.

The word “đình” has its origin in the Chinese ideogram ting. Despite this, the “đình” in the Vietnamese architecture does not correspond to the Chinese description of the ting. The latter is employed over time to designate a isolated house for cultural joys (thưởng ngoạn văn hóa) or a rest home (đình trạm) for a traveller or a mandarin in mission or a temple for the cult of the rampart genius at the time of the Han (Chinese).

In this meaning, there is the same type of ting in Viet Nam with the đình Trấn Ba within the temple Ngọc Sơn (Hànội) or Thủy Ðình ( Ðình on water) in front of the pagoda Thầy (Chùa Thầy) (Hà Tây). Based on the origin of the word Ðình, some specialists do not hesitate to think that the cult of the Chinese “ting” has inspired the Vietnamese “đình”. For Vietnamese writer and journalist Hữu Ngọc, the wall genius have been replaced by the village tutelary genius to adapt oneself to Vietnamese taste. But there are several reasons not allowing to reinforce this hypothesis.

Firstly, the Vietnamese đình which is due to its strength in an ingenious system of columns, tenons and mortices, is built on stilts (without poured foundation). This technique allows to facilitate sometimes its movement or its re-orientation in case its initial installation does not provide prosperity and happiness to the village after several decades of exploitation.This type of construction reminds us that, for some researchers, in particular French researcher Georges Coedes, the Vietnamese “đình” was undoubtedly influenced by Indonesian architectural style.

It does not call into question what one have already discovered on Vietnamese bronze drums with the house on stilts and a curved roof. (Ngọc Lữ ). We know very well that the Dongsonian (the ancestors of the Vietnamese ) were established along the coast of North Vietnam (1 millennium before J. C. ). They were considered as “Indonesian” (or Austroasians (Nam Á in Vietnamese), the Bai Yue.

According to Vietnamese researcher Trịnh Cao Tường, specialised in the study of communal houses (đình), the architecture of Vietnamese communal house on stilts testifies to the echo of the Dongsonian mind continuing to perpetuate itself yet in the daily life of the Vietnamese people. In addition, this building type is similar to sacred common building roong (nhà rồng) that one is accustomed to find among the Austroasiatic populations, in particular highland ethnic peoples (Central Highlands of Vietnam). Analogous to the Vietnamese communal house, the building rôong cumulates a large number of social functions: board room of village committee, accommodation center for casual visitors, rallying point of all villagers etc. ..Some Vietnamese “đinh” are fitted with wooden floors serving as headquarters for meeting or sofa bed for notables and villagers. This is not the case of Chinese “ting”.

Đình Bảng (Bắc Ninh)

In the XVIII century, there are almost 11800 villages in Vietnam. This means that there are communal houses as much as villages. As the Vietnamese have the habit of saying: the water that we drink recalls the source (Uống nước nhớ nguồn), there is always within themselves a recognition, a gratitude for those who have done a great service for them and their country.

That is why nothing is surprising to see a large number of historical figures (national and local heroes) or legendary characters (Mountain genius Tan Viên for example) and benefactors considered to be part of geniuses of communal houses. Those who have done stirring deeds are not forgotten either. In addition, among these ministering geniuses, there are also the children, beggars and thieves. These ones die a violent death with a sacred hour, which gives them the supernatural powers to protect villagers against evils and misfortunes. Thanks to these communal gods, the village found not only tranquillity and prosperity but also rule, justice and morality. They are in some way the personification of this supreme authority which derives its full strength in the village itself.

Depending on their role more or less filled, they can receive royal patent (sắc phong) who grant them the grades of “genius of higher rank (or Thượng đẳng thần)” or “genius of the average rank (or Trung đẳng thần)” or the “genius of lower rank (Hạ đằng thần) “. This institution allows the king to demote those of them failing to fulfill their mission by sowing disorder in the village or letting the villagers perish. Being kept with care and jealousy in the Hậu Cung (or interior palace) these royal patents are the indescribable pride of the whole village. If the latter has not his tutelary genius, it is forced to borrow the tutelary genius of another village or to replace it by the soil genius (thổ thần). In the case where the villages are united by a common cult for the same tutelary genius, they must come to an agreement so that the feast day is fixed at a date agreed in each village and everyone can participate by sending a delegation during the procession. Unlike the temples built and maintained at public expense, the communal houses are charged to villagers because it is in fact a local worship. The wealth found in the decoration of communal houses and their dimensions depend both on the financial prosperity and the generosity of the villagers. One found in every village, some parcels of land called rice-fields of the rites (or tế điền) or rice paddies of geniuses (ruộng thần từ) whose exploitation is used to maintain the communal house and the area of which may reach several tens of mẩu (or 0.36 ha) in some villages before 1945. It is the local hierarchical authorities who are responsible for the administration of communal house and village as “a small court”. The rules, customs and traditions are applied with severity and they are more respected than the king’s authority. Women are not allowed in the đình. That is why we have a habit of saying in Vietnamese “Phép vua thua lệ làng” (the king’s authority yields to the village custom). READING MORE