|Nguyen Ngoc Man and his lanterns
Lantern making is a traditional craft of Hue. However, since an appropriate orientation has not been found, the design has not been improved in a timely manner, and the increasing demands of customers cannot be satisfied, this profession has gradually disappeared over time. Many households here had to quit their jobs or just maintain seasonal production. Meanwhile, the demand for lanterns among Hue people is very high, so lanterns have to be imported from other places.
As a Hue person, Mr. Man has always pondered on how to maintain the traditional crafts of his ancestors. Mr. Man’s grandfather is artisan Nguyen Ngoc Giao - the person who made lanterns for display in Hue Citadel since the time of the Nguyen emperors. Later, due to the difficult economic situation, the students he taught gradually quitted the profession.
Gradually, the ancient profession of making lanterns has imperceptibly “disappeared” right in the land of Hue. “To get a foothold in the market, my family had to go through many hardships. There were some times when I was discouraged and wanted to give up halfway because of difficulties in investment capital, product promotion, and consumer markets. However, with the determination to restore the traditional profession of my ancestors, I overcame everything to maintain and develop the lantern making profession today,” said Mr. Man.
Upon obtaining a Bachelor degree in Fine Arts in Ho Chi Minh City, Mr. Man returned to his hometown and was determined to restore the profession. With the motto “Nothing is impossible”, he convinced his relatives and family members, then boldly borrowed capital to invest in opening a workshop at home, hiring workers and teaching lantern making techniques.
At first, his workshop only produced simple, traditional lanterns such as pyramidal, star-shaped, revolving, pumpkin ones, etc., to serve the people of Hue and surrounding areas during Vesak days, ceremonies and worships, or as decorations at churches, private homes, and cafes. After that, he boldly registered his lanterns for exhibition for the first time at Hue Traditional Craft Festival in 2013, and initially received attention and orders from locals and tourists.
To attract more and more customers, Mr. Man constantly explores, learns, researches, and creates many new models, at the foundation of promoting and improving traditional ones. Many new models such as lotus-shaped, globe, hexagon, tulip, garlic-shaped, dragon, dragon - unicorn - turtle - phoenix ones have been appropriately designed based on specific needs, tastes, and decorative spaces.
Currently, Co Do Lanterns have more than 50 models, highly appreciated by consumers for their durability, beauty, and reasonable price. Co Do’s lanterns can withstand rain, wind, and sun for several years or even longer because they are made of brocade and silk.
The frame is made of dried pine and acacia wood - a light wood that does not warp or bend. On the fabric background are carved sophisticated patterns, carved motifs on wooden frames, and printed on fabric are images of mausoleums, pagodas, flying dragons, dancing phoenixes, Hue royal architecture, or simply beautiful natural scenery such as plants, flowers, birds, animals, clouds, mountains and rivers. All are meticulously handcrafted by the workers at Mr. Man’s workshop.
In recent years, Co Do Lanterns have participated in exhibitions at Hue Festival and Hue Traditional Craft Festival, Minh Hanh Ao Dai Festival, Hue Ao Dai Week in 2023, and are displayed in the Imperial Citadel and pagodas inside and outside the province. Along with developing the profession, the workshop of Co Do Lanterns also creates many models that are small, compact in size, yet still have delicate patterns, and can be folded neatly for ease of use and long-distance transport for visitors.
Mr. Man confided: “My first order abroad was in 2014 when I brought lanterns to display at a fair in Hanoi. At that time, I came across a Japanese architect, so he ordered several hundred of them to Japan as decorations at hotels and restaurants, etc.”. After that order, Mr. Man was invited to Tokyo (Japan) to directly sell lanterns to customers there.
Recently, at 2023 Hue Traditional Craft Festival, Co Do Lanterns introduced to the public about 30 traditional Hue-style lantern models. Also, at this exhibition space, workers at Co Do Lanterns directly demonstrated the craft of making lanterns for visitors to admire.
Currently, there are 20 workers working all year round at the workshop of Co Do Lanterns, with an income of 4-7 million/person/month. During the festive season and Lunar New Year, Mr. Man has to recruit dozens of new workers to meet the needs of customers. The price of products of Co Do Lanterns ranges from 20,000 VND/piece to 6 million VND/piece.
In recent years, the use of lanterns as decorations at spaces for creating highlights and increasing aesthetics and artistic values, contributing to beautifying the space brilliantly and prominently, as well as displaying gentle and loving beauty has become a trend among many young owners.
Ms. Pham Thi Quynh Giao - Head of Hue City’s Culture and Information Department, a member of the organizing committee of Hue Traditional Craft Festival, said: “Mr. Man’s Hue traditional lanterns are of high aesthetic value. During Hue traditional craft festivals, Mr. Man’s lanterns are always prioritized by the organizers to order in large quantities to decorate and promote Hue culture to everyone.”
The products of Co Do Lanterns have received many noble awards of the Provincial People's Committee, Department of Culture and Sports, ministries and central branches, such as: Top 10 Vietnamese brands - favorite Vietnamese goods in 2014, Top 100 brands by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Typically, in February 2017, Co Do Lanterns were honored to be “Certified as Vietnam’s leading products and services” by the International Intellectual Property Institute.
Co Do’s lanterns not only dominate the majority of Hue market, but also reach many other provinces and cities, such as Binh Dinh, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, Ba Ria - Vung Tau, Nam Dinh, Hanoi, etc., and even get exported to India, Singapore, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, France, America and so on.