TECHNIQUE OF THE ANNAMESE PEOPLE – Part 4: Failure to respect the original text

Associate Professor, Doctor of History NGUYEN MANH HUNG
Nick name: a baggage horse in the university village
Pen name: Beetle

4.1 Previous  introductions

4.1.1 Failure to respect the original text

     a. On the first pages dealing with the origin of this work, we have dealt with the various places and personages that had got in touch and introduced the above-mentioned set of documents in many different ways. As a whole, we can summarize as follows:

     Maybe Pierre Huard was the first and earliest person who had given all information on the life and work of the author on the Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (Bulletin of the Far-Eastern French School) as we have known (1). Later on, when he collaborated with Maurice Durand to write the book entitled “Knowledge of Vietnam” (2) Pierre Huard had mentioned in his bibliographical part Henri Oger’s work entitled: “General Introduction to the Study of the Technique of the Annamese People” (3).

(1) Pierre Huard – The pioneer in vietnamese technology.  T.LWII B.E.F.E.O. 1970, pages 215-217.

(2) Pierre Huard and Maurice Durand – Knowledge of Vietnam – École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Hanoi, 1954.

 (3) Henri Oger – General Introduction to the Study of the Technique of the Annamese people; essay on the material life, the arts and industries of the people of Annam, Paris, Geuthner, 1908

     However, P.Huard hadn’t  used H. Oger’s sketches to illustrate his work (we’ve mentioned clearly this matter in our previous chapter).

     b. When comparing the sketches introduced with the ones in the original text, we can see that the early introducers had concealed the linguistic part, considered by many researchers as the actual “second  layout” of each one of the sketches. Before researching  into this “second layout” let’s cast a look at the ways  this work was introduced in days past.

     1. There exist sketches on which, one part of the drawing has been omitted, such as the case of the sketch entitled “cattle dealer” (fig.95) exposed at the Cultural House at Bourges (Paris) from June 10, 78 to July 5, 1978, we’ll see that the original one bears the shade of a buffalo (see figure 132), that ought to be mentioned.

Fig.95: CATTLE DEALERS (after Phạm Ngọc Tuấn, exhibition in Paris, 1978)

     The Encyclopedic Knowledge that belongs in the Institute for the Compilation of the Encyclopedic Dictionary, when introducing “the ceremonial dress” has cut off the wooden horse (fig.96). Although the original sketch bears no annotation in Chinese and Chinese transcribed Vietnamese, H.Oger had annotated in french: “the statue of the wooden horse is drawn in a genius’s procession” (fig. 97).

Fig.96: A CEREMONIAL DRESS (the wooden horse omitted)


     2. There are also sketches on which the drawing, instead of being cut off, has been paired with another drawing such as the case of the one roughly describing the “soldiers of yore” (fig.98) by Nguyễn Thụ to illustrate the work entitled Vietnamese Popular Poems and Songs – the national cultural palace (book 4, between pages 346 and 347).

Fig.98: A SOLDIER OF YORE (by Nguyễn Thụ)

     The original sketches are the ones that show “a harquebusier” (fig. 99) and “a soldier” (fig.100).

Fig.99: HARQUEBUSIER(drawing by an artisan)

Fig.100: A SOLDIER(drawing by an artisan)

     According to military regulations under the Nguyen dynasty, the soldiers were divided into two categories: “lính cơ” (mandarinal guard) and “lính vệ” (guardsman). The guardsmen were chosen from Nghệ An to Bình Thuận and were stationed in Huế.  During the hostilities between the French and us, the Huế court had sent to the North 8000 guardsmen, placed under the command of a Kinh Lược (high official in charge of pacification).

     As for the mandarinal guards, they were drafted in the North and were in charge of guarding provinces in the North. Under the french ccupation, the mandarinal guards were replaced by the “khố xanh” (militiaman under the French rule wearing a blue waistband), and a very small remaining part of them were placed under the command of provincial governors.

     3. Some among them haven’t been paired or cut off, but have had features that are changed. On the “monochord” (between pages 128 and 129), shown in the sketch entitled “a concert” (fig. 101) by Nguyễn Thụ, the string has been lowered while in the original sketch, the artist had drawn it separately (see fig. 156).

Fig.101: A CONCERT (a traditional orchestra, by Nguyễn Thụ)

     Blind minstrels at markets used to play the monochord to earn their living. This is a typically Vietnamese type of music instrument that has only one string, and that’s the reason why it’s called monochord. The monochord is usually played solo, as it’s very difficult to harmonize it with other types of musical instruments such as the “đàn cò” (two strings violin with sound-box shaped as a pipe bowl), or “đàn kìm” (long handled guitar with four or five strings). On the sketch, we at once pay attention to a string, bound right at the end of the lever, which is different from the monochord we’re seeing today.There’s a sentence from a folk-song that reads: (being a girl, one shouldn’t listen to the monochord ) as the monochord is considered to be a vulgar musical instrument, especially when played in a calm night.

     Let’s look at the original sketch that bears H.Oger’s annotation: “Band of blindmen playing music” (fig.102). The Encyclopedic Knowledge entitles it as: “a concert”.

Fig.102: A GROUP OF BLIND MUSICIANS (first copy)

     4. But, there exist also sketches on which artist Nguyễn Thụ not only paired additional figures but he also drew additional figures such as the one entitled:

 “Flying a paper kite” and the one annotated as “Playing dog-paw chess” (fig. 103).


     When compared with the original sketch, we’ll see that the figure of a dog has been drawn additionally on Nguyễn Thụ’s sketch. The original one bears 4 Chinese transcribed Vietnamese characters: “Đánh cờ chân chó” (Playing dog-paw chess) (fig.104).


     Another original sketch bears the title: “A toad-kite” (fig.105) with the following explanation in Chinese:

As the fresh South wind usually blows in hot summer days, kids used to make this toy, called a toad-kite and wait for the wind to fly it”.

Fig.105: A TOAD-KITE (with a note in Chinese: As the fresh South wind usually blows in hot summer days, kids used to make this toy, called toad-kite, and wait for the wind to fly)

4.1.2 Errors distorting the meaning

The above-mentioned way of exploiting the work had led to errors that distort the actual meaning as follows:

     a. Most worthy of attention is the sketch on which artist Nguyễn Thụ has cut off certain details and renamed it accordingly to his own viewpoint. He named it “Pig dealers” and, shown herein (between pages 80 and 81), it gives us an idea of the scene of “a market at its closing” undergone by the traders at that period of time (?) (fig.106).  But, actually the original sketch’s annotation is “Coolies looking for a job” (fig.107). Maybe this error has been committed because the flails these people are holding look somewhat like the “pig catching noose” we’ve seen in fig.41.

Fig.106: PIGS DEALERS (by Nguyễn Thụ)

Fig.107: COOLIES LOOKING FOR A JOB (Drawing by an artisan)

     b. Similarly, the Encyclopedic Knowledge named one sketch: “Thread reeling-machine” (fig.120), while the original sketch is annotated:

     “Decorating a parasol”. Another sketch is named by the Encyclopedic Knowledge as “Rickshawman’s coat”, while the original sketch is annotated with 5 Chinese transcribed Vietnamese characters that read: “Rickshawman changing his pants” (fig.177). There’s also another sketch which can agree immediately with the title-giver who entitled it as: “Young man’s strength” (fig.128). But, the artist didn’t think so and on the original sketch he wrote three Chinese transcribed Vietnamese characters: “Man moving to and fro his coat”, while Oger had annotated in french: “worker’s way of dressing”.  We might quote another number or similar cases …