Article: Classes and costumes in traditional Vietnamese society

 

In this article Dr Sud Chonchirdsin discusses class division and its associated costumes, illustrating this with several examples from the British Library. Please note enlarged versions of each image can be viewed by clicking on the relevant image.

In traditional Vietnamese society people were divided into four classes, similar to those found in Chinese and other East Asian Confucian societies. The tứ dân, or four social hierarchical classes, were scholars (sĩ), farmers (nông), craftsmen (công) and merchants (thương).

Vietnamese mandarins, both civil and military, were divided into nine grades and each grade was further subdivided into senior and junior levels. High ranking mandarins were distinguished by their official robes in purple or red, colours reserved for their class, while lower ranking officials wore blue robes. Commoners could only wear black, brown or white dyed costumes, as Harry A. Franck, an American travel writer, observed in Tonkin in 1923: “the Tonkinese were dressed in a cinnamon or tobacco-juice colour that suddenly became as universal as black had been further south … the country women, then their men, and finally all the hand-labouring class, took to wearing long cotton cloaks of this reddish brown hue” (Franck 1926: 191).

To read the full article visit the website of the British Library

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Exhibition: How to Make the Universe Right – The Art of Priests and Shamans from Vietnam and Southern China

Exhibition dates: 30 July 2017 – 7 January 2018

‘How to Make the Universe Right’ presents a large selection of rare religious scrolls, ceremonial clothing and ritual objects of the Yao, Tày, Sán Dìu, Cao Lan, Sán Chay, Nùng and other populations of northern Vietnam and southern China. Each group has their own traditions of educating and initiating priests and shamans, who serve as intermediaries between the physical and spiritual worlds and between the community and deities, in order to make the universe right through healing, balancing the forces of nature, and communicating with ancestors. The Yao’s practices are most prominently associated with Daoism, a religious and philosophical tradition of Chinese origin, while for the other peoples, Daoist beliefs are combined with aspects of Buddhism, Tantrism and Confucianism.

The works of art in the exhibition, most of which date to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, provide the material foundation for the regional manifestations of religious practices. Examples in the exhibition include vibrantly coloured and intricately embroidered ritual robes and headdresses worn by priests, and a spectacular set of eighteen scrolls of elaborately painted deities, made for those engaged in the higher levels of initiation. The exhibition also features a display evoking the shrines constructed for ceremonies, a film on contemporary religious practices in the region, and a selection of scrolls highlighting their recent conservation and what this has revealed.

All of the works on view are part of the Barry and Jill Kitnick Collection generously donated by the Kitnicks to the Fowler Museum at UCLA in 2015.

For more information, visit the website of the Fowler Museum, Los Angeles, USA.

Event: Chris Buckley Talks about Patterns in Silk – The Marvellous Innovations of Tai Weavers

Event date: Tuesday 9 May 2017, 6–8 pm

This talk will discuss the ingenious patterning systems that Tai weavers use, and will show how their influence has been felt from imperial Chinese silk workshops in the east to the development of computing in the west. It will be illustrated with outstanding Tai textiles from China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Chris Buckley was educated at Balliol and Wolfson Colleges in Oxford. He has spent the last two decades living in Asia, and now lives in Oxfordshire. He is the co-author of The Roots of Asian Weaving (Oxbow Books, 2015) with Eric Boudot.

Location: The Pauling Centre, 58a Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6QS.

Admission is free for members, £3 for non-members.

For more information, and to register for your place, visit the Eventbrite page.