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Chinese Epigraphy in Vietnam

par Lemardelé Élise - publié le

Principal Investigator : Philippe Papin

Participants : Marianne Bujard, Marc Kalinowski, Pierre Marsone, Olivier Venture, Nguyên Van Nguyên, Vu Thi Mai Anh et l’équipe Epigraphie de Hanoi.

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This research project is based on a massive corpus of some 40 000 rubbings of inscriptions, corresponding to at least 25 000 stelae and that are currently available for study. Half of this collection was published in 22 volumes, accompanied by 11 descriptive catalogues that will greatly facilitate their consultation by the project participants. The remaining part is kept in the archives of the Han-Nôm Institute in Hanoi, but there are digitised images, in the form of computer files, which makes them more accessible. Access to these resources is therefore a given.

Nine-tenths of these inscriptions not only come from the countryside but also deal with topics relating to the countryside. They provide a very different – and often surprising – perspective from the one that has relied for decades on official sources, imperial decrees and court annals. In a first series, we find information about the village’s internal organisation, boundary maintenance, regulations issued by the councils of notables, the mandarinate’s intrusive decisions, the names of localities, the market’s organisation as well as the building and repair of public monuments. A second series, that is more complicated to address, reveals data about the lives of ordinary people and notables, family accidents, conflicts and solidarity between neighbours, as well as issues involving police, justice and money. The third and most abundant of the series is concerned with religion, ceremonies and pious donations, a specificity of Vietnam, and contains enough material for the study of Buddhist practices in a popular milieu, its connection with the cult of the dead and village festivals as well as its economic and financial implications, for charity is always very orderly.

This project is in line with CRCAO’s desire to extend its activities to cultural areas related to China and the use of Chinese. Vietnam provides us with a case study. If its great history ties it firmly back to the empire, it differs enormously from it when we place the magnifying glass on its village culture where surprising variations appear. The same applies to language : certainly, it is classical Chinese, but studded with demotic characters and moulded in a grammar that is often coloured by the spoken language.

For scientific reasons that are both linguistic and cultural, this project calls for the collaboration between Sinologists and specialists of Vietnam, which is in itself an innovation. The CRCAO is thus inaugurating an entire section of its program that concerns the way in which peripheral populations, agents in their own history, drew on the empire. The general theme unifying the case studies is "Using China".