AREA STUDIES - VIETNAMESE STUDIES: A VIEW FROM THANH HOA - XỨ THANH
Assoc.Prof Mai Van Tung; MA Le Thi Thanh Thuy
Hong Duc University
Thanh Hoa is not only seen as an administrative unit simply, but also the land - named Xứ Thanh. This is open, dynamic and transitional land between East - West, South - North. Humans arrived in this land a lot early and left their cultural prints from the Stone, Bronzen to Iron Age and continuing development until present. Therefore, Xứ Thanh became a typical historic- cultural area of Vietnam. During the process of construction and defence the nation, Thanh Hoa always held the key position. Especially, in a thousand years of Feudal period, this land produced and contributed to the nation many dynasties and lords, gifted people, preeminent heroes, famous scholars and talented military leaders. Thanh Hoa precisely deseves to be ‘the sacred land with preeminent heroes’. From the early 20th century to present, specifically after the Renovation (1986), a large number of researches on Area studies - Thanh Hoa studies have been interested by both Vietnamese and Foreign researchers and achieved significant results that clarifies some traditional historic- cultural spaces as well as several changes in coastal, delta and moutainous areas. This is a basic ground to have a perceptive analysis about Xứ Thanh and vital contribution to Area studies and Vietnamese studies.
Key words: Xứ Thanh, culture and history, Area Studies, Thanh Hoa Studies, Vietnamese Studies and Tourism.
It can be seen that the earliest research about Vietnam were written by Chinese scholars and then by Westerners who came to trade and evangelize this land. After French colonialists established their ruling apparatus in Vietnam, the French began paying more attention on studying Vietnamese history and culture. Thus, in recent decades, a very large number of institutions of Vietnamese studies- Area studies within and outside national have been established. Moreover, Vietnamese studies has become an ology which has been researched and taught in educational institutions in Vietnam and all around the world. Recently, there many scientific forums about Vietnamese studies have been held. This proves the crucial position, role, prestige, and impressive influence of Vietnam in the international arena.
Thanh Hoa, in the history of Vietnam, is concerned as an embodiment or a miniature picture of country. In other words, Thanh Hoa converges the typical characteristics of Vietnam in all aspects towards geographic, historical, cultural and social conditions. Therefore, from very early beginning, Thanh Hoa became an object of Vietnamese researchers in terms of history and culture. From research results on Thanh Hoa, Vietnamese researchers have clarified many Vietnam related- issues in terms of history, culture, ethnicity and ethnic relations. However, that is merely the beginning outcomes of arising researches. Hence, it is necessary to pay more attention on studying Thanh Hoa in all aspects based on interdisciplinary approach in order to enrich materials about Vietnamese studies and to solve many theoretical and practical issues about Thanh Hoa, Vietnam and Area studies.
- Thanh Hoa – the typical historical and cultural land of Vietnam
Many Vietnamese and foreigners scholars are used to saying beautiful words about Thanh Hoa in their works. H. Lebreton (1918) in his book titled La Province Thanh Hoa written in French (Thanh Hoa Province- Beautiful Thanh Hoa) assumes that “…this place has the most beautiful landscapes with enriched history and legend in Indochina.’ . This comment indicates that Xu Thanh (Thanh Hoa Province) has many beautiful landscapes, tourist attractions and it is transitional and dynamic land associated with the timeline of national history. This land is also a treasure of richest folklores of Vietnam in particular and Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) in general.
The reality of the history – culture and nature of the country as well as the results of half-century of interdisciplinary social science studies give us more knowledge and understanding of the rich the form and the wealth of this cultural heritage.
Thanh Hoa is located on the gateway of central part of Vietnam. Due to the characteristics of geography, topography, geomorphology and diversity of ecosystems, Thanh Hoa becomes an open, dynamic and transitional area between the East - West, South - North. Therefore, humans arrived in this land a lot early and left their cultural prints from the Stone, Bronzen to Iron Age and continuing development until present. We can turn around to look back the memory of Vietnamese people through typical archaeological sites and relics such as: Đọ Mountain (Núi Đọ), Điều Stone Roof (Mái Đá Điều), Làng Trắng cave, Con Moong cave, Đa Bút , Hoa Lộc and Đông Sơn culture. Especially, a wide range of investigated archaeological relics of Đông Sơn culture concretely confirms that Thanh Hoa is an important central area of Vietnam during the Hung Kings era (Hùng Vương). This is the ancient Vietnamese culture and civilization that has full of vitality and spreads throughout the Southeast Asian islands and continents. At the same time, through archaeological relics of this period, we understand that a few thousand years ago, our ancestors had a very rich and diverse materials and spiritual life, which are fundamental foundation for the development of the nation step by step proactively enriching the national cultural capital. In the national journey over the thousand years ago, Mã River delta has formed crowded villages, which have created many valuable tangible and intangible cultural heritages making important contribution to creating the core values of Vietnamese cultural identity.
During the process of building, maintaining and developing the country, Thanh Hoa always holds a key position. This place is the “partition, rear, battle field" that accompanied the country to overcome difficulties and challenges to preserve national independence. In particular, it can be seen most clearly in a thousand years of Feudal independence and self-reliance that Thanh Hoa constantly produced and contributed to the nation dynasties and lords, gifted people, preeminent heroes, famous scholars and talented military leaders for the nation. These are valuable properties and heritages which create the history and culture characters of the national in general and culture identity of Thanh Hoa province in particular.
With a 102 kilometers coastline expanding through Nga Son, Hau Loc, Hoang Hoa, Sam Son, Quang Xuong to Tinh Gia districts, the long coastline has created typical marine cultural sub-region and cultural heritage resource. Hoa Lộc Culture is a clear evidence showed that Hoa Lộc residents have initially conquered the sea. After that, by the Đông Sơn Period and in later periods, the inhabitants flooded across the coastal land exploiting and conquering the sea. By that way, the people who live in the "wave of the wind" have formed the coastal village communities and also significantly contributed to preserving the islands' sovereignty, creating their own appearance as well as the cultural diversity of this area.
More importantly, the coastal region of Xu Thanh is also an area that holds an important position especially in the socio-economic development, defense - security, preserving ecological environment and biodiversity. Moreover, this is a potential area which has many strengths in exploitation and production of marine products, developing agriculture. Besides, a long coastal line with 102 kilometers has formed many beautiful beaches, those are an endless resource for tourism development. In addition, the deep-water ports of the region are good conditions for trading. These ensure for the stability and development for Thanh Hoa province and the Northern Central Region as well.
In term of cultural and spiritual life, the coastal area of Thanh is saving many myths such as Độc Cước God, Bà Triều - a founder of weaving nets, with several characteristics of religious beliefs such as worship Fish God (Cá Ông), Four Women Saints (Thánh Nương). Additionally, there are also abundance of ceremonies for worshiping Sea Gods that are preserved in most coastal villages. Particularly, the most special things in the cultural and spiritual life of coastal residents of Xu Thanh are traditional festivals. For example, annual festivals are held on this land like Cầu Ngư festival (Hau Loc, Tinh Gia district), Mai An Tiêm festival (Nga Son district), Độc Cước Temple festival (Sam Son district), Quang Trung festival (Tinh Gia district) and thousands of festival is held during the year. These traditional festivals have special meaning in spiritual life and also in community cohesion, cultural preservation and tourism development.
Thanh Hoa is one of the largest and most crowed provinces in Vietnam. This is also the roof of many ethnic groups, thus it is concerned as a miniature picture of the country. This was also remarked by H.Lebreton:"Thanh Hoa is not merely a normal administrative unit, it is also the land (Xứ) like the miniature Tonkin, it has rich and fertile delta, the midland region has limitless expanses of trees, grassy hills, high mountains and thick forest” . Besides, there are 7 ethnic communities living together on this land including Kinh people- ethnic majority and 6 ethnic minority groups: Hmong, Yao, Khmu, Thai, Muong and Tho ethnic. In spite of the diversity of ethnicity, most researchers merely focus on study the Kinh or the tradition of building and maintaining the country of Thanh Hoa people. Therefore, in-depth research on other six ethnic minorities has not been systematically reviewed. In fact, six ethnic minorities inhabit in large area accounting for 3/4 of the total natural land area of the province, mostly in mountainous area. This part of land has many beautiful landscapes, scenic spots. The land also stores the mass cultural heritage of ethnic groups, typically intangible cultural heritage namely speaking language, written language, folk language, folk performing arts, religious customs and beliefs, festivals and indigenous knowledge. For instance, the ancient villages system of Muong and Thai people is beside and along the river banks: Mã, Âm, Lò and Chu...etc. This area also has a number of unique nature reserves such as Pù Luông National Park (Ba Thuoc district), Bến En (Nhu Thanh district), Xuân Liên (Thuong Xuan district), Son Bá Mười area (Ba Thuoc district) and so on. Further, traditional handicraft products are rich and diverse. These are very valuable cultural and tourism resources that need to be exploited, conserved and developed.
In general, these above evidence are intended to confirm profoundly that Thanh Hoa is a miniature Vietnam, where is gathered adequate historical and cultural values, natural conditions to make Thanh Hoa sooner become a unique historical-cultural region which cannot find in any region in Vietnam. It is a valuable and special resource for socio-economic development, especially serving directly to the development of tourism industry of Thanh Hoa in particular and Vietnam in general.
- The initial result research on Xu Thanh based on interdisciplinary Area Studies
First of all, it must be confirmed that interdisciplinary studies and records – area studies about Thanh Hoa have existed very early. For example, Đại Nam Nhất Thống Chí (Dai Nam Comprehensive Encyclopedia) is the compiled by the compiled by the National Institute of History under the Nguyen dynasty . It can be said that this is the most complete official geographical book of Vietnam in the feudal period, which records systematically all aspects of life, not only in term of geography but also in history, economy, politics, arts and culture of all places across the country from Lang Son to Ha Tien under the Nguyen dynasty and also Thanh Hoa in there.
During the French colonial period, in Vietnam in general and Thanh Hoa in particular, there were many studies and records conducted by foreign scholars, especially French scholars. It is necessary to mention typical works about Thanh Hoa by some famous French authors such as: H.Lebreton with his works named La Province Thanh Hoa (Thanh Hoa Province), published in 1918 ; Charles Robequain with Le Thanh Hóa (Thanh Hoa Province), published in 1929 ; R. Robert with the work of Notes sur les Tày dèng de Lang Chánh (Thanh Hoa) (The Tai Daeng People in Lang Chanh) published in 1941 . In short, these are 3 core interdisciplinary studies on Thanh Hoa region which are valuable science evidence written by French scholars.
Since the Renovation of the country (1986), especially in the last two decades, there are dozens of interdisciplinary research projects on Thanh Hoa. First of all, there are a large number of works about Thanh Hoa province, its district and commune. It can be listed as: Thanh Hóa Geography [22,23,24,25]; Geography of Hậu Lộc district , Geography of Hà Trung district , Geography of Thọ Xuân , Geography of Yên Định district , Geography of Tĩnh Gia district , Geography of Thiệu Hóa district , Geography of Bá Thước district , Geography of Lang Chánh district , Geography of Ngọc Lặc district , Geography of Cẩm Thủy district , Geography of Triệu Sơn district , Geography of Thường Xuân district , Geography of Quảng Xương district , Geography of Quan Sơn district . In general, most districts and towns in Thanh Hoa province has invested in compiling geography, even some communes like Geography of Diêm Phố - Ngư Lộc commune , Geography and History of Hưng Lộc commune …etc. These are valuable scientific documents like a big encyclopedias about Thanh Hoa province which helps us understanding more about the province in all aspects of economic, cultural and social, the land and people in different sub-regions in Thanh Hoa.
Furthermore, in the past few decades, there are many monographs in various fields have been studied based on interdisciplinary perspective – area studies which have achieved significant results. There are some typical works such as the traditional social organization structure of Vietnamese villages along the coastal land of Hau Loc district, Thanh Hoa province written by Dr. Pham Van Tuan ; Socio-economic changes in villages in Dong Son area, Thanh Hoa province from 1986 to present by Dr. Dao Thanh Thuy ; Cultural change of the coastal residents in Hau Loc district, Thanh Hoa province from 1986 to present by Dr. Nguyen Thi Viet Hung ; Tay Do citadel and Vinh Loc area (Thanh Hoa) from the end of the 14th century to the middle of the 19th century by Dr. Nguyen Thi Thuy ; Indigenous knowledge of Thai people in mountainous areas of Thanh Hoa by Dr. Vu Truong Giang ; Local knowledge about the use and management of natural resources of Muong people in Ba Thuoc district, Thanh Hoa province by Dr. Mai Van Tung …etc. In general, these above monographs have contributed to shedding light on a number of traditional historical - cultural spaces as well as its changes in coastal and delta regions to the mountainous areas of Thanh Hoa.
Briefly, the area studies records about Thanh Hoa have been interested by both Vietnamese researchers and foreign scholars very early and achieved certain achievements that significantly contributed to the field of Area studies- Vietnamese studies. We believe that Thanh Hoa studies and Area studies have certain strengths that are overall and comparative research placing Thanh Hoa in a wider framework; specially putting Thanh Hoa in the context of Vietnam or Southeast Asia that will contribute to understanding more deeply about Thanh Hoa in the wider context of Vietnam or in globalization today.
- History and culture of Thanh Hoa are key resources for tourism development
According to the Cultural Heritage Law in 2009, Thanh Hoa Cultural sector has completed comprehensive investigation on the system of relics and landscapes within the province. Accordingly, there are more than 4,000 relics and landscapes in Thanh Hoa. Officially, according to statistics in 2014, the province has 792 ranked monuments, of which 1 monument is recognized as a World Cultural Heritage (Citadel of Ho Dynasty), 2 relics are recognized as special national monuments: Lam Kinh historical relic area and historical and artistic architecture of Ba Trieu relics area, 142 nationally recognized monuments, 647 provincial-level relics are recognized . These massive cultural heritage resources denote for richness of the land and Thanh Hoa people in the process of national history and culture.
Taking Japan- a mordern industrial country as a typical example of preserving and developing culture and tourism. The historical values and traditional culture of the nation are matter of priority which are respected and promoted. Besides regarding to the importance of natural geographical factors, biodiversity, Japanese people have a tradition and a high sense of respect for their national history and cultural preservation through the preservation of traditional cultural traditions and Japanese spirits; preserving cultural- historical relics (system of Shinto Shrine temples, Buddha temples, castles, ancient architectures…); preserving ecosystems and natural landscapes. In general, Japanese tourism have a good impression for tourists because of their unique tourism product system which is derived from traditional cultural heritage resources, natural landscapes and subtle creativity of Japanese.
In addition, taking Cambodia- a highly developed tourism country- as an illustration for the country boosting their tourism sector successfully. The Cambodian tourism industry has exploited skillfully and flexibly the resources of cultural heritage resources and natural ecosystems available. The treasure of traditional cultural heritage of Cambodia is very rich and branded in the world. They are architecture of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom temples, the royal palace ... The Buddhist thought is very bold in the social life of Cambodia. In fact, tourists are very excited to try the cuisine of the land of Temples with a wide range of attractive and delicious dishes such as insects, vegetables and rice .
Thailand is considered to be the leading country for the smokeless industry sector (tourism sector). This is only country of the region listed in the top 10 countries with the largest number of international tourists in the world. One of the factors that helped the tourism industry success is developing community tourism. Community tourism has helped the villages in Thailand become attractive destination for tourists around the world, contributing to preserving the culture and environment, creating more jobs and increasing income for the local people. There two typical cases of community tourism development strategies in Thailand are Mae Kampong village and Khok Kong village. Hence, studying and learning experiences from these two cases is important Vietnamese tourism sector in planning and developing community tourism in general and in Thanh Hoa as well, especially developing tourism in company with ethnic cultural spaces.
Taking back to Vietnamese tourism, according to statistics of the Institute of Tourism Development Research, Vietnam has more than 200 models of community tourism development recently. Some outstanding successful models are Lác village (Bản Lác) (Mai Chau district, Hoa Binh province) and community tourism development model of the Co-Tu ethnic group (Ta Bhing commune, Nam Giang district, Quang Nam province) . From this, we have learned two important lessons. Firstly, tourism products normally focus on local natural resources combining with the traditional culture of indigenous people. For instance, "homestay" tourism is usually combined with experiencing traditional festivals, cuisine. Secondly, preserving and promoting the value traditional cultural identity of the nation should be in association with attractive tourist spots. In particular, the historical - cultural values are key sources creating a unique and attractive destinations and tourists as well. Therefore, local authorities at all levels should pay their attention to preserving the traditional culture of the nation, propagating local people maintaining their traditional cultural activities while helping the community restoring their unique festivals, traditional villages.
Regarding some successful cases, it is also worth to note that, there still are several weaknesses in boosting national and local tourism. The separation of conservation, museum and tourism activities for a long time have made the cultural and tourism mechanism become rigid. We need to be seriously aware of mutual relationship between cultural heritage and tourism development. Cultural heritage resources are always a fulcrum for tourism development. Tourism, on the contrary, contributes to promoting culture through visitors. At the same time, tourism resources play a crucial role in preserving and promoting cultural heritage values. In the end, cultural heritage is a key resource for tourism development in particular as well as for the national socio-economic development in general. Thanh Hoa is a unique cultural heritage area that will inevitably become a special resource for tourism development. This is the potential and strength of Xu Thanh that needs to be invested, exploited and developed.
Through practicing tourism activities in Thanh Hoa, the fact shows that, the province is still lack of the policy mechanism for tourism development. More importantly, we are lacking the professional tour guide’s team with enthusiasm for their work. Thanh Hoa tourism in particular is in need of professional tour guides who have wide and thorough knowledge of tourism, history, culture, ethnicity, Vietnamese studies, and local knowledge (about Thanh Hoa). Because tour guides are actually seen as cultural messengers who send the cultural messages to visitors, so that they can understand and appreciate cultural differences of ethnic groups through life activities. Consequently, if we do not respect the culture, the tourism product will not be promoted, even it will lost in oblivion or disappear in the future. Therefore, from the author’s viewpoint, the mission of educational institutions of Vietnam Studies is to train core tour guide’s team that solving both theoretical and practical tasks in order to promote tourism sector in Vietnam and in Thanh Hoa in particular.
Once again, it can be stated that Thanh Hoa is not only seen as an administrative unit simply, but also the land – named Xứ Thanh. This land is open, dynamic and transitional area between East- West, South- North of the country. During the process of construction and defence the nation, Thanh Hoa always held the key position. In the history of Vietnam, Thanh Hoa is concerned as an embodiment or a miniature picture of country. Indeed, Thanh Hoa converges typical characteristics of Vietnam in all aspects towards geographic, historical, cultural and social conditions. In other word, Xứ Thanh become a typical historic- cultural area of Vietnam. Through significant results of researches on Area Studies and Thanh Hoa Studies, we fully understand the historical values and cultural resources of this unique land. These research outcomes are special resources for tourism development that definetely contribute to the national socio- economic development in order to increase Vietnamese people income in general. Cultural heritage and historical tradtions always play a vital role for national and local tourism development. They are outstanding points in toursim spaces. Therefore, investing in culture also means investing in toursim and vice versa.
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About the authors:
- Assoc. Prof. Mai Văn Tùng
Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences
Hong Duc University
565 Quang Trung Street, Dong Ve Ward, Thanh Hoa Province, Vietnam.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone number: 0989.332.443
- MA. Lê Thị Thanh Thủy
Deputy Head of Sociology and Social Work Division, Faculty of Social Sciences
Hong Duc University
565 Quang Trung Street, Dong Ve Ward, Thanh Hoa Province, Vietnam.
Email: email@example.com Phone number: 0977.787.972