It is a significant coincidence that both the Nguyen Dynasty woodblocks and the Thang Long Imperial Citadel were recognized by UNESCO as World Documentary Heritage and Cultural Heritage in 2009 and 2010, as the whole country focused on celebrating a historic milestone - the 1,000th year anniversary of the capital.
For Director Pham Thi Hue of the State Records and Archives Department at National Archives Center 4, the recognition was not just a joyful occasion, it was also a blessing from the ancestors that she and her partners found the woodblock of the original edict issued by King Ly Thai To on moving the capital from Ninh Binh Province’s Hoa Lu to Thang Long – Hanoi in 1010. They found the woodblock among those preserved from the times of the Nguyen Dynasty.
According to Hue, the woodblock of the Complete Annals of Great Viet, including the Edict on the Transfer of the Capital by King Ly Cong Uan was engraved during the Le Dynasty (1697) or re-engraved during the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1807).
She said there were many documents related to moving the capital in 1010, but most of them are just copies, whereas the edict on the woodblock of Dai Viet Su ky Toan thu the Complete Annals of Great Viet, is the oldest and only original one so far.
Hue, who has spent almost 30 years taking care of the collection that dates from 1802 to 1945, said, “Two weeks after the discovery, I still could not sleep. I think the king blessed us just as we were preparing to commemorate 1,000 years of Thang Long – Hanoi.”
The 41 x 21.2 cm woodblock has 214 words (excluding notes) engraved in Han characters, presenting the edict in concise and clear language.
The edict begins by citing previous instances of capitals being moved by Chinese emperors, making the case that such decisions bring greater prosperity to the country. It notes that the kings did not move their capitals on whim or because they wanted to
The woodblock with the original edict to transfer the capital from Ninh Binh Province’s Hoa Lu to Thang Long - Hanoi by King Ly Thai To in 1010
Before he passed away, King Ly Nhan Tong told his offspring to hold a simple funeral and reduce the number of days in mourning. He also urged them to save money and not build a mausoleum in honor of himself.
Nguyen Dynasty woodblocks, currently preserved and stored in Da Lat Town, Lam Dong Province, consist of 34,618 plates dating from 1697 to 1945, bearing epigraphic contents of various books on history, geography, socio-politics, military, legislation, education and literature.
The blocks have letters carved in Chinese or ancient Vietnamese. The letters are carved in reverse so that when the image is printed, it will appear the right way round.
The collection boasts many valuable and rare wood blocks, including Dai Nam nhat thong chi (History of the Unification of Great Viet Nam) and Dai Nam thuc luc (Royal Annals of Great Viet Nam).
King Ly Cong Uan (974-1028) enumerated the benefits of moving the capital thus: “For great achievements, for the eternal dwelling place for generation to generation, for the prosperity and strength of the country, the capital must be moved to a better land which is in the middle...” The king said the move was in “obedience to celestial will and met the people’s needs.”
After studying the terrain and the position of Dai La citadel (Thang Long-Hanoi), which lies on a flat, broad area of the flat alluvial delta of Red River, and has the position of flanking dragon and sitting tiger (river to the front, mountain to the back), Ly Cong Uan decided this was the place. “Based on such benefits, I want this land as our dwelling place.”
The set of Nguyen Dynasty woodblocks also reveal several policies initiated by the feudal dynasties over the last 1,000 years of Thang Long, including the conduct of 184 examinations for finding and recruiting talent - from the first one held by King Ly Nhan Tong in 1075 to the last one in 1919.
Through paintings and other media it was known that mandarins had to wear the dragonfly hat and boots when they were at the king’s court, but no one knew which dynasty had initiated that rule.
The answer can now be found from the woodblock. In the second plate of book 3 of the Complete Annals of Great Viet, King Ly Thanh Tong (1054-1072) states: "In the autumn of August, the king summoned one hundred officials to the court at Thuy Tinh palace, commanding them to wear a dragonfly hat and boots to attend the court.”
The woodblock also reveals that King Ly Nhan Tong (1066-1127) found a way to make officials study properly and improve their knowledge. Plate 10 of book 3 of the Complete Annals of Great Viet states: “Only the educated will be selected to serve in the Temple of Literature.”