Destroy heritages, we erase the past

  • August 06, 2018

Just a few days after a national workshop to judge the country’s progress towards protecting cultural heritage, anger is brewing.

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Ancient: Chem Communal House was built around 1,200 years ago, which makes it one of the oldest buildings in Vietnam. 

Many people are upset that a 300-year-old communal house in a Hanoi’s suburb has been ruined. The reason? Careless restoration.

The Luong Xa Communal House in Lien Bat Commune, Ung Hoa District was said to vividly feature architecture of Le Trung Hung Dynasty (The Later Le Restoration from 1533 to 1789) - a distinction current in Vietnamese historiography.

Since 2001, its condition has deteriorated, despite some minor restorations.   

Head of Luong Xa Residental Group Pham Tu Khai said that until last year, the communal house degraded so badly that there were fears it may actually collapse.

The community came together to raise cash to restore the property, with local families each donating VND800,000 (US$34.3), with two major donors chipping in with VND4 billion.

But when Vietnam News Agency reporters visited the house earlier this week, they discovered a construction site overflowing with bricks, cement and steel.

And to their dismay, original wooden structures had been replaced with cement.

Deputy Director of Ha Noi’s Culture and Sports Department Truong Minh Tien said the dismantling and rebuilding of the ancient property was a violation against Law on Cultural Heritage as Luong Xa Communal House was a historical cultural relic.

“Restoration of historical and cultural relics must follow compulsory scheme and ensure to maintain historical cultural values,” he said.

However, an official from Ung Hoa District’s Culture Department said they informed Lien Bat Commune and Luong Xa Hamlet about the plans but their information was ignored.

Nguyen Duc Binh, head of Dinh Lang Viet (Vietnamese Communal House), a group of history lovers wants to help popularise the structures’ cultural and aesthetic values, said what has happened is a destruction of the past and a destruction of heritage.

He said the house itself was the essence of sculpture art and has been ruined by the renovations.

At the national workshop on cultural heritage protection held last Friday, PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc said: “When we lose a heritage or just part of the heritage, we fire a bullet to the past and lose national identity.”

Phuc also pointed out that many heritage sites have been modernised and deprived of their unique features. Policies supporting folk artists have been implemented slowly. The role of the people in preserving and developing heritages’ values has still been limited.

Binh reminded us of the words of art critic Nguyen Quan in 2015 who spoke at a conference titled “Communal houses in the north – Lost and left”.

Quan said that “Without restoration, [communal houses] die slowly, with restoration, they die immediately.”

Binh said that Quan’s remark was a perfect sum up of what has happened at Luong Xa.

“Hasty careless restoration, especially without proper understanding, destroys heritages,” Binh said.

Ha Noi’s Relics Management halted the construction and Ha Noi People’s Committee is expected to announce solutions next month.

Binh said it was urgent to have policies in place to prevent a repeat of what has happened.

Resident Nguyen Ha Lam said that locals wanted to restore and save the old communal house, not to have a new one.

Another resident Pham Thi Tuyen said that she wanted the communal house to be restored so that people could continue gathering there for community’s affairs.

“We don’t want cement structures to replace the old wooden ones. It has damaged both architectural and spiritual values,” she said.

Communal houses appeared in Vietnam in the 16th century and developed strongly late 17th century and early 18th century. At that time, Vietnam had about 11,800 villages, each of them have different communal house, pagoda and temple system with a number of statues and decorative items.

The communal houses combine the role of a village meeting-room and a place of worship.

Communal houses could be a pride of local people and a place where visitors could learn much about local culture and life.

With their values in culture, spiritual, architecture, sculpture and community life, communal houses must be preserved as long as possible.

The older it is, the more we could learn from it. It’s so sad to know that despite having a law to protect the heritage, relevant agencies often act too slow. 

Bich Huong

Source: VNS

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