TECHNIQUE of the ANNAMESE PEOPLE – Introducing the set of documents – Part 2

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Associate Professor, Doctor of History
Nick name: A baggage horse in the university village
Pen name: Beetle

… be continue …

2.1  Right names of the author of the work & Its publising forms

2.1.1 This is a research work entitled: Technique of the Annamese People by Henri Oger consisting of documents gathered at the Midland of North Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi in the years 19081909.

2.1.2 The whole work has been realized under two publishing forms:

     a. A set of books entitled “General Introduction to the Study of the Technique of the Annamese People” (1) – An essay on material life, arts and industries of the people of Annam.

     b. An album containing over 4000 woodcut paintings, also entitled “Technique of the Annamese” (2) which Henri Oger calls: “An Encyclopaedia of all instruments, utensils, and all gestures in the life and crafts of the Tonkinese Annamese”.

(1) HENRI OGER – General introduction to the Study of the Technique of the Annamese people – Essay on material life,  arts and industries of the people of Annam – Geuthner, Librarian and Editor.Jouve and Co. Printers – Editors – Paris.

(2) HENRI OGER – Technique of the Annamese people – An Encyclopedia of all instruments, utensils, and all gestures in the life and crafts of the Tonquinese-Annamese people – Daily paper of French Indochina -114 Jules Ferry St. – Hanoi.

Fig.15: General introduction to the study of the TECHNIQUE OF THE ANNAMESE PEOPLE – An essay on the material, the arts and industries of the people of annam by HENRI OGER

2.2  Details concerning the set of books entitled “GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE  TECHNIQUE OF THE ANNAMESE PEOPLE” (fig. 15)

2.2.1 This is a set of books written in french by Oger and published in Paris into 200 copies.  Each one of them consists of 159 pages (Oger had made a mistake in pagination as there’re actually only 156 pages), and 32 illustrations.  Among the 156 pages, 79 of them deal with working methods, presentation, publishing, indigenous crafts and daily life activities; 30 deal with indexes relating to general technique, chinese technique, games, (fig.16) and toys, 40 of them contain the contents and annotations of each one of the plates in the Album and the General Contents.

Fig.16: THE  TIGER CATCHING A PIG (The children’s game of catching the pig).
The kids are standing in circle with one of them inside acting as a pig,
another one as a tiger outside

2.2.2 In the part introducing the indigenous crafts – one part of  the main contents of the book – Henri Oger has  described a number of crafts such as lacquer work, embroidery, mother- of-pearl inlaying, wood-engraving, paper making and other crafts, considered by Oger as originating from paper such as: parasol and fan making, coloured drawings, book-printing. Then H.Oger dealt with a number of “indigenous industries” such as house constructions, transportation, fabric weaving (fig.17), clothing, dyeing, food industry, rice processing, rice powder making, fishing and also  tobacco manufacturing…


2.2.3 Dealing with indigenous crafts, H.Oger has paid attention and kept a watchful eye on the technical field.  He’s recorded each action, each gesture, each type of instruments, and has had remarks on materials, quality, subjects, working conditions, product consumption, and comparison with products of Japan, China… To sum up, H.Oger had generalized the existence of many handicrafts at that time through his personal view that couldn’t avoid being somewhat subjective, and had reached common appraisals aimed at serving the french way of governing.  Let’s read a few following descriptions:

    a. “Many observers who’ve lived in Annam often write in their Journey’s diaries that: all industries seem almost absent and are insignificant in Annam. And they often asserted that: we (i.e. the French) oughtn’t undervalue the contributions of the indigenous craftmen to the economic movement we’re wishing to spread in this country”.

   b. Oger has observed. “The Vietnamese farmers don’t have to lead a hard life throughout the year, on the contrary they often have long leisure days. In such leisure days, the farmers will gather together and work as guilds of workers (fig.18) and the manufactured products will become the financial supplement which the rice planting work couldn’t bring about for them, particularly with the type of Indochinese rice”.


     c. What’s a workers’ guild? According to H. Oger: “A guild consists of two main points: the workers work at home for an employer, and this employer comes to the workers’ houses to collect their products”.

     d. In another chapter H. Oger has written:

     “Vietnam is a country that produces a lot of paint, and the paint in the North is particularly cheap. Therefore, all daily use appliances are covered with a layer of paint, that protects them against the harsh temperature which causes wooden articles to be quickly destroyed (fig.19). The paint produced is not only sufficient for inland use, but is also available in much larger quantities for great traders in Canton to import into their country”.


   e. Forming an opinion of vietnamese lacquerware at that time, Oger assumes that: “the lacquering technique of Vietnam isn’t as delicate and clever as the one of Japan. The Vietnamese only spread a layer of special quality paint over wooden or bamboo objects, previously well rubbed, and use fine clay to caulk the defects, and sell the lacquer products to poor people. For that reason, the objects covered by that layer of paint had been often blistered and sticky”

    f. Dealing with the decorative subject, Oger thinks that the vietnamese lacquerer only borrows it from “Sino-Vietnamese symbols” just like the embroiderer, “he’s at his place a lot of subjects imported from China which he blended awkwardly”. Finally, Oger believes that the vietnamese lacquerer doesn’t try to look for new decorative subjects “From forefathers to descendants, they handed down to one another only a lot of subjects which some unknown designer had realized in the past by order’”

     In another chapter, we can see that Oger had paid much attention to the various types of implements and gestures…

  g. “The embroidery frame is a kind of simple implement. This is a rectangular frame made of bamboo (fig.20).  It’s placed on two camp-beds, and the piece of silk will be put inside it. People tighten the piece of silk with small threads coiled around the bamboo frame. As for the embroidering pattern, it has been drawn in advance on annamese paper, a type of light and fine paper. The pattern is placed on a horizontal bamboo stand, and one spreads over it a transparent sheet of rice paper or a piece of silk.  Using a pen brush, the embroiderer transfers exactly the pattern on the piece of silk.  In the fact-finding chapter dealing with the painter producing annamese folk-paintings, we (i.e. the French) shall meet again with that skilful method that allows one to reproduce for ever”.


     h.“The embroiderer’s work (fig.21) requires more toiling and moiling and dexterity than intelligence. For that reason one often hires young men or women, and at times children to do the work.  The work to be performed is to re-create the design with various coloured threads. The embroiderer sits in front of the frame, with his feet stretched out under it. He holds the needle vertically over the piece of silk and pulls tightly the thread allowing no slackened spots.  This is the means to keep the embroidery in good shape and lasting.  Right beside him is a lamp, as he has to work day and night to meet with the many orders.


     This lamp (fig.22) consists of a 2-cent inkpot filled with oil, having at its middle point a wick. The vietnamese embroiderer works under this flickering light that’s so  smoky and stinking.  For that reason, it’s easy to see that we don’t find any old people working as embroiderers – as older people are usually hired to work in other crafts of the vietnamese people.

Fig.22: A LAMP (made of an ink-pot, price: 2cents)

2.3  Concerning the album “TECHNIQUE  OF  THE ANNAMESE (Vietnamese) PEOPLE”  (Fig.23)

2.3.1 Statistical work relating to the sketches and the places they are kept  in reserve

    a. This is a set of sketches which according to our statistics consists of 4577 folk-paintings (1), 2529 among them deal with man and landscape, and 1049 among these 2529 paintings show women’s faces; as for the remaining 2048 paintings, they reproduce tools and production equipment.

    b. The set kept at the Hanoi National Library consists of 7 volumes not evenly bound and bearing the code number HG18 – formerly this set was kept under the code number G5 of the Hanoi Central Library – This library has had it microfilmed in April 1979, under the code number SN/805 with a length of 40 metres 70 centimetres.

– An Encyclopaedia of all the instruments, the utensils, and gestures in the life and crafts of the Tonkinese Annamese People

     Another set is kept as archives at the General  Sciences Library of the Ho Chi Minh city – a library  that was originally a part of the Office of the French  Resident Superior’s library – under the code number 10511 – this set had been microfilmed for the second time in 1975, and bound into two volumes.

   Originally, this same set that consisted at that time of 10 volumes, had been  microfilmed by the Archaeology Institute under the code number VAPNHY on May 24, 1962 (2) at the Alpha Film Enterprise in former Saigon.  However, this microfilm lacks page 94 and has page 95 in double (due to a technical defect).

     c. There exists also an odd volume of 120 bound pages, kept under the code number HE 18a, that has been microfilmed under the code number SN/495 with a length of 5m5, and that bears the seal of the Indochina Central Library on which one can see the number 17924.

     – This is the set kept as archives at the Hanoi National Library.  Worthy of attention is the fact that in the right corner of the first page, figures a dedication by H. Oger’s own handwriting, dedicating the book to Governor General Albert Sarraut which reads as follows:

    “Respectfully offered to Governor General Albert Sarraut to pay my debt of gratitude for your Excellency’s kind attention vis-à-vis my works of research (3). City of Vinh, March…, 1912.  Henri Oger”

   d. We haven’t got a chance to find out about it from other sources, especially in Paris, but, in the french capital, Professor Pierre Huard (4) has had confirmations as follows:

    “This work published in Vietnam had not followed any copyright deposit procedures, therefore, not even one copy was deposited at the National Library in Paris.  However, thanks to the kind understanding of the Vietnamese authorities (of former Saigon), I’ve got a copy photocopied from the main copy under code number 10511 of the Library of the Cochinchinese Resident Superior’s Office. 

    The “École Française d’Extrême-Orient” also has a copy thanks to the help of the Photographies Service- Central Department  of Documents pertaining to the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)”

     H.Oger’s work has been wood-engraved and has taken the shapes of small woodcuts that are later on printed on large size rice paper (65x 42cm); its 700 pages have been arranged unsystematically and disorderly, each page contains about 6 paintings, some of them are numbered with Roman figures, accompanied by legends in chinese characters, but all of them are disorderly arranged.  The number of copies published is extremely limited: only 15 sets and one odd volume.  Each set has been bound into 7, 8, or 10 fascicles.  At the present time, there exist only two sets and one odd volume in Vietnam (5).

2.3.2 Classification of various groups of subjects (According to H.Oger)

     a. In this album, Henri Oger had divided the subjects into four main groups of subjects: the three first ones are the three industries (material life), and the last one is the private and public life (spiritual life).

1. The industry drawing materials from nature.

2. The industry that processes the materials drawn from nature.

3. The industry that makes use of the processed materials.

4. Common and Private life.

     d. With regard to the industry drawing materials from nature, Oger had found and gathered 261 sketches (6) and continued to classify them into 5 minor groups, through which agriculture has the greatest number of sketches, then come other domains such as transportation, harvesting and plucking, hunting (fig.24), fish catching.


(1) We’ve eliminated the duplicate copies and the ones showing too tiny instruments that couldn’t be identified clearly.

(2) a. We’ve learned that Mr. Phan Huy Thúy, a cultural researcher and a former head-official at the Archaeological Institute, had paid attention to that set of sketches and had sent the microfilm to the States (circa 1972) to have it developed into several other copies.  But, as the cost was too high, his intention to send such copies to all professional schools and art schools didn’t materialize. Later on, The Vạn Hạnh University had used the said microfilm to develop into small photos to send to specialists inland and abroad. Researcher Nguyễn Đôn had been in touch with this microfilm very early.

    b. In Paris, well-known researchers such as Messrs. Hoàng Xuân Hãn, Nguyễn Trần Huân, and Pierre Huard probably have had the aforesaid microfilm.

(3) A Monsieur le Gouverneur Général Sarraut en hommage respectueux pour le bienveillant intérêt qu’il veut bien apporter à mes études.Vinh le … Mars 1912. Henri Oger.

(4) PIERRE HUARD: A french Orientalist, co-author with the Orientalist Maurice Durand of the well-known work entitled “Learning about Vietnam (Connaissance du Vietnam)”, published in 1954 in Hanoi.  PIERRE HUARD – Le pionnier de la technologie vietnamienne (The pioneer in vietnamese technology) – Henri Oger – B.E.F.E.O. – TL VII 1970, pages 215,217.

(5) We have got in touch with these two sets at two great libraries: The Hanoi National Library (in 1985) and the Saigon National Library (in 1962).  This latter set is still kept as archives at the General Sciences Library in Ho Chi Minh city (We have seen it again in 1984).

(6) These numbers have been obtained through our own statistics.

◊  TECHNIQUE of the ANNAMESE PEOPLE – Part 1: How was this set of documents discovered and named?

11 /2019

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