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Vietnamese language collections

The Vietnamese language collections comprise some 5 manuscripts, around 10,000 monographs and 290 periodical and newspaper titles. The manuscripts are mainly in Hán-Nôm characters (Chinese script), whereas the monographs and periodicals are in Quốc Ngữ (Romanised) characters. 

The collection's particular strengths are in the social sciences and humanities, especially history, literature, law, politics, anthropology, sociology and education.

Manuscripts

The British Library's collections contain a copy of one of the greatest Vietnamese literary works, Truyền Kiều, 'The tale of Kiều' (Or.14844) by Nguyễn Du (1765-1820). This manuscript was completed around 1894 in Hán-Nôm characters, with each page containing illustrations of incidents from the story, and has a fine imperial yellow silk binding. 

Other manuscripts include 

  • two imperial edicts issued in 1793 to welcome Lord Macartney, who led the first British embassy to China (Or.14817 A & B)
  • a ten-volume set containing some 46 Vietnamese plays and three novels (Or.8218)
  • An-nam Chí Lược, 'Sketches of Annam' (Add.16283), a historical account of Vietnam composed in the 14th century
  • an illustrated topographical account of a tribute mission to China in 1880, 'The northwards embassy by land and water from Hanoi to Beijing' (Or.14907)

Early printed books

The Đại Nam nhất thống chí, 'Royal gazetteer of Vietnam' (ORB.30/4948), is the most comprehensive gazetteer compiled during the Nguyễn dynasty (1802-1945). It was first written between 1865 and 1882, and subsequently occasionally revised. The edition in the British Library, written in Hán-Nôm characters, was published in the imperial city of Huế in 1909, and contains four woodcut printed maps.

Other early printed books in Vietnamese are all in Romanised script, and were mainly issued by Christian publishers. One of the highlights of the collection is a remarkable Vietnamese-Portuguese-Latin dictionary, Dictionarium Annnamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum (70.b.16), which was published in Rome in 1651. 

The Library also has about 80 early 20th century monographs published by the Société des Missions Étrangères in Hong Kong. These are mainly translations of the Bible or other Christian works, but there are also a few books on Vietnamese history and literature, and textbooks such as Vua Gia Long (Hong Kong, 1913, IOL.1947.a.298) and Văn chương thi phú Annam (Hong Kong, 1919, IOL.1947.a.300). This small collection can be accessed through Explore the British Library.

An impressive early 20th century work is Introduction générale a l'étude de la technique du peuple annamite, by Henri Oger, published in Hanoi and Paris in 1908-1909 (Or. T.C.4). This has detailed and informative drawings featuring old Vietnamese handicraft techniques.

Other books

The majority of the Vietnamese printed books in the British Library were acquired from 1954 onwards. Pre-1975 holdings consist of books from both North and South Vietnam, but the collections from the North are larger, due to official exchange programmes with a number of Vietnamese institutions. 

Current modern publications are principally acquired by purchase. Outstanding items include 

  • Văn Kiện Đảng Toàn Tập (YP.2005.a.4656), a collection of edited Vietnamese Communist Party documents dating back to 1924 (Hà Nội: Chính trị quốc gia, 2005-)
  • Kho tàng sử thi Tây Nguyên (YP.2007.a.2587), a collection of epics of the ethnic people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam (Hà Nội: Khoa học xã hội, 2006-)

Periodicals and newspapers

The British Library holds over 290 serial titles in Vietnamese. The earliest in the collection is Công Báo (Or.Mic.14116), published in Hà Nội from 1936 to 1949.

The greatest strengths of the collection are the newspapers and periodicals covering the Vietnam War period and its immediate aftermath, from both North and South Vietnam. This unique collection, although relatively small, comprises a rich body of information about Vietnam at this important historical juncture.

Another outstanding aspect of the holdings is the collection of overseas Vietnamese publications, mainly from the United States, Canada and Europe.

Catalogues

Vietnamese language books acquired before 2005 may be accessed through a card catalogue in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, through author, title and subject sequences. 

Books acquired from 2005 onwards are accessed online through the British Library Explore the British Library. Most Vietnamese periodicals and newspapers can also be found through Explore the British Library.

Other British Library collections relating to Vietnam

Maps

The British Library holds a large number of maps related to Vietnam, both in English and Vietnamese. These can be located through the Copac web catalogue.

India Office Records

Materials relating to the English East India Company's involvement in Vietnam are held in the India Office Records.

Vietnamese oral history project 

The British Library Sound Archive holds about 190 oral history recordings of interviews with Vietnamese refugees in the UK. Many were recorded in Vietnamese or Chinese, with English translations to assist access. The collection was acquired in 2003, and can be searched via the Sound Archive catalogue.

Online resources

Highlights of the Vietnamese collection can be viewed in a virtual tour of a British Library exhibition of Vietnamese treasures, Dreams of Vietnam.

Contact

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator, Vietnamese Collections
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7158

E-mail: sud.chonchirdsin@bl.uk

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