Những Chuyện Hậu Cung Vua Thành Thái Và Khải Định: Ông Vua

Nguyễn dynasty Emperor Thành Thái (ruled 1889-1907) is often remembered at best as eccentric, at worst as mentally unstable. Some historians have claimed that his madness was fabricatedby the French in order lớn diminish his authority. Others have suggested that Thành Thái himself feigned madness in order khổng lồ confuse the French. While there may be good reason to lớn doubt some of the more lurid accounts of Thành Thái’s behaviour, it’s clear that his “abnormal temperament” manifested itself from an early age, và that by 1907 it had precipitateda serious constitutional crisis at the court of Huế.

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Here is a selection of contemporary descriptions of the events leading to Thành Thái’s eventual detention and removal from the throne.

Nguyễn Phúc Tộc Thế nên (Nguyễn Phúc Family Genealogy), Hội Đồng Trị Sự Nguyễn Phúc Tộc, 1995“He was intelligent by nature, but his temperament was abnormal, he sought debauchery & rarely listened to those trying lớn dissuade him; on many nights, he would ride his horse out of the Citadel seeking pleasure, and nobody stopped him. Because of his temperament and behaviour, in the third month of the Quý ghen year <1893 – Thành Thái was then aged just 14>, government mandarins had khổng lồ seek permission from the Queen Mothers’ Palace lớn rest his troubled mind at the Bồng Dinh Palace on Tinh Tảm Lake.”

Excerpt from Henri Turot’s “Indo-Chine, Philippines, Chine, Japon: d’une gare à l’autre,” 1901A curiosity of Cholon is the elegant mansion of the Phu (prefect), where lovers of culinary peculiarities will be initiated into the complicated mysteries of Annamite cuisine.The Phu also has two very sweet daughters, each with her own story khổng lồ tell.One was formerly in love with a young officer who died unexpectedly before the nuptials, and whose tomb is piously maintained by the Phu. The other had the good fortune to lớn attract the attention of the young Emperor of Annam when he came to Saigon lớn visit Governor General Paul Doumer. It’s said that at nightfall, the Asian sovereign jumped over the wall of the palace, where he had been offered rather formal hospitality, & made his way khổng lồ Cholon to engage, under the window of the Phu’s daughter, in manifestations incompatible with royal majesty. M. Doumer, who does not take such matters lightly, was called to come and put things right.


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A young Emperor Thành Thái (ruled 1889-1907) with his two brothers, from Quelques notes sur l’An-Nam, L. De Sainte-Marie, 1895


“Le Roi d’Annam” (The King of Annam), in La Croix, 5 October 1906The Courrier d’Extrême-Orient, which arrived yesterday in Marseille on the ship Calédonien, has provided us with the following account, which is reproduced here with the most express reservations.“The old palace of the kings of Annam has been the scene of a new act of madness by Thanh-Thai. Recently, with the return of his bloodthirsty fantasies, this prince killed some of his women, in circumstances which displayed the heinous & dangerous state of mind of the master of Annam. Now, the king has murdered with a revolver the prince president of the Council of the Royal Family. The victim, who enjoyed general respect, was already of great age, with him was extinguished the last son of the Emperor Minh-Mang.Afterwards, the king locked himself in his private apartments, refusing lớn receive the Résident supérieur, that is to say an act which is considered an affront against the representative of France in Annam. His own ministers also were the object of a similar exclusion.”

“La Folie d’un Empereur” (The Madness of an Emperor), from Le Progrès, 3 July 1907There’s currently a great khuyễn mãi giảm giá of talk in colonial circles about the sanctions which will be imposed in response lớn the lamentable excesses committed by the Emperor of Annam.Thanh-Thai, who only last year was received with great pomp và ceremony in Hanoi, has become mad. In his own palace he has committed cruelty on the people around him reminiscent of that of the decadent Roman emperors. One of his wives was delivered naked lớn tigers, others were riddled with bullets, others tortured in a hundred abominable ways: In truth, it’s already a few years since Thanh-Thai, obviously suffering from some physiological defect, began khổng lồ indulge in this kind of bloodthirsty sadism. We were able lớn recognise in him some traits which left no doubt in this regard. We knew that he has always rebelled against any moral direction. When M. De Lanessan was Governor General of Indochina, Thanh-Thai, then barely 15 years old, already had a harem of a dozen women. One of them, the daughter of one of his ministers, exercised great influence over his mind and ruled him entirely through the senses, pushing him khổng lồ the most culpable wrongdoing.M. De Lanessan recounted how that intriguing minister had himself thrown his daughter into the arms of the emperor, the better lớn establish his authority in Hue. His plan was khổng lồ get rid of the Queen Mother, & once that unwelcome guardianship had been discarded, khổng lồ seize power nguồn entirely for himself.During a trip to lớn Hue, M. De Lanessan had the occasion khổng lồ get to know Thanh-Thai. He struck the Governor General as being lượt thích a little boy, capricious but intelligent. Yet he seemed ignorant và badly brought up. M. De Lanessan admonished him severely about his conduct.


Jean Marie Antoine de Lanessan, Governor General of Indochina 1891-1894 (Photographie Marius)


But already, to lớn another resident of France who had previously made similar representations khổng lồ him, the young emperor had answered: “Why are you criticizing me? It was you who raised me.”It’s unfortunate that Thanh-Thai never received a proper education & that while he was still young he was abandoned to the violence of his perverse instincts. Following the admonition of M. De Lanessan, he promised lớn correct his flaws. But scarcely had the Governor General left than the young sovereign resumed the course of his vicious life.Thus, over a long period, were the pranks, the eccentricities and the criminal follies of this degenerate kept secret. The old mandarins of the court knew them so well that they had gave Thanh-Thai only their official deference. The old Queen Mother deemed the problem so severe that she was always opposed lớn his freedom.What is new is the sudden fuss which is now being made about the excesses of this unbalanced prince, given that in the past everyone seemed content to deplore his activities in silence. The result of the publicity surrounding his behaviour is that the emperor was submitted lớn an examination by doctors, who declared the “non-accountability” of the sovereign.Thanh-Thai has been detained in his palace so that it is impossible for him to cause any further harm. What should be done now? M. Beau, the current Governor General of Indochina, has studied this question & the Minister of Colonies has given him full powers lớn resolve the issue.Several solutions come to mind. Whatever course of action is decided, it is very important that the government of the French Republic remains in the background as much as possible, or at least gives the appearance of so doing, and that it is seen khổng lồ yield in accepting the pressure of the court, of the co Mat (Council of Ministers), the literati.This much is certain: Thanh-Thai is already discredited in the eyes of the Annamite people. Since the day he appeared in a chauffeur’s costume, hair cut short under his cap and large dark glasses on his nose, driving a motorcycle furiously, he was lost lớn them.Accustomed to see their rulers only from afar and in a setting of apotheosis, with their chignons gathered on their heads, advancing majestically in silk robes, the Annamite people have only the most profound contempt for an emperor who drives around the streets, exposing himself lớn all curiosity, khổng lồ all the familiarities and taunts of the crowd.


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Thành Thái & his brother in 1900


If, thus, the emperor were to lớn be deposed, his disrepute is such that the people will likely do nothing khổng lồ restrain the hand which removes his crown.If approached by the Governor General, members of teo Mat of the Annamite empire will surely not be far from seeking his deposition. But it is understandable that M. Beau does not wish lớn approach them until all the ministers are fully agreed on this matter.Another solution would be lớn consult the people by way of referendum. But it seems a priori difficult to organise such consultation.In addition, once the emperor has been deposed, should we replace him or should we instead abolish the monarchical principle in Annam? Paul Bert already considered such abolition, several years ago, giving thought to the idea of equipping the country with parliamentary institutions. There is no shortage of scholars who would tư vấn a move in this direction. But what would the people think of a solution which, in depriving them of their sovereign, removes the religious leader of Annam?More numerous, it seems, are those inclined to lớn replace the deposed sovereign. But then the question arises regarding the choice of successor. With whom should we replace Thanh-Thai? Most would argue that a prince of the imperial line should be called lớn the throne. Some have already posed the candidature of Ham-Nghi, who has now lived for several years in Algiers. But we oppose this candidacy, on the grounds that Prince Ham-Nghi, having married a French woman, would have no influence over his people from the religious point of view, & would only cause us serious embarrassment.In the meantime, M. De Lanessan has asked the Queen Mother khổng lồ issue an edict dispossessing Thanh bầu of his prerogatives và investing all royal powers in a Regency Council. Thanh-Thai, confined to his palace, may one day be cured of his madness. In any case, being isolated, he will be harmless.M. Beau is currently studying these various solutions. What is important, regardless of the decision taken, is that the co Mat is seen by the Annamite people to assume all responsibilities for that decision.


Riverside decorations in preparation for a river trip by Thành Thái


“L’empereur d’Annam” (The Emperor of Annam), in Bulletin de la Société de géographie commerciale de Paris, August 1907The Emperor of Annam, Thanh Thai, having indulged in numerous acts of violence which denoted a veritable intellectual impairment, obliged us in 1906 khổng lồ impose certain monitoring measures to lớn prevent the recurrence of his deplorable excesses.However, we have recently had khổng lồ reach a more rigorous decision regarding him.On 30 July 1907, the Résident supérieur arranged for the detention of the emperor in his palace và the setting up of a Council of Regency to lớn take charge of affairs under the control of the Résident supérieur.A phantom of a sovereign, Thanh-Thai was only a hieratic idol, dressed in yellow silk; he never took active part in the government.

“l’Intèrnement du Roi d’Annam” (The Detention of the King of Annam), in Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, 2 August 1907Readers will recall that in the month of August 1906, after Thanh-Thai, King of Annam had indulged in many acts of violence, veritable movements of madness caused by habitual debauchery, the Résident supérieur was obliged to lớn take, with the co Mat (Council of Ministers), measures lớn put an end to the king’s scandalous conduct.Since that time he has been monitored constantly, and for a while it seemed that he had returned khổng lồ a state of reassuring calm. But towards the over of May 1907, the mandarins placed at his side expressed concern about some changes in his manners, some alteration of his features, outward signs by which, periodically, his acts of madness were manifested.Furthermore, the Résident supérieur had to be brought in khổng lồ witness the awakening of the king’s bad instincts when he inflicted the most serious abuse on members of his entourage.All of the facts and specific information gathered by the Résident supérieur now leaves no doubt about the disorder observed in the state of Thanh-Thai, on his recklessness and on the dangers of letting him continue to lớn exercise royal power.In these circumstances, the government recently decided that it was necessary to detain the king in his palace and to establish a Regency Council, composed of members of teo Mat và chaired by the Minister of Justice, under the overall & ongoing control of our representative in Hue.


Emperor Thành Thái (ruled 1889-1907)


In implementing this decision và in accordance with instructions of the Minister of Colonies, the Résident supérieur proceeded on 30 July 1907 with the detention of the king in his palace & the establishment of the Regency Council, which immediately took over the direction of royal affairs, under the supervision of the Résident supérieur.The Governor General, in providing the information above, remarked that these measures were executed without any incident occurring.

“L’Empereur Fou” (The Mad Emperor), in Les Annamites: société, coutumes, religions by Colonel Édouard Diguet, 1907The Emperor Thanh thai will be deposed, but no one yet knows whether the monarchical principle in Annam will be removed or maintained.M. Beau, Governor General of Indochina, has been concerned, since his arrival in the Far East, with the Emperor Thanh-Thai, who is now confined lớn his palace, out of harm’s way.Members of teo Mat or Council of Ministers of the empire of Annam, when approached by the Governor General, were unanimous in asking for the mad emperor lớn be deposed. They have proposed as his successor a child, descendant of the Emperor Gia Long. The candidacy of Ham-Nghi, the dethroned former Emperor, was ruled out by the co Mat, the latter having lost, through his marriage with a French woman, any link with his race; indeed, the return of Ham-Nghi would have been viewed very badly in Annam, where the prince is now considered a stranger.M. Beau, before formally consulting the co Mat, wondered if we might profit from the deposition of Thanh-Thai by abolishing the monarchical principle in Annam, & replacing royalty in this country by a sort of parliament. This is an old idea which Paul Bert came up with some years ago when he thought of creating in Hanoi a permanent Congress of all the Councils of Notables. A certain number of Tonkinese and Annamite scholars, those dedicated to civilising ideas, would not take a dim view of the introduction of such a parliamentary system in this country. But what would the people think of a solution which, by depriving them of their sovereign, removes the religious leader of Annam?This issue is indeed very serious. M. Beau is studying it very carefully, and we know that the Minister of the Colonies has given him full authority khổng lồ resolve it. It’s in Annam, and not in Paris, that this matter must be determined.From all points of view, whether a new emperor ascends the throne in Annam or a parliamentary system is introduced, the fate of Thanh-Thai is in no doubt. This mad sovereign, when the issue is laid before the teo Mat gathered in solemn assembly, will be deposed.


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Paul Beau, Governor General of Indochina 1902-1908


But it is understandable that M. Beau is prudent enough not to proceed until members of the co Mat are all agreed on the correct course of kích hoạt in retaining or abolishing the monarchical principle in Annam. – F H

“La Folie de l’Empereur d’Annam (The Madness of the Emperor of Annam), in La Lanterne: journal politique quotidien, 7 September 1907The newspaper l’Opinion, while expressing reservations about this information, relates that a few weeks ago, the Emperor of Annam experienced an acute fit of madness, the tragic manifestations of which required the intervention of M. Lyce, Résident supérieur of Annam, who, if warned in time, could have prevented a scene of carnage in the palace of the young sovereign.Armed with a revolver, Thanh-Thai rushed into the léman luxury of his concubines, and, at close range, allegedly killed three of his women. Continuing into the private apartments of high ranking concubines, he proceeded to tie up two of them, including the Empress herself, và whipped them until they were bleeding.The co Mat, which is the great Council of Ministers of the Annamite empire, moved by the demented attitude of the sovereign, has drafted a report containing eight complaints about Thanh-Thai, among which, apart from the above facts, is one very serious in the eyes of Annamites – bathing naked in the river of Hue.Since ancient times, the Annamites, lượt thích their educators the Chinese, lượt thích to surround the majesty of the sovereign with a mysterious and divine character. It would have been clever of the French government to lớn keep this character in the emperors we ourselves placed on the throne of Annam, those who had already committed, in the eyes of the people, the crime of being our creatures. But, lượt thích awkward and curious children, we broke the idol which represented the Annamite design of royal majesty. The Emperor Thanh-Thai promenades around the đô thị on a bicycle, or in a Victoria carriage with one or two of his wives, thus exposing himself lớn a promiscuity which greatly undermines his prestige. What must his subjects think?We could see the concern in their eyes at the 1897 celebrations in Saigon và at the Hanoi Exhibition in 1902. One whom the Annamite regards with not a shudder of awe, only a curious eye và a tad of maliciousness, cannot be his king. He thinks bitterly that we should have left untouched the majesty of the emperor, whose sovereignty we had already removed.

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“L’Internement du Roi d’Annam (The Detention of the King of Annam), in La Quinzaine coloniale: organe de l’Union coloniale française, 1907Thanh Thai, the King of Annam, has been detained by order of the government. One cannot say that this measure is a surprise. Indeed, it’s more than a year already since the government signalled its intention of taking this decision, and at that time everyone agreed with the idea, finding it amply justified by the scandalous fantasies và atrocities which surrounded the name of Thanh-Thai, both in his kingdom và throughout the Far East, an orgy of bloodthirstiness & debauchery.However, under the influence of considerations whose value now escapes us, it was eventually thought better khổng lồ give him the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, if we were hoping khổng lồ see from the young king some kind of repentance, recent events have been quick lớn show that we overestimated his wisdom. After seeming, for a few months, to lớn have mended his ways, Thanh-Thai returned to his bloodthirsty excesses.This time, the government had to recognise that it was no longer possible, under pain of incurring grave responsibilities và provoking perhaps an uprising in the Annamite population, to lớn continue to lớn entrust the exercise of royal power to lớn a sovereign who has, for his subjects, became an object of ridicule, disgust and hatred. It was therefore decided khổng lồ detain Thanh-Thai in his palace & to establish a Council of Regency, composed of members of the teo Mat, which will operate under the chairmanship of the Minister of Justice and under the control our representative in Hue.It must be said that the stern measures which have been taken to address the delicate và complex situation created by the state of dementia displayed by Thanh-Thai have not given rise to lớn the slightest criticism. The constitution of a Council of Regency is viewed, indeed, as the only regular and normal way of ensuring continuity in the exercise of the royal function in a country where a sovereign who is unable khổng lồ reign nonetheless remains invested with the title of king.But isn’t it the case that press coverage of the events which have just occurred in Hue have been, if not inaccurate, at least incomplete on an essential point? When we telegraphed from Saigon that the king had been deposed without difficulty or incident, we purposely emphasised the word “deposition.”


This was to lớn show that Thanh-Thai was not only seen to be removed from the exercise of power, but also that he had been deprived of the title & dignity of king. In other words, the government had opened the vacancy of the throne for an indefinite period, effectively removing the monarchy.If that were so, this matter would be extremely serious. It would be nothing less, in fact, than a revolution in the inner constitution of the kingdom, a tacit abrogation by unilateral means of the conventions which govern the organisation of our protectorate in Annam và determine the nature of the relationship which binds the Annamite nation to lớn France and its representatives.One will understand, under these conditions, that a further explanation of the nature & scope of the measures taken by the government appear to us essential.We hope that those explanations will permit nothing khổng lồ subsist of the hypothesis that we have issued. If it were otherwise, we can only regret a dangerous sudden change of course in our Indochina policy, by a measure imposed by no necessity.Thai-Thanh himself, despite his follies và bloodthirsty extravagances, has never been an embarrassment to us; his detention has rendered him harmless, without any need to take away the title of king. If one decided khổng lồ go that far, it could only be on the condition of nominating a successor immediately, who, whatever the choice of candidate, will not more seriously hamper our actions.In short, whatever the personality of the sovereign, what is needed is to lớn retain the monarchy, which in this country is little more than decor, facade, but a facade to which the Annamites are accustomed, an important component of their traditional institutions behind which our action is exercised with ease và freedom. Indeed, we could not exercise that kích hoạt to the same xuất hiện and convenient degree without the visual deception provided by this fiction.We would lượt thích to think that the government does not think differently from us on this point and that the deposition of Thanh-Thai did not take place in way we have dared to imagine above.This is one more reason why the authorities must hasten to put things straight by means of an authorised communication which defines precisely the new situation created by the measures taken in respect of Thanh-Thai.


“Un Roi Fou” (A Mad King), in LeJournal, 7 October 1907Thanh bầu has abdicated & it is the young Duy-Tan, aged only eight, who has succeeded him on the throne.Marseille, 6 October – The newspaper Le Courrier Saïgonnais, which arrived this afternoon, gives the following details on the abdication of King Thanh Thai & the ceremony of elevation to lớn the throne of his fifth son, aged eight, the second of his surviving children, who will reign as Duy Tan.In the morning, in the presence of the Governor General and the Résident supérieur, various rituals took place aimed at choosing the regnal name of the sovereign and presenting the royal regalia.Official receptions were held in the afternoon. The new king thanked the French government, in the person of the Governor General, for the tư vấn which it has always given to the kingdom of Annam.The Governor General responded with his wishes for the new king to lớn enjoy a long reign và for the prosperity of Annam. Then, on behalf of the French government, he declared the recognition of Duy Tan và led him lớn the throne, accompanied by the Résident supérieur. The ceremony completed, the king accompanied the Governor General out of the throne room.The next day, 6 September, His Majesty Duy-Tan, accompanied by members of the Council of Regency and senior mandarins of the court, visited the Governor General.The king again thanked the French government for the powerful tư vấn it continues to lend lớn Annam in all circumstances.The President of the Council of Regency, on behalf of His Majesty, members of the Regency Council and the mandarins of the court, thanked the French government for agreeing to lớn nominate a new king for Annam and giving the country a government in line with its Constitution.Responding, the Governor General offered His Majesty Duy-Tan the best wishes of the government of the French Republic. “The protectorate government,” he added, “will partner Annam with great heart, as it has always done, supporting the work of moral and material progress. France will continue to lớn offer all of its powerful assistance to lớn the empire of Annam in order lớn avert the dangers of war, but it is necessary that the mandarins also bring us, from their side, the most dedicated assistance.”After the visit, the king was taken to lớn his carriage by the Résident supérieur. Military honours were rendered by troops of the garrison of Hue.


“L’empereur Thanh-Thai” (Emperor Thanh-Thai), in Les Annales coloniales: organe de la France coloniale modern, 31 October 1907Thanh Thai, the former king of Annam, arrived this morning in Cap-Saint-Jacques on the steamship “Cachar.” He was accompanied by five women, 10 children, six nurses, a doctor & 20 servants. Disembarking at Cap-Saint-Jacques, he was received by the administrator of the province and an aide of the Governor General. The former king has settled provisionally in the villa of Governor General. The landing và reception did not give rise lớn any incident.

De Java au Japon par l’Indochine, la Chine et la Corée by A Maufroid, 1913

Do the Annamites glorify their future by building new tombs in memory of the sovereigns who have held the throne since our conquest? No, probably because in reality, since Tu-Duc, there have been no more all-powerful và respected Annamite emperors.Can the Annamite recognise as their leaders puppets chosen by the French khổng lồ govern in their name? Hiep-Hoa, & after him Dong Khanh, were humiliated by the invaders. Thanh-Thai in recent years was dismissed as a mere clerk. Without doubt, the excesses of Thanh-Thai brought a ferocious sadism. He cut the breasts of his women, climbed into the branches of trees & hunted them with the shots of his rifle, lượt thích birds.But ultimately, it was above all his lack of docility towards the Resident Superior which motivated his exile in Saigon.There, Thanh-Thai continues khổng lồ live out his fantasies in a disorderly way. However, he seems lớn have become quite harmless. His last joke was lớn simulate a deep love for the daughter of the official responsible for monitoring him. Whenever that official presented himself to lớn ensure the state of his charge, Thanh-Thai overwhelmed him with huge bouquets, destined for the lady of his thoughts.Today, is the little Duy-Tan a true emperor to the Annamites? Certainly not; they know very well that this youngster of thirteen is, lượt thích his predecessors, a mere plaything in the hands of foreigners from the West.His palace, by a curious irony, as is trapped in the citadel built in the eighteenth century by the Frenchman Ollivier for the great Emperor Gia Long. It looks a bit lượt thích the tombs scattered around the countryside of Hue. It is an immense dead city, surrounded by walls & ditches near the beautiful river with its transparent water.


An excerpt from Indo-Chine française (souvenirs) by former Governor General Paul Doumer, 1930 editionOn the right ngân hàng of the Perfume River, where the king & his retinue disembark, waited a convoy accompanied by the huge elephants of the palace. One of them was coupled lớn a chariot of colossal dimensions, utterly out of proportion with the beast which dragged it. That chariot in which the king sat was painted with red lacquer và decorated with gold ornaments trimmed with yellow silk.That was, I think, the last time, in 1897, that Thanh-Thai agreed khổng lồ go khổng lồ the Nam-Giao Esplanade in this manner. He later adopted, despite his mandarins’ protests that he should maintain the ancient traditions & rituals, a more simple and modern means of transport.For Annamites whom European civilisation has not yet touched, the mass of elephants, the kích thước and richness of the chariot well symbolised the royal power & majesty. It was bigger, in fact, that our small steel cannon up there on the ramparts, which could if necessary have swept aside all those processing along the long road with their elephants và altars. But that French cannon was not their enemy; it was their protector, which maintained the internal and external security of the kingdom, respected the lives, customs, beliefs và religious practices of the Annamite people, & was respected by all.Good little cannon of France, stay on your high wall, silent, at rest, but always vigilant, always ready; the future of this country depends on it!


The royal sacrifice lớn Heaven and Earth always takes place at night. The king, who in this ceremony assumes the office of high priest, prepared himself by fasting & meditating in a specially-built pagoda, located not far from the Nam-Giao Esplanade. He went directly there after leaving the palace. In the afternoon, he attended as a spectator the preparations, or more precisely the rehearsal of the massive và complicated ceremony lớn be staged that evening.There, he gave me an appointment and, while his courtiers practiced the movements, dances and songs they would perform a few hours later, I had with Thanh-Thai, one on one, long conversations on over a hundred different subjects, which enabled me khổng lồ obtain an idea of his character, his intelligence, his worth, his upbringing.My judgment was subsequently confirmed during the five years I encountered him in his daily life, during which time, won over by the sympathy I showed him, he opened up khổng lồ me & let me see the depths of his soul.Thanh-Thai was not, lớn any degree, the mad, bloodthirsty man we talk about all too readily. He had, on the contrary, a keen intelligence, a clear reason, a great sense of self-possession. But his education as a young king, the absolute power closed to lớn all eyes which he exercised in his royal residence, where the authority of the Queen Mothers và regents was felt only intermittently and only in the most serious cases, had developed in him defects that would have destroyed any other. He was deliberate, capricious, even whimsical.Locked in his cold, dark palace, and, more than that, chained by the narrow rites which since time immemorial had regulated the doings of the kings of Annam & which could only be broken with poison, he was gripped by the desire for freedom that our presence helped lớn provoke. It was very difficult, indeed, to bend a young sovereign to the tyrannical rules from which he saw the French as being exempt, lớn persuade him khổng lồ respect ancient practices, unpleasant khổng lồ bear, when they were lớn us, as he knew well, a subject of mockery.


From there sprang the breaches that were imputed as crimes, the freedom of manners và language of which the court complained, bringing their grievances lớn the Résident supérieur, who sometimes had to intervene.Added to lớn this, at an age when most Annamites were rarely married, Thanh-Thai had a large harem of legitimate wives, concubines & servants, & this hardly helped his intellectual và moral balance. In the long hours of confinement & idleness, he indulged in brutalities, even appalling cruelties, which were too easy for us lớn explain, and which we exaggerated at pleasure. Readings made to him from French books, histories of the lives of our ancient kings, were not always edifying. They excited his imagination, pushing him lớn seek dangerous experiences.It did not seem feasible to lớn me that we should continue lớn keep this young king as tightly locked and bound by rules of another age as his predecessors had been. When everything around the royal citadel was being transformed, when a không tính phí life, the right lớn move, to lớn work in a place of one’s choice, to lớn acquire và to possess, would become the common lot of his subjects, should the King of Annam alone be cloistered, controlled, manipulated lượt thích a puppet?The rites, some sacrosanct as they are, could surely benefit from some alterations, be softened and modernised. By using the great authority of the regents, one should reach a modus vivendi which is equally accommodating to both king and court.For all that, the accusations against Thai-Thanh will probably never cease; but their cause would disappear, & that is essential.While I was able to talk at length with the king during the daytime rehearsal, on the night of the festivities I had lớn be a discreet và silent witness khổng lồ the great religious ceremony over which Thanh-Thai once more presided. Already, in the Spring of the years 1891 và 1894, he had made sacrifice to the spirits of Heaven and Earth, since in the period of trouble which followed the death of Tu-Duc in 1883, no other king had twice offered the triennial sacrifice. It was an index of the restoration of political stability in Annam, và I did not fail khổng lồ point this out to my royal interlocutor that afternoon.


I arrived around midnight at the Nam-Giao Esplanade, led by an interpreter of the palace. The silent crowd formed groups around the village altars they had brought. They could only see, of the ceremony, glimmers of smoke drifting skyward, beyond the dark area of pine wood. They only knew that in that mysterious compound, their king and his mandarins were trying their best to secure the most favourable outcome from Heaven & Earth, that is to say, giving them a reason to live và hope, that for which they prayed fervently. From this human mass, enveloped by the darkness of a moonless và starless night, arose not a cry, not a murmur. The presence of so many people created the most profound silence, heavier than if there were no-one here at all.At a signal, the door of the enclosure opened lớn let us pass. We crossed the dark & empty wood where nothing sounded, nothing moved. Here and there, standing next khổng lồ the trunk of a tree and merging with it, a soldier stood silent và immobile. He was not looking to see who we were; no-one who did not have the right khổng lồ enter would ever dare mix foot in this inviolable enclosure, no-one would ever dare commit the double crimes of lèse-majesté và lèse-divinité.We arrived at last at the great square esplanade which represents the Earth. We climbed the stairs; the show was unexpected, unforgettable. The surrounding terrain was filled with vast altars, decorated, lit, on each of which a large buffalo, killed và skinned, spread its trắng flesh. A mandarin officiated at one altar with a few servants. Close by burned a large fire which, in a moment, would roast the entrails of the victims. These were the scenes of ancient Greece which we had before our eyes, as we discovered the cult of ancestor worship of the Annamites and Chinese.

TimDoling is the tác giả of the guidebookExploring Huế(Nhà Xuất bản Thế Giới, Hà Nội, 2018).

A full index of all Tim’s blog articles since November 2013 is now available here.

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