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Mystery woman of the Chu Dau ceramics

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Author Topic: Mystery woman of the Chu Dau ceramics  (Read 190 times)
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« on: October 02, 2007, 01:36:31 am »

Tomb inscription

Last month, as Loiís father lay sick, he gave his son a family heirloom, a round copper tray with part of its rim burned. "I wasnít feeling well, and I was afraid I was going to die," said Bui Dinh Dau, Loiís father.

The 82-year-old man with black lacquered teeth knew he had been hiding a treasure but had never confessed the secret to his children. "My father was very good at Han Chinese, but I donít know a word," he said. "When he gave it to me, he only said, ĎThis is very precious; you have to keep it safe.í Iíve kept it mostly safe, despite the raid by the French in 1948, which demolished the house. I hid it next to our wall and when the wall fell, coals fell on the tray, burning part of the rim. After, I hid it in a terra cotta jar and buried it deep beneath the house. Now Iíve given it to my son in case something happens to me."

Mr. Dau felt he had completed his fatherís wish in handing over the vase to his son, who then took it to the archaeologist.

"Luckily, though the rim was burned, not a word of text is missing," Mr. Hoanh said.

The inscription is the same as that on Bui thi Hyís tombstone. In 1932, Loiís grandfather Bui Duc Nhuan had copied it onto the copper tray in case the original stone stele was lost. The tray bears 379 Han-Chinese characters, some of them Nom characters and corroborates much of what was written in the cloth annals.

The tombstone was written by Dang Phuc, second husband of Lady Bui Thi Hy in the second year of Canh Thong reign 1502, three years after her death. The last words on the copper tray read, "Even if times change, the original stele of the Great Aunt kept in the sacred land forbids any breaching."

The tombstone was dedicated to "The wonderfully talented wife named Bui Thi Hy".

The tray confirms that in 1452 Lady Bui and her brother set up a ceramic kiln in Quang Anh fief to trade with Chu Dau and that Buiís first husband was Dang Si. However, it added that he perished in an East Sea shipwreck. She then married Dang Phuc, also from Chu Dau. The tombstone reads, "She was a lady who excelled in martial arts and was fluent in literature. She led the business to Japan, China and the West to trade special wares."

The text confirms she could not have children and says she eventually moved to Quang Anh and made several charitable donations for building and bridge construction.

"In the night of the 12th day of the eighth month of the Year of the Goat (1499), there was a typhoon with heavy rain, lighting and thunder; Lady lay behind a screen, glowing with a rose-coloured light like an ascending dragon. Then she passed."

From what was written on the copper tray, Tang Ba Hoanh drew some telling conclusions, not only about Bui Thi Hy, but also about the trading scene at the time and the history of women.

"Up until now," said Mr Hoanh, "when studying Chu Dau ceramics, we always thought that foreign trading vehicles visited Chu Dau to ship goods away. But this document clearly shows the merchants of Chu Dau, notably Lady Bui Thi Hy, led their own shipping fleets abroad." This important detail has corrected the belief that only foreign ships docked at old Vietnamese harbours to export goods. It is also corrected the idea that foreignersí stories were responsible for scenes of ships on Chu Dau ceramics.

But even though Buiís ships may have indeed sailed, the problem of geography remains. The "West", Bui supposedly traded with may only refer to Southeast Asian countries, West Asia and the Middle East where many Chu Dau ceramics survive. "We know that in the British Library there are over 1,200 pages of diaries about trading with Pho Hien (todayís Hung Yen Province) in 17th century," Mr Hoanh said. "My thought is that maybe the diary about trading with Chu Dau has been hiding somewhere and needs further research."

Another issue raised by the inscription is womenís place in history. "We know that a Vietnamese man leading his ships abroad was quite rare, and in this case we have a woman doing a manís job," Mr. Hoanh said. "An outstanding lady, whose second husband didnít hesitate to call her exceptionally talented, can now be appreciated as an extraordinary 15th century sea merchant of Viet Nam.

"She was brave enough to sign her own name on her works, an assertion of her rights and authority. And she was daring enough to move on after her first husband died and remarry. She deserves to be more greatly appreciated."

Last month, a conference was held in Hai Duong to commemorate Bui Thi Hyís death and to inform people about the latest findings on her life and work.

As for archaeologist, Tang Ba Hoanh, he said he hoped that further excavation would reveal more about the lady and hopes the original tombstone will substantiate the writings on the copper tray.

But the Ladyís descendants under the instructions of 82-year-old Bui Dinh Dau will likely follow the warning written at the end of the copper tray to preserve the sanctity of their ancestorís tomb. ó VNS
« Last Edit: October 02, 2007, 01:38:50 am by Jasmine » Report Spam   Logged

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