->Rare Cantonese Assembly Hall Discovered in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

An ancient archaeological remains pays tribute to the remarkable craftsmanship of the Thang Long Imperial Citadel in the early 1900s.

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Located at No.22 Hang Buom Street, the Arts and Culture Center, commonly referred to as the “Cantonese Assembly Hall”, is a captivating attraction nestled within Hanoi’s enchanting Old Quarter. Renowned for its remarkable architecture, this hidden gem seamlessly blends elements from Vietnamese, Chinese, and French cultures, making it a truly unique and culturally significant site to explore.

The present-day cultural jewel is a magnificent creation of human ingenuity. It showcases the richness and diversity of human civilization, offering an immersive experience that transcends geographical boundaries and time periods.

Used to be a Cantonese Assembly Hall in Hanoi, the house at No.22 Hang Buom Street becomes a center of culture and art in Hanoi. Photo: Dong Quan 

“The exhibition, Khong Gian Ky Uc No.22 Hang Buom, captures the essence of No.22 Hang Buom Street, intertwining its rich history with stories of life. This humble abode serves as a symbol, representing the diverse narratives of the past and present, the fusion of European rain and Asian wind, the cultural heritage of the Ke Cho people and overseas Chinese, and the vibrant spirit of today’s Hanoians.”

The Arts and Culture Center at No.22 Hang Buom is currently hosting a series of remarkable art exhibitions. Among the notable showcases are “Phieu Dieu” (Drifting), “Ky Hoa Pho Co 2021” (Sketches of the Old Quarter 2021), “Ha Noi la…” (Hanoi is…), “Khong Gian Ky Uc 22 Hang Buom” (Space of Memories at 22 Hang Buom), and “Photo Hanoi’23 – Biennale.” These exhibitions present an extraordinary opportunity to experience and appreciate diverse artistic expressions in an exceptional venue.

The exhibition center offers free admission and is open during daytime hours every day of the week. These exhibitions have garnered a significant number of visitors due to their cultural significance and unique photo opportunities. Additionally, the center serves as a multicultural hub for young people to gain knowledge about historical and cultural traditions.

During her visit to the former Cantonese Assembly Hall, Laura Armstrong, an Australian tourist, expressed her enthusiasm for Hanoi and its ancient charm. She mentioned that she had visited Hanoi two years in a row, as she thoroughly enjoyed exploring its rich history. She described the heritage of the former Cantonese Assembly Hall as a “hidden gem” that beautifully captures the essence of Hanoi’s past.

It is also a favorite check-in point of locals. Photo: Bich Ngoc

Tra My, a Vietnamese student from Mainz, Germany, shared her experience with The Hanoi Times, stating, “Being a Vietnamese student living in Germany, it is a rare opportunity for me to delve into Vietnamese history during my short visit to Hanoi. Discovering that Tuoi Tho Kindergarten was once a notable Cantonese Assembly Hall, similar to this one, was truly intriguing. The chance to capture photos in such a splendid setting with its numerous picturesque corners and complimentary entrance was truly exciting.”

The successful restoration of the Cantonese Assembly Hall is a testament to the dedication in preserving Hanoi’s cultural heritage. One of the key attractions in the capital city, the Arts and Culture Center located at 22 Hang Buom, serves as a significant magnet for tourists, both local and international, seeking an enriching experience.

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The Cantonese Assembly Hall boasts a sprawling area of approximately 1,800 square meters, creating a grand impression on visitors. This magnificent space seamlessly combines the rich cultural influences of Vietnam, China, and France, while still preserving its ancient charm. Comprising multiple compartments designed in accordance with the original hall’s structure, this historic landmark truly embodies the essence of its heritage.

 The funky architecture of the former Cantonese Assembly Hall in the heart of Hanoi. Photo: Nhin Shine 

The building features walkways and corridors on both sides, providing convenient access for visitors. A prominent giant dragon plum tree graces the front yard, offering refreshing shade. Within, one can find the front hall, central hall, and sanctuary, which are designed in accordance with the architectural style of ancient assembly halls. The layout incorporates courtyards, surrounded by main buildings and side corridors shaped like the Chinese character 口 (or “mouth” in English), allowing for ample natural light and a spacious atmosphere.

As visitors enter the main hall, they are instantly transported to the grandeur of a Western cathedral. The spacious nave captures the essence of Western architecture, with its impressive wings extending to the east and west. The meticulous detailing, seen in the reliefs inspired by Doric columns and Greek laurel wreaths, further showcases the sophistication of this space.

In conjunction with the stained glass windows, this establishment also showcases exterior shutters. These shutters represent a key characteristic of French architecture and are commonly found in historic French villas throughout Hanoi.

The houses in this area are adorned with intricate ceramic reliefs that depict significant narratives from the culture of Guangzhou specifically, as well as China as a whole. These reliefs often feature tales from renowned works such as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

The today’s wonderful space for art and cultural exchange in Hanoi. Photo: Nhi Shine 

The roofs of the building are adorned with exquisite Chinese glazed tiles. Additionally, prominent ceramic reliefs, known as “Whistle,” adorn the walls of the front hall. These captivating artworks were crafted during the renovations of the 1920s.

The confluence of Eastern and Western architectural elements imbues the bustling old town with a tranquil and captivating ambiance, forging a serene and ethereal environment at its core.

Centuries of History

The Cantonese Assembly Hall, situated at 22 Hang Buom Street, Hang Buom Ward, Hoan Kiem District, holds a history dating back approximately 400 years. Originally established by the Cantonese community that immigrated to Ha Khau Ward, Huu Tuc Canton, Tho Xuong District (now known as Hang Ngang, Hang Buom, Hang Bo, and Lan Ong Streets), this cultural institution has stood the test of time.

According to local historians, this location served as a hub for religious activities, trade, negotiations, and arbitration of commercial disputes for Chinese expatriates.

As the 20th century progressed, significant historical events started to impact the Ancestral Hall, serving as a symbolic meeting place for the intertwined destinies of Vietnam and China.

Part of the hall. Photo: Nhi Shine

Following the reunification of the country in 1975, the Cantonese Assembly Hall underwent a change in purpose, being expropriated for the establishment of Tuoi Tho Kindergarten in 1978. After several decades, in 2018, the kindergarten was relocated, allowing the Assembly Hall to undergo a restoration process. As of the end of 2021, the newly restored space now serves as the Arts and Culture Center located at No. 22 Hang Buom Street. This center has been designated as a venue for hosting various exhibitions.