News in Hoi An Ancient Town

The man who saves two world cultural heritage sites

Hoi An Ancient Town and My Son Sanctuary were almost razed to the ground and sank beneath the lake, if not for the intervention of Mr. Ho Nghinh, former Party Secretary of Quang Nam - Da Nang Province.

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The Bridge Pagoda in Hoi An.

Hoi An ancient town in the central province of Quang Nam was a bustling, thriving commercial port city from the 16th century to the 19th century. It was the place for trade and cultural exchange to the outside world. Hoi An has globally outstanding values and the cultural mix of Vietnam, Japan and China. In 1999 the city was recognized as cultural heritage of the world.

But this heritage was almost razed. After the war, Hoi An faced a historical event which came from the order of “resolutely eliminating harmful cultural subjugation to develop new socialist culture and people. The Party Committee and the government of Hoi An old promoted the campaign to destruct the old works to build “bigger and more beautiful" works, specifically the destruction of temples, churches and pagodas were destroyed. This task was assigned to several forces, including the police. Minh An Ward, the home to many old architectural works, temples and shrines was chosen for experimental implementation.

Mr. Vo Phung, Director of the Hoi An Culture and Sport Centre, recalled: "After liberation, many people agreed with this policy and made a list of temples such as Confucius Temple, Phuc Kien and Mr. Bon Temples... for smashing, reasoning that these works were the place of worship and superstition."

According to Phung, that was the period of shallow perceptions, when people could not count all the consequences, but Mr. Ho Nghinh made a timely and aggressive intervention to prevent the destruction of ancient architectural works in Hoi An.

Mr. Ha Phuoc Mai, a former official of Hoi An, said: "One day in 1976, more than 500 people with sledgehammers, crowbars, pickaxes grouped up in front of the headquarters of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee of Hoi An City to prepare to demolish religious works to abolish superstition. They were divided into group, led by security officers. They believed that revolution is to break old things to build new ones. Everyone shouted the word "Resolved."

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Party General Secretary Le Duan, General Vo Nguyen Giap and Mr. Ho Nghinh during a meeting in Quang Nam - Da Nang. File photo.

At that time, Mr. Ho Nghinh arrived, he immediately asked: "Do you intend to make the cultural revolution?" Everyone was silent. Nghinh kept saying slowly: "You should remember that just a few months after the success of the August Revolution, Uncle Ho issued a decree to preserve monuments all across Vietnam. He required preserving intact temples, shrines and the books left by the ancestors. You mobilized hundreds of people with such burning impetus. Within a few days alone they will destroy Hoi An. Doing so is imitating the cultural revolution in China."

Nghinh predicted: "You know, in the future when our country develops and opens the door to the world, foreign tourists will come here and the ancient temples, pagodas, shrines and ancient houses will be very attractive to visitors. They will be the source of profit for Hoi An people."

"At the end of the talk, people realized their wrong thinking. Mr. Nghinh saved Ho An from narrow danger. If he came late just one day, Hoi An would have been smashed completely," said Mr. Ha Phuoc Mai.

In Hoi An, the Bridge Pagoda and Mr. Bon Temple are the two relics that have inseparable connection. The Temple of Mr. Bon was the club-house of Chaozhou group of Chinese. In 1979, Chinese troops violated Vietnam border. Hoi An people held meetings and worked out programs to join the country’s effort to defeat Chinese invaders.

Hoi An women signed a document calling for demolishing the statue of Chinese general Ma Vien in the Mr. Bon Temple (Ma Vien led Chinese army to invade Vietnam, opening the 500 years of slavery in the North) and closing the temple. "The application for destructing Mr. Bon Temple and the statue of Ma Vien was signed by thousands of women and it was sent to the Hoi An Party Committee," Mr. Ha Phuoc Mai recalled.

Again, the old town was in danger of breaking. Receiving the letter of announcement of the Hoi An Party Committee on the morning, in the afternoon Mr. Ho Nghinh was present to talk with thousands of local women. He said: "Temples and pagodas are the spiritual places that were built by people for annual pilgrimage. Moreover, this is the club-house of the Chinese people. China is doing unjust thing, taking troops to invade our country. More than ever, we must enlist the Chinese people to stand on the right side of us. Mr. Bon Temple not only worships Ma Vien but also other good genius. In my opinion, we should take the votive tablet of Ma Viet out of the temple.” Then thousands of Hoi An people calmed down and were no longer determined to destroy the temple.

Thanks to the timely intervention that Hoi An has been preserved until today. Nghinh’s prediction about Hoi An as a tourist attraction and its role as the main source of revenue for Quang Nam has also come true. The wisdom of Ho Nghinh rescued Hoi An twice.

The My Son Sanctuary is an architectural ensemble of the ancient Cham towers. It was a sacred Hindu land with more than 70 temples built between the 7th and 13th century. The Champa Kings selected My Son as the capital and built temples to worship the gods. The one who saved My Son Sanctuary is also Mr. Ho Nghinh. Nghinh’s home town is Duy Trinh commune in Duy Xuyen district. My Son Sanctuary is also located in this district.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many areas in Quang Nam could not be used for agricultural production. The province’s food productivity was very low so the life of the locals was miserable. To escape poverty, building irrigation works was the priority. The Duy Xuyen District Party Committee held a meeting to implement the project to build a reservoir in Khe The. If the committee allowed the construction of this work, the entire My Son Sanctuary would have been sunken beneath the reservoir. District leaders were divided into two camps: those who supported and those who rejected the project.

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My Son Sanctuary. Photo:

The later side did not approve the project not because they want to preserve the My Son Sanctuary as a cultural heritage, but did not want to “erase the evidence of war crimes" since a number of temples in My Son were bombed.

The other side wanted to build the reservoir to supply water to the dams of Vinh Trinh and Thach Ban. Then, this side prevailed. My Son was in danger of being wiped out. Just hearing the news, Mr. Ho Nghinh immediately returned home to save My Son.

Mr. Doan Van Loc, former Chairman of Duy Xuyen district, said: "Mr. Nghinh fiercely opposed the reservoir project. He studied the project very carefully and he immediately rejected the Khe The dam plan of the district leaders. If Mr. Nghinh did not have the foresight and agreed with that plan, the current My Son sanctuary would have been submerged in the lake. Quang Nam would have not had this world heritage anymore."

"Mr. Ho Nghinh plays a very important role to Hoi An and My Son. Without his insight, Quang Nam would have hot had two relics of the worldly level as they are today," said Mr. Dinh Hai, Director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Quang Nam province.

Mr. Bui Van Tieng, Head of the Organizing Committee of Da Nang Party Committee, Chairman of the Historical Sciences Association of Da Nang, commented: "Ho Nghinh is the first leader who deserves credit for conservation of the two world cultural heritage today - the ancient town of Hoi An and the My Son Sanctuary."

Compiled by Q. Khuyen