THE MADNESS OF EMPEROR THANH THAI

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 to lớn diminish his authority. Others have suggested that Thành Thái himself feigned madness in order to confuse the French. While there may be good reason to 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, and that by 1907 it had precipitatedomain authority serious constitutional crisis at the court of Huế.

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

Nguyễn Phúc Tộc Thế Phải (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 và rarely listened to lớn those trying to lớn dissuade him; on many nights, he would ride his horse out of the Citadel seeking pleasure, and notoàn thân stopped him. Because of his temperament and behaviour, in the third month of the Quý ganh year <1893 – Thành Thái was then aged just 14>, government mandarins had khổng lồ seek permission from the Queen Mothers’ Palace khổng lồ rest his troubled mind at the Bồng Dinch 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 inlớn 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 khổng lồ attract the attention of the young Emperor of Anphái nam when he came to Saigon khổng lồ 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, and made his way lớn Cholon lớn 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 khổng lồ come & 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 giới has been the scene of a new act of madness by Thanh-Tnhì. 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 hyên ổn was extinguished the last son of the Emperor Minh-Mang.Afterwards, the king locked himself in his private apartments, refusing khổng lồ receive sầu the Résident supérieur, that is khổng lồ say an act which is considered an affront against the representative sầu of France in Annam giới. 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 deal of talk in colonial circles about the sanctions which will be imposed in response to lớn the lamentable excesses committed by the Emperor of Annam.Thanh-Tnhị, 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 hlặng reminiscent of that of the decadent Roman emperors. One of his wives was delivered naked khổng lồ 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 to lớn indulge in this kind of bloodthirsty sadism. We were able lớn recognise in hlặng 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-Tnhị, 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 và ruled him entirely through the senses, pushing hyên lớn the most culpable wrongdoing.M. de Lanessan recounted how that intriguing minister had himself thrown his daughter inlớn the arms of the emperor, the better khổng lồ establish his authority in Hue. His plan was to get rid of the Queen Mother, & once that unwelcome guardianship had been discarded, lớn seize power entirely for himself.During a trip to lớn Hue, M. de Lanessan had the occasion khổng lồ get to know Thanh-Thai. He struông chồng the Governor General as being like a little boy, capricious but intelligent. Yet he seemed ignorant and badly brought up. M. de Lanessan admonished hyên ổn 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 to hyên ổn, the young emperor had answered: “Why are you criticizing me? It was you who raised me.”It’s unfortunate that Thanh-Tnhì never received a proper education and that while he was still young he was abandoned to lớn the violence of his perverse instincts. Following the admonition of M. de Lanessan, he promised khổng lồ 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 & the criminal follies of this degenerate kept secret. The old mandarins of the court knew them so well that they had gave Thanh-Tnhị only their official deference. The old Queen Mother deemed the problem so severe that she was always opposed to 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 nội dung to lớn deplore his activities in silence. The result of the publithành phố surrounding his behaviour is that the emperor was submitted to 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 hyên khổng lồ cause any further harm. What should be done now? M. Beau, the current Governor General of Indochina, has studied this question và the Minister of Colonies has given hyên ổn full powers to resolve sầu the issue.Several solutions come to lớn 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, và that it is seen lớn yield in accepting the pressure of the court, of the Co Mat (Council of Ministers), the literati.This much is certain: Thanh-Tnhị 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 và large dark glasses on his nose, driving a motorcycle furiously, he was lost to lớn them.Accustomed lớn see their rulers only from afar & 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 to all curiosity, to lớn all the familiarities & taunts of the crowd.


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Thành Thái & his brother in 1900


If, thus, the emperor were to be deposed, his disrepute is such that the people will likely bởi vì nothing to restrain the h& which removes his crown.If approached by the Governor General, members of Co Mat of the Annamite empire will surely not be far from seeking his deposition. But it is understandable that M. Beau does not wish to 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 hlặng or should we instead abolish the monarchical principle in Annam? Paul Bert already considered such abolition, several years ago, giving thought khổng lồ 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 to 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 Tkhô giòn Thai of his prerogatives và investing all royal powers in a Regency Council. Thanh-Thai, confined to lớn 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 khổng lồ 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 Sociéngã de géographie commerciale de Paris, August 1907The Emperor of Anphái mạnh, Tkhô hanh Tnhì, having indulged in numerous acts of violence which denoted a veritable intellectual impairment, obliged us in 1906 to lớn impose certain monitoring measures to lớn prevent the recurrence of his deplorable excesses.However, we have sầu recently had lớn reach a more rigorous decision regarding hyên ổn.On 30 July 1907, the Résident supérieur arranged for the detention of the emperor in his palace and the setting up of a Council of Regency to take charge of affairs under the control of the Résident supérieur.A phantom of a sovereign, Thanh-Tnhị 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 regọi that in the month of August 1906, after Thanh-Tnhì, King of Anphái nam had indulged in many acts of violence, veritable movements of madness caused by habitual debauchery, the Résident supérieur was obliged lớn take, with the Co Mat (Council of Ministers), measures khổng lồ put an over lớn the king’s scandalous conduct.Since that time he has been monitored constantly, & for a while it seemed that he had returned to a state of reassuring calm. But towards the kết thúc 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 to 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 & specific information gathered by the Résident supérieur now leaves no doubt about the disorder observed in the state of Thanh-Tnhì, on his recklessness và on the dangers of letting hyên continue to lớn exercise royal power.In these circumstances, the government recently decided that it was necessary khổng lồ detain the king in his palace and to lớn establish a Regency Council, composed of members of Co Mat & chaired by the Minister of Justice, under the overall và ongoing control of our representative sầu in Hue.


Emperor Thành Thái (ruled 1889-1907)


In implementing this decision & 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 and 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 sầu, remarked that these measures were executed without any incident occurring.

“L’Empereur Fou” (The Mad Emperor), in Les Annamites: sociéngã, coutumes, religions by Colonel Édouard Diguet, 1907The Emperor Tkhô hanh Thai will be deposed, but no one yet knows whether the monarchical principle in Annam giới 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-Tnhị, who is now confined to lớn his palace, out of harm’s way.Members of Co Mat or Council of Ministers of the empire of Annam, when approached by the Governor General, were unanimous in asking for the mad emperor to lớn be deposed. They have sầu 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 links with his race; indeed, the return of Ham-Nghi would have sầu been viewed very badly in Anphái mạnh, 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-Tnhị by abolishing the monarchical principle in Annam giới, và 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 & Annamite scholars, those dedicated lớn civilising ideas, would not take a dyên ổn 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, và we know that the Minister of the Colonies has given him full authority to resolve sầu it. It’s in Annam giới, & not in Paris, that this matter must be determined.From all points of view, whether a new emperor ascends the throne in Annam giới or a parliamentary system is introduced, the fate of Thanh-Tnhì is in no doubt. This mad sovereign, when the issue is laid before the Co Mat gathered in solemn assembly, will be deposed.


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Paul Beau, Governor General of Indochimãng cầu 1902-1908


But it is understandable that M. Beau is prudent enough not khổng lồ proceed until members of the Co Mat are all agreed on the correct course of action in retaining or abolishing the monarchical principle in Annam giới. – F H

“La Folie de l’Empereur d’Anphái nam (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 giới experienced an adễ thương fit of madness, the tragic manifestations of which required the intervention of M. Lyce, Résident supérieur of Anphái nam, who, if warned in time, could have prevented a scene of carnage in the palace of the young sovereign.Armed with a revolver, Thanh-Tnhì rushed into lớn the apartments of his concubines, and, at cthua thảm range, allegedly killed three of his women. Continuing inlớn 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-Tnhị, amuốn which, apart from the above sầu 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 & divine character. It would have been clever of the French government to keep this character in the emperors we ourselves placed on the throne of Annam giới, 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 kiến thiết of royal majesty. The Emperor Thanh-Tnhị 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 & at the Hanoi Exhibition in 1902. One whom the Annamite regards with not a shudder of awe, only a curious eye & 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, 1907Tkhô cứng Tnhì, the King of Annam giới, 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, & at that time everyone agreed with the idea, finding it amply justified by the scandalous fantasies and atrocities which surrounded the name of Thanh-Tnhì, both in his kingdom & throughout the Far East, an orgy of bloodthirstiness and debauchery.However, under the influence of considerations whose value now escapes us, it was eventually thought better to give sầu him the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, if we were hoping to see from the young king some kind of repentance, recent events have been quichồng to lớn show that we overestimated his wisdom. After seeming, for a few months, khổng lồ have sầu mended his ways, Thanh-Tnhì returned to his bloodthirsty excesses.This time, the government had to lớn recognise that it was no longer possible, under pain of incurring grave sầu responsibilities & provoking perhaps an uprising in the Annamite population, lớn continue khổng lồ entrust the exercise of royal power lớn a sovereign who has, for his subjects, became an object of ridicule, disgust & hatred. It was therefore decided to lớn detain Thanh-Tnhị in his palace và lớn establish a Council of Regency, composed of members of the Co Mat, which will operate under the chairmanship of the Minister of Justice và under the control our representative sầu in Hue.It must be said that the stern measures which have sầu been taken to lớn address the delicate and complex situation created by the state of dementia displayed by Thanh-Thai have not given rise to lớn the slighkiểm tra criticism. The constitution of a Council of Regency is viewed, indeed, as the only regular và normal way of ensuring continuity in the exercise of the royal function in a country where a sovereign who is unable lớn 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 sầu 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 khổng lồ show that Thanh-Tnhị was not only seen to lớn 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 Anphái mạnh và determine the nature of the relationship which binds the Annamite nation to France & its representatives.One will understvà, under these conditions, that a further explanation of the nature và scope of the measures taken by the government appear khổng lồ us essential.We hope that those explanations will permit nothing lớn 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 & bloodthirsty extravagances, has never been an embarrassment to lớn us; his detention has rendered hyên harmless, without any need to take away the title of king. If one decided to lớn 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 khổng lồ retain the monarchy, which in this country is little more than decor, facade, but a facade khổng lồ which the Annamites are accustomed, an important component of their traditional institutions behind which our action is exercised with ease & freedom. Indeed, we could not exercise that action khổng lồ the same open & convenient degree without the visual deception provided by this fiction.We would lượt thích to lớn think that the government does not think differently from us on this point & that the deposition of Thanh-Tnhì did not take place in way we have sầu dared to lớn imagine above sầu.This is one more reason why the authorities must hasten lớn put things straight by means of an authorised communication which defines precisely the new situation created by the measures taken in respect of Thanh-Tnhị.


“Un Roi Fou” (A Mad King), in LeJournal, 7 October 1907Thanh Tnhì has abdicated & it is the young Duy-Tan, aged only eight, who has succeeded hlặng on the throne.Marseille, 6 October – The newspaper Le Courrier Saïgonnais, which arrived this afternoon, gives the following details on the abdication of King Tkhô hanh Tnhị và the ceremony of elevation khổng lồ 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 và 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 support which it has always given lớn the kingdom of Anphái mạnh.The Governor General responded with his wishes for the new king khổng lồ 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 hyên ổn to 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 support it continues lớn lend to Annam giới 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 khổng lồ nominate a new king for Anphái nam và 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 lớn offer all of its powerful assistance to lớn the empire of Anphái nam in order khổng lồ 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 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 1907Tkhô nóng Thai, the former king of Annam giới, arrived this morning in Cap-Saint-Jacques on the steamship “Cachar.” He was accompanied by five sầu women, 10 children, six nurses, a doctor và 20 servants. Disembarking at Cap-Saint-Jacques, he was received by the administrator of the province & an aide of the Governor General. The former king has settled provisionally in the villa of Governor General. The landing and reception did not give sầu rise to 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, và after hyên ổn Dong Khanh khô, 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 lớn the branches of trees và hunted them with the shots of his rifle, like birds.But ultimately, it was above sầu all his lachồng 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 khổng lồ have sầu become quite harmless. His last joke was khổng lồ 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-Tnhì overwhelmed hlặng 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, like 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 like the tombs scattered around the countryside of Hue. It is an immense dead đô thị, surrounded by walls và 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 and his retinue disembark, waited a convoy accompanied by the huge elephants of the palace. One of them was coupled to 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 and decorated with gold ornaments trimmed with yellow silk.That was, I think, the last time, in 1897, that Thanh-Tnhị agreed lớn 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 và modern means of transport.For Annamites whom European civilisation has not yet touched, the mass of elephants, the size & richness of the chariot well symbolised the royal power and 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 và external security of the kingdom, respected the lives, customs, beliefs và religious practices of the Annamite people, and 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 to 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 sầu & complicated ceremony lớn be staged that evening.There, he gave sầu me an appointment and, while his courtiers practiced the movements, dances và songs they would persize a few hours later, I had with Thanh-Thai, one on one, long conversations on over a hundred different subjects, which enabled me to obtain an idea of his character, his intelligence, his worth, his upbringing.My judgment was subsequently confirmed during the five sầu years I encountered hlặng in his daily life, during which time, won over by the sympathy I showed hlặng, he opened up lớn me và let me see the depths of his soul.Thanh-Tnhì was not, to 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 and regents was felt only intermittently & only in the most serious cases, had developed in hyên defects that would have sầu 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 Anphái nam & which could only be broken with poison, he was gripped by the desire for freedom that our presence helped to provoke. It was very difficult, indeed, khổng lồ bkết thúc a young sovereign khổng lồ the tyrannical rules from which he saw the French as being exempt, lớn persuade hyên ổn to lớn respect ancient practices, unpleasant to lớn bear, when they were to lớn us, as he knew well, a subject of mockery.


From there sprang the breaches that were imputed as crimes, the freedom of manners & language of which the court complained, bringing their grievances khổng lồ the Résident supérieur, who sometimes had to lớn intervene.Added khổng lồ this, at an age when most Annamites were rarely married, Thanh-Thai had a large harem of legitimate wives, concubines and servants, và this hardly helped his intellectual and moral balance. In the long hours of confinement và 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 hyên ổn from French books, histories of the lives of our ancient kings, were not always edifying. They excited his imagination, pushing him khổng lồ seek dangerous experiences.It did not seem feasible lớn me that we should continue khổng lồ 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 lấy phí life, the right to lớn move sầu, to lớn work in a place of one’s choice, khổng lồ acquire and to possess, would become the common lot of his subjects, should the King of Anphái nam alone be cloistered, controlled, manipulated like 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 lớn both king and court.For all that, the accusations against Thai-Tkhô cứng will probably never cease; but their cause would disappear, and 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 to lớn be a discreet và silent witness khổng lồ the great religious ceremony over which Thanh-Tnhị once more presided. Already, in the Spring of the years 1891 and 1894, he had made sacrifice khổng lồ the spirits of Heaven và 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 giới, và I did not fail to lớn 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 và Earth, that is to lớn say, giving them a reason lớn live and 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 to let us pass. We crossed the dark and empty wood where nothing sounded, nothing moved. Here and there, standing next khổng lồ the trunk of a tree & merging with it, a soldier stood silent và imdi động. He was not looking lớn see who we were; no-one who did not have the right khổng lồ enter would ever dare phối foot in this inviolable enclosure, no-one would ever dare commit the double crimes of lèse-majesxẻ & lèse-divinixẻ.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 and skinned, spread its Trắng flesh. A mandarin officiated at one altar with a few servants. Cthua trận 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 & Chinese.

TimDoling is the author of the guidebookExploring Huế(Nhà Xuất Bản Thế Giới, thủ đô hà nội, 2018).

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

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