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British Library keeps valuable items showing history of Vietnam - U.K. relations

Tuesday, 15/08/2023 13:51

Although the Vietnamese collection at the British Library (BL) in the U.K. is quite small, it's actually very important, showing that the relations between the two countries had shaped long before their official diplomatic relations were set up in 1973, according to Dr. Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator for Southeast Asia at the library.

The collection comprises about 10 old manuscripts and an important collection of printed books, especially magazines and journals published in North Vietnam during the war.

Of the manuscripts kept at the BL, Gallop introduced two valuable materials, including a letter in 1673 from the Vietnamese ruler, Lord Trinh Tac, to William Gyfford of the East India Company during a trip to Tonkin to seek the establishment of commercial relations with the region; and a letter from the Tay Son ruler, Emperor Canh Thinh, dated May 1793, to welcome Lord McCartney, Head of the first British diplomatic mission on its way to establishing commercial relations with China. The ships were struck by a storm off the cost of Central Vietnam and needed to replenish provisions, leading Lord McCartney to seek help from the Vietnamese ruler.

The letter from the Tay Son ruler, Emperor Canh Thinh, dated May 1793 (Photo: Vietnam+)

Gallop said the letter of Lord Trinh Tac dated 350 years ago from 1673, reflecting that the relations between Vietnam and the U.K. are much older than 50 years. She said this beautiful imperial letter is the earliest Vietnamese manuscript in the collection, having been in the BL since 1753, right from the earliest days of the library and dating from the very beginning of Vietnam - U.K. relations.

Meanwhile, the letter of Emperor Canh Thinh is another official diplomatic exchange between the two countries that arose because of unforeseen circumstances of bad weather at sea.

Gallop also introduced three imperial scrolls issued by the Emperor in the 1920s to confer deity status on the local guards of three villages.

The scrolls reflect the conditions and the history and culture of Vietnam itself, she said.

Apart from about 10 Han Nom manuscripts dated from 17th to early 20th centuries, the Vietnamese collection at the BL includes around 10.000 monographs and 290 titles of periodicals and newspapers.

Manuscript treasures include a copy of one of the greatest Vietnamese literary works, Truyen Kieu (the Tale of Kieu) by great Vietnamese poet Nguyen Du (1765-1820), she said.

According to Gallop, her former colleague, Dr. Sud Chonchirdsin, who was the curator of the Vietnamese collections in the BL for 15 years until he retired in 2019, wrote a wonderful book about these collections, which is expected to be published this year in association with the World Publishing House of Vietnam as an event to celebrate this 50th founding anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the U.K. and Vietnam.

Being the national library of the U.K. and one of the world’s largest libraries, the BL boasts collections of more than 170 million items in over 400 languages, including books, magazines, manuscripts, maps, music scores, newspapers, patents, databases, philatelic items, prints and drawings and sound recordings from all over the world.

Source: VNA

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