Hué in time

Hué in time

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What´s left of the Old Hué gives a vague idea of how the Citadel and Imperial City looked like during the times of the Nguyen dynasty. Was the city as enchanting as its remains are striking with their absence? What was the ideal of beauty? Who were the artists? Which details are authentic and what is much later translation of former splendor?
Presuming that I´m not the only person interested, adding the great outreach of internet, the blog may be a platform for us who want to know more and who have something to tell about the city of Hué. In time.

Eunuchs of the Imperial Hué

PeoplePosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Tue, April 09, 2013 23:50:41

"ANNAM - Hué - Les Eunuques, gardiens du Sérail". Postcard issued by Collect. Dieulefils-Hanoi. Image symbol: 1007 A, Year of issuing: unknown, year of sending: 1915 ? (illegible), measurments: 13,5 cm x 9 cm. Private collection

Closer look at the lower-right corner of the postcard reveals information that the photo was published by the Collect. Dieulefils – Hanoi.

Pierre Dieulefils is yet today regarded as a famous and highly productive photographer of the French colonies. Including Indochina.

In my opinion, cards like this were not available on every corner of the Vietnamese cities. They were rather seen as some kind curiosity, an exotic souvenir required by foreigners. This needs though father enquiries.

The fact that the picture was taken in Hué means that someone, if not Pierre himself, must had travelled there from northern Hanoi. From Tonkin to Annam. Today the journey takes about 12 hours by train. Hundred years ago travel of this kind was done by boat. It took several days.

Next obstacle was entering the Forbidden City which, by definition was not to be entered. It is difficult to say whether the photograph was taken in the forbidden part of the Hué Citadel, or maybe behind its walls. For instance at the Queen Mother´s Compound. The glassed windows might have been an indication if only some more architectural substance was still extant.

One could wonder how was it possible to gather a group of eunuchs and make them pose for the photographer and the camera. Would they ever imagine that the picture was to be published and distributed? Probably not. But, here they are…

When it comes to the institution of eunuchs, Nguyen Dynasty was repeating the Chinese pattern. Whether the eunuchs were born as hermaphrodites or self castrated, they were highly required at the Hué court. The edict was issued by the one of the first emperors stateing that bearth of the hermaphrodites must be reported to the local authorities, which in turn had to report the fact to the Palace.

Self castration, painfull and cruel, gave however an entrance to a better life.

The eunuchs were working as a influential servants. Royal harem was their main domain where they were famous for various intrigues. They were also appreciated in the compounds inhabited by the Emperor´s mother or grandmother.

There was of course hierarchy within the group but the dark blue clothes with flowery embroideries and certain kind of hat were common to all, making them recognisable.

Eunuchs were rewarded for their services with rice and silk; the salary quite common among other lower officials and maids.

Outside the citadel walls a smaller temple was erected and offered to the eunuchs by the imperial court. They could pray there and find refuge being sick or feeling lonely. Being too old to work, they could live their last years there and die.

Tu Hieu Pagoda is cocidered to be one of the most important in Hué.

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Empress Nam Phuong

PeoplePosted by Krystyna Kierebinski Thu, September 13, 2012 23:38:05

There is a grave on the local cemetery of the French village of Chabrignac. Incised letters inform: Sa Majeste Nam Phuong Imperatrice D´Annam 1913 -1963.

She was fifty when the heart attack took her life.

Her fairy tale started far away from the place of resting. In another world.

Nam Phuong´s portrait, laquer painting. On display in Bao Dais Villa, Dalat. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski 2012

She was born as Marie Marie-Thérèse Nguyễn Hữu Thị Lan in region of Mekong Delta.

Or maybe as Mariette Jean as other sources claim.

Her hometown was Gò Công. One of many small towns of the region. At the time of her birth todays Vietnam was part of the French Indochine and divided in three parts; southern Cochinchina, central Annam and northern Thonkin.

Her family was wealthy and Roman Catholic. Father Pierre owned his riches thanks to his connections with the Archbishop of Saigon and the marriage to the dotter of a billionaire.

The French were ruling and setting standards than. Marie-Thérèse, or Mariette, was sent to France to be educated. Her parents found a private fashionable catholic school in Paris. She left Gò Công at the age of 12.

Ten years later, in 1934, she was known for the whole Indochina as a future wife of the Emperor Bao Dai.

The story has it that they first met on a ship between Indochina and Europe. It is also said that this acquaintance was not purely casual but encouraged by the French who preferred the Catholic and France-friendly wife for the Annamese Emperor.

The father of the future bride arranged a meeting for the couple in his villa in the city of Dalat. Mariette is described as beautiful, charming and intelligent girl. The Emperor enjoyed the rumour of being handsome, well educated and well mannered. Was it love? It could be.

To have more complete picture one has to be aware that the Annamese court was in a desperate need of money. It may be one of the reasons why the Emperor Bao Dai fought for Martiette to become his wife. Her beauty, charm and wealth were not enough. She was a Catholic and not so long before Bao Dai´s very own ancestors repressed and banned this group.

The matter was not easy and using todays measures might be seen as the potential conflict which could arise if the one of the European modern princes wanted to marry a Muslim girl. Not only Annamese elite was against this union.

The Emperor´s will had won. Beautiful Mariette from Gò Công became the Empress of Annam. By the announced edict, the only of all royal consorts, was she allow to bear this title. Maybe a proof of great devotion, maybe a part of the arrangement?

Except the wedding ceremony yet another one was held, the coronation of the future empress. Bao Dai himself granted her the crown and the yellow robe reserved exclusively for the sovereign. As a place of residence the couple chose the Kien Trung Palace within the Hués Forbidden City. Entering her future home Mariette was offered new name by her husband. From now on she was to be called Nam Phuong.

Section of a model of the Hué´s Forbidden City. Somewhere here, in the central part stood the Kien Thrung Palace. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

They had five children, several villas, wealth and prestige. Some sources insinuate though that the marriage was stormy. A story has been mentioned about the wife of a French official being urgently called to Dalat in order to calm her friend, the Empress, who was about to use a gun towards her husband in some jealousy drama. They may also be some grains of truth behind the emperor being described as playboy.

Photo of the couple´s five children. On display at Dalat Villa.

Photo of the Emperor Bao Dai at the mantle piece in Dalat Villa. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

Those family affairs with time had to cease in the blow of history. In 1945 the imperial city of Hué fell to the Ho Chi Minhs army. The emperor abdicated but the new government offered him a position of advisor.

Nam Phuong was still in Hué. With children she moved to An Dinh Palace, lavishly decorated building by the small river outside of the Citadel. After two years her husbands’ political carrier was over. The whole family left Vietnam for France.

An Dinh Palace, Hué. photo: Krystyna Kierebinski, 2012

While the former emperor stayed in the fashionable district of the city, his wife led a quite suburban life.

So far I have this much about the beautiful Empress Nam Phuong. She is still a well kept secret.

If You have some credible information to share, please do.

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