HUNG NGUYEN MANH1
Doctor of Phylosophie in History
Towards the beginning of the XX century, industrial and technical sciences have begun to develop – particularly an outburst in the cultural and touristic fields has led to the requirement for cultural exchanges between various cultures through postcards.
In 1882, man has invented photography, and in 1886 the printed matters had been directly printed on paper through new printing techniques. The postcards that came to life at that time had overcome all geographical distances and met the requirements of society and the world. It seems like all such distances have been reduced thanks to the pictures printed on postcards.
One can say that – towards the beginning of the XX century, postcards have been developing like a fever, in many Indochinese countries in general, and in Vietnam in particular.
The rise up in arms of DE THAM2 might be one among the main subjects exploited initially in Vietnam. We now have this collection of post-cards in our reserve. The monuments built by the French like: Coal exploitation at Hong Gai3, the cement factory in Hai Phong4, the iron bridges Doumer5 (Long Bien) and Trang Tien (in Hue)6, the Hai Phong and Saigon wharves, the plantations in the Western Highlands7, as well as many other monuments in Annam8 and Cochinchina9 (Central and South Vietnam), and in the Six Provinces10 in Cochinchina, etc… Particularly the pictures that note and show the Mandarin Road11 (la route mandarine) always constitute a special subject which is quite an attraction for photographers.
The postcards have left diversified cultural features such as: street scenes, countryside and villages in the North, the Centre and the South (Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchina), the festivities, the market sites and architectural sights in great cities like Hanoi, Haiphong, Hue, Danang, Saigon… as well as images of kings of the Nguyen dynasty12 such as: DUY TAN13, THANH THAI14, HAM NGHI15 that also constitute a source of inspiration for photographers who used such features to produce picture-postcards that were sent throughout the world. With regard to this fact, our fastidious critics of floklore have considered such pictures as being used to serve the exotic taste, upon commenting on the role of the french orientatlists in Vietnam.
The history of postcards also notes that it was only until the first years of the XX century that the first postcards, with pictures taken and printed by the Vietnamese, made their first appearance in Vietnam, and the typical ones are a set of 20 postcards showing the funeral of PHAN CHAU TRINH16 in Saigon. Nowadays the ancient postcards help us to understand and conceive our history in a truly veracious manner, particularly the contemporary history.
According to the Xua & Nay magazine of the Vietnamese Historians’ Association17, due to various different situations, the keeping as archives of such types of postcards might be less active and numerous as in France – but, they can still be found in the collection of the Far-Eastern French School18 (Library of Vietnam Social Sciences and Information Institute), and in the Central Archives Organization19, as well as they can still certainly be found in collections of private collectors.
Concerning my own case – that of a private collector – my name has been mentioned by the Xua & Nay magazine for having contributed here and there to many expositions of postcards from Hanoi, Hue, Saigon to Southern provinces such as Ben Tre20, Kien Giang21…
The Xua & Nay magazine also mentioned the fact that thousands of postcards in my collection have had “dead stamp” and lines of sentences written by the senders – when they first set foot in Indochina or they had and are still living in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and had sent such postcards to their family members in France, or somewhere in other french colonial countries.
The “dead stamp” and such written sentences have increased the value of the postcards by several times – under the looking angle of professional collectors.
As for me, an opportunistic collector – who would collect whenever or wherever such postcards can be found. I’ve, during a long period of time living in Saigon. Admired for myself the portrait of a glorious homeland. But, right now, I still wish that the Xua & Nay magazine will continue to help me to bring to the common appreciation of the public such Vietnamese artworks.
Throughout the Millenium of Thang Long22, the source of historical documents, written and left on paper were all in Chinese and Nom (Demotic characters) and can still be found in numerous private collectors’ libraries. Right now, the postcards printed on hard paper by means of taking photos, with words, sentences and information on their backsides, also constitute a source of historical materials – although they are still quite recent and new – only about one century – but they also have contributed to the historical studies of Vietnam a section of history through pictures.
The picture – as it’s it – has a veracious historical value, without scraping and correcting, without copying, without grafting and without pasting… Just like Western photographers noting and taking photos of the regions of Latin America in the first days when minority tribes still lived there – Here, the pictures taken also show the life of many ethnic minorities sharing their life with townsmen from dense Indochinese forests to Vietnamese cities such as Hanoi, Saigon… cities that once were called The Pearl of the Orient23 – the once so glorious names that mark a vigorous change seeming like escaping from the Middle Age to step into the contemporary historical period.
1: Asso. Prof. HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Former President of Hong Bang University International, is the author of Vietnam, Hanoi, Saigon… Postcards, the founder of websites – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com, vietnamhoc.net, holylandvietnamstudies.com, holylandindochinecoloniale.com, etc.
2: … updating …
◊ Source: Vietnam in Ancient Time, NGUYEN MANH HUNG Doctor in History, Xua & Nay Magazine, Thoi Dai Publishers, Hanoi, 2010.
◊ All citations, italics, bold, color texts and featured sepiaized images have been set by Ban Tu Thu – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com.
BAN TU THU