British Museum and Library Unveils Materials Relating to Vietnam War

Recently, valuable documents showcasing Vietnamese culture and the longstanding relationship between Vietnam and the United Kingdom have been unveiled at the British Museum and British Library.

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The event, organized by the Vietnamese Embassy to the UK, was part of the “Vietnam Days in the UK” program, which ran from March 28 to April 27. This program was organized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the UK. It also aimed to capture the attention of the British public by introducing them to the culture of Vietnam, as well as the Vietnamese community in the UK.

At the event, Dr. Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnam at the British National Library from 2005 to 2019, referred to historical documents that demonstrated the Vietnam-UK trade relationship had been in place for 350 years before the two countries officially established diplomatic relations in 1973.

British Museum & Library Introduces Documents about Vietnam
Vietnamese Ambassador to the UK Nguyen Hoang Long presents a souvenir to The British National Library. (Photo: Thoi Dai)

Dr. Chonchirdsin introduced two valuable documents about Vietnam currently being kept at the British National Library. The first is a letter written in 1673 by Lord Trinh Tac to Mr. William Gyfford, Head of the Delegation of the British East India Company under the British Government when they arrived to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam. The second document is the letter Emperor Canh Thinh sent to Special Envoy George Macartney in 1793. George Macartney was the Head of the British diplomatic mission sent to China on the sea route, who stopped by at the southern port of Vietnam to receive supplies in order to avoid a storm.

Both letters were written in the Vietnamese Nom script on golden paper decorated with dragon and phoenix motifs and sealed in red by the court. According to Dr. Chonchirdsin, these documents demonstrate that Britain highly esteemed trade relations with Vietnam hundreds of years ago, which serves as the foundation for forming the strong developing relationship that we enjoy today.

Dr. Chonchirdsin introduced a remarkable collection about Vietnam stored at the British National Library. It includes nine manuscripts in Nom from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, ten thousand Vietnamese printed books on various topics from the nineteenth century to the present, and nearly three hundred Vietnamese newspapers and magazines, including many rare and precious publications that were published in the North of Vietnam during the war.

At the event, Jessica Harrison-Hall, Head of the China section at the British National Museum, gave an informative presentation on the evolution of Vietnam’s ceramic industry from its start in the Neolithic or New Stone Age period of Phung Nguyen culture to the present. Jessica is a former curator of the Vietnam Art Exhibition “Behind the Front Lines” and a collector of Vietnamese ceramics, lacquerware, and paintings for the British National Museum.

British Museum & Library Introduces Documents about Vietnam
Jessica Harrison-Hall presented about Vietnamese ceramics. (Photo: Thoi Dai)

She shared information about Vietnamese ceramic artifacts that were showcased at the British National Museum, including ceramic vases, plates, porcelain bowls with intricate dragon patterns, Chu Dau ceramic products, and more, dating back to the early 14th to 15th centuries, and even later.

She also introduced many artifacts that are Vietnamese ceramic and porcelain products collected from shipwrecks, providing proof that Vietnam has possessed a renowned traditional ceramic craft for a long time. Jessica’s research illustrates that Vietnamese ceramic products have been exported to other countries, including Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and even Africa, for centuries.

Dr. Alexandra Green, Curator for Southeast Asia of the British National Museum, presented an exquisite collection of documents about Vietnam at the Museum, comprising of prints, books, paintings from the mid-20th century, ceramic artifacts, old coins, regal costumes, brocade textiles, and Vietnamese bamboo and rattan items. Noteworthy among them are many rare antiques such as Dong Son stone spearheads (from the 1st century), coins belonging to the reigns of King Dinh Tien Hoang and King Le Hien Tong, and VND 5 banknotes from 1946, to name a few.

British Museum & Library Introduces Documents about Vietnam
Vietnamese Ambassador to the UK Nguyen Hoang Long speaks at the event. (Photo: Thoi Dai)

At the event, the Vietnamese Ambassador to the UK, Nguyen Hoang Long, expressed his gratitude to the speakers for providing invaluable insights into Vietnam’s history, culture, and the foundations of the bond between the two countries that has existed for centuries. He remarked that their contributions had been invaluable.

According to Ambassador Nguyen Hoang, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the UK, and as such, the two countries have designated it as the “Vietnam-UK Friendship Year”. The Vietnamese Embassy in the UK is planning to host over 50 events and exchanges in the areas of politics, trade and economy, culture, education, and tourism in various cities throughout the UK. These activities are intended to showcase Vietnam’s image to British friends as a youthful, vigorous, rapidly-growing economy, with a vibrant culture and an enticing tourist destination.

Visitors to the event not only get to explore Vietnamese history and culture, and the formation and development of the relationship between the two countries, but also to learn about Vietnamese contemporary art through the exhibition “Hometown Colors” at the D-Contemporary gallery.

Tracy Dao