Culture Culture

09/02/2023 - 07:41

The researcher Vu Kim Loc:

Sun, chrysanthemum & Vietnamese dynasty

The researcher Vu Kim Loc caused a stir in public opinion recently with new and interesting announcements about chrysanthemums and the sun - the symbol of the Vietnamese dynasties. And he gave us an exchange around this topic.

Vu Kim Loc holding a mandarin hat from the Nguyen Dynasty that was auctioned by Sunshine Group in Spain and donated to Thua Thien Hue province Photo: Pham Luu

From working with the restoration of the Nguyen Dynasty’s crowns and hats, how did you come to this work? And, over the years, what artifacts of the Nguyen Dynasty have you successfully restored?

I got into the job of restoring crowns and hats by accident, because I am a jeweler,  and, after all only a jeweler can do this work. However, before that, I had research works on gold and silver antiques such as "Champa Antiquities" (Le Xuan Diem - Vu Kim Loc 1996. National Culture Publishing House). Next was "Champa's Jewelry" (International Convention on 100 Vietnamese Archeology, 2001). Then there is “Mysterious Antiquities” (National Culture Publishing House. 2006).

So far, I have successfully restored 8 crowns and hats of Nguyen emperors and mandarins, in which, 4 crowns (which are kept at the National Museum of History) were restored by my colleague and I. The remaining 4 mandarin hats were restored by myself.

The 4 mandarin hats that I restored were of Marshal Le Van Phong (brother of General Le Van Duyet), 1 hat of Marshal Thien Vuong (at Ho Chi Minh City Museum of History), 1 hat of Marshal Thoai Ngoc Hau (at the memorial house of Thoai Ngoc Hau) and a Spring-Autumn hat of the Nguyen Lords (private collection).

You once wrote on your personal page that, since the restoration of the 4 crowns and 4 mandarin hats of the Nguyen Dynasty, it has opened a new research direction, which is the sun and chrysanthemum decorated for the entire system of crowns and hats of the Nguyen Dynasty. Could you tell me more about this research direction and what you have discovered about chrysanthemums and the sun?

It is true that since the restoration of 4 crowns and 4 mandarin hats of the Nguyen dynasty has opened up a whole new research direction. It is the discovery of the sun - chrysanthemum, a symbol of kingship not only in the Nguyen Dynasty but also of other dynasties. During the Nguyen Dynasty, it was just a continuation and inheritance. Following this discovery was the sun - chrysanthemum on the Dong Son bronze drum, a symbol of power of the primitive state of Van Lang - Au Lac.

Thus, it clearly shows that the sun - chrysanthemum has shined throughout the history of Vietnam. It must be said that this is an important and pivotal discovery, because it will solve many problems that previously could not be solved by researchers of culture and art, while the sun - chrysanthemum appears a lot on relics and artifacts from the Ly to Nguyen dynasties, especially in the Le Trung Hung dynasties with dense density and even coverage in art.

In addition, the sun and chrysanthemum also dominate in spiritual and cultural life not only in the Imperial palace, but also in society. It is known that this is a book taught in universities.

It is known that you are also carrying out a research project "Sun - chrysanthemum in dynasties in Vietnam", could you tell us more about this work?

My research work is based on historical evidence such as the regulation that the sun represents the throne of Emperor Minh Mang (Dai Nam Thuc Luc, volume 2, pp. 275-277. Education Publishing House). Chrysanthemum is a symbol of the sun and is also the eternal fullness recorded in the Dictionary of "World Cultural Symbols" (Jean Chevalier - Alain Gheerbrant, Da Nang Publishing House, 1997, p. 222).

These evidences are combined with the reality of the crown system of the Nguyen Dynasty: The two dragons adoring the sun on the emperor’s crown, the two dragons adoring the chrysanthemum on the mandarin's hat, and the phoenix worshiping the chrysanthemum on the queen's hat, etc. Then on the throne, the treasure sword of Emperor Gia Long, on the roof of Ngo Mon, Thai Hoa palaces... all of them have the presence of the sun and chrysanthemums.

From here, in the process of expanding research, it was discovered that the sun was very popular in the Dong Son culture and almost all bronze drums in this period had the presence of the sun. But it is worth mentioning that during the succession and inheritance of the dynasties from Ly to Nguyen, the sun on the bronze drums, and decorative projects such as two dragons, two phoenixes, sun adoration, and chrysanthemum flowers were also very popular.

Evidence such as the sun and chrysanthemum shown on the treasure sword of the Ly - Tran dynasties has been discovered and displayed in the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, on the hats of Le Kings and Trinh Lords...

In order to ensure the appeal and surprise of the upcoming book, I will only reveal a little bit here: In the feudal period, an interesting thing is, dynasties like Ly - Tran, then Le - Mac - Trinh Lords and Nguyen Lords - Tay Son - Nguyen had disputes such as usurping the throne and civil war.

But it is worth mentioning that the parties still used the sun - chrysanthemum to symbolize kingship and there was no change to oppose each other. That much is enough to say the magic and spirituality of the sun - chrysanthemum has ingrained in the consciousness of Vietnamese people.

As far as I know, your research articles on chrysanthemum and sun have inspired many young people to continue their research, as well as inspire creativity in the fields of fashion and architecture. ... Could you please tell me more about this and your feelings towards it?

It is true that this is the case, as recently, a student at the University of Architecture in Ho Chi Minh City, Doan Kim Khanh, was inspired by my research on the sun - chrysanthemum to do his graduation project. Most recently, the famous fashion designer Vu Lan Anh released a collection of ao dai named "Dai Viet Chrysanthemum and Sun", which was very impressive in the international fashion show in Hanoi recently.

As an antique restorer, you turned to research on a very new topic, chrysanthemum and sun in Vietnamese culture. What advantages and disadvantages did you experience? And where will this road take you?

It was very convenient that during the restoration process, I was able to see with my own eyes and touch the masterpieces of jewelry on the sun – chrysanthemums. Through them, I could feel the thoughts and messages that the ancient artisans conveyed.

Right now, I don't know where this road will take me. In the short term, I only know to continue writing to complete my work, which makes me happy enough as I don’t have much time.

Thank you for this interview!

Story and photo: Tuong Minh