Imperial records are documents approved in red ink by kings. Nguyen Dynasty’s Imperial records are administrative records created during the transaction of state management activities of Nguyen Dynasty (1802 – 1945), the last feudal dynasty in Viet Nam, including records of grass-root and central administrative organizations submitted to the kings for approval, records created by the kings, diplomatic notes and literature works composed by royal family.
The whole collection of Nguyen Dynasty’s Imperial records has 773 volumes, which is equivalent to about 85,000 documents of 11 Nguyen Dynasty’s kings (Gia Long, Minh Mang, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Kien Phuc, Ham Nghi, Dong Khanh, Thanh Thai, Duy Tan, Khai Dinh and Bao Dai). Imperial records of the Nguyen Dynasty are in various types of documents, including royal proclamation, edicts, decrees, petition, reports, replies, comment papers… which were created under strict regulations regarding their function and authority of issuance. Nguyen Dynasty’s Imperial records are basically handwriting on do (poonah) paper, reflects all aspects of social life, historical changes, domestic and foreign policies on politics, economy, diplomatic relation, military, culture, social affairs, religion and so on in Viet Nam in 19th century and early half of 20th century.
Events documented in Imperial records had high authenticity because they were information used in practical management of the society and were received and processed directly by the kings under Nguyen Dynasty. Nguyen Dynasty defined strictly format of Imperial records. Together with evidence remaining on records such as the kings’ handwriting, seals…, it made imperial records very difficult to fake.
Imperial records were used as a historical source to compile books. Therefore, its authenticity can be double checked by comparing its information with books officially compiled in Nguyen dynasty, such as Dai Nam thuc luc chinh bien (Royal Annals of Dai Nam), Dai Nam nhat thong chi (Dai Nam Comprehensive Encyclopedia), Dai Nam liet truyen (Dai Nam Biographies), Kham dinh Dai Nam hoi dien su le (Royal rules and regulations), Quoc trieu chinh bien toat yeu (Brief History of Nguyen Dynasty)…
Imperial records have comments written directly by the Nguyen Dynasty’s kings in red ink and in 4 types of scripts, including Chinese, Nom (Chinese-chino transcribed Vietnamese), French and Vietnamese. Imperial records were handwritten with a brush and drafted by clerks who were examined and recruited for their literature talents and beautiful handwriting. The system of scripts used in Imperial records reflects changes in language used in Viet Nam from early 19th century to mid 20th century as well as changes in social thought and the impact of cultural waves from colonizers entering to colonized countries.
Imperial records also reflect trade activities of Viet Nam with countries in the region and the world such as Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, China, France, England, Spain...
Nguyen Dynasty’s Imperial records are the only archival holding of a feudal regime remained in Viet Nam and among very few documents in the world that have autographs of the kings, who commented in details on all national issues in the documents. They are the valuable original materials that facilitate the researching and restoring the whole political, economic, cultural and social system and people of a nation in a course of history. Going through a long time, seals on the documents, autographs by the kings, the format of the document, the language, scripts, paper material, ink... have become precious antiques, provided lot of useful information about different areas including administration studies, document studies, family annals studies and seal studies…
With 773 volumes of about 85,000 documents, Nguyen Dynasty’s Imperial records are a rather complete and comprehensive collection of a feudal regime in Viet Nam that remains. Nguyen Dynasty’s Imperial records are also important documents to contribute to affirming Viet Nam’s sovereignty over 2 archipelagos of Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly). Among 85,000 documents, 19 ones record detailed information on Nguyen Dynasty assigned Hoang Sa Naval Force to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos to measure sea routes, exploit sea products, plant the sovereignty landmarks... and also Nguyen Dynasty’s approval for rewarding and punishing in protection of these two archipelagos. In particular, the Imperial records showed Viet Nam is a responsible sea country for rescuing boats of other countries in danger in sea area of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos.
With unique and outstanding values, on 14 May 2014, in the 2nd session of the 6th general meeting of Memory of the World Committee for Asia/Pacific (MOWCAP) at Guangzhou (China), Imperial records of Nguyen Dynasty were recognized as documentary heritage in the Memory of the World Programme in the Asia/Pacific region.
Currently, the massive document treasure is being preserved in National Archives Centre I (18 Vu Pham Ham, Yen Hoa Ward, Cau Giay District, Ha Noi).