Under the Nguyen Dynasty, due to the need to popularize social standards, compulsory articles of law, Kings’ and Lords’ life and career and historical events... the Imperial Court allowed to carve many sets of history books and literature work for delivering. During the past activities, it helped to form a special type of record, which are the woodblocks. These are the unique original records.
The Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty was assessed in the heritage records as follows:
The 34,555 plates of wood-blocks of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) helped to record official literature and history as well as classic and historical books. Their value is at once documentary and artistic. Their technique furthermore represents a landmark in the development of woodblock carving and printing in Viet Nam. Their importance and high value led feudal dynasties and state authorities to pay considerable attention to preserving these records through the ages.
The woodblock is a plate of wood on which words written in Chinese or Chinese transcribed Vietnamese were carved in reverse as a popular method of printing books in the Nguyen Dynasty. At present, 34,555 plates of woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty are being preserved in the National Archive Center 4 - under the State Records and Archives Department of Viet Nam (at No. 2 Yet Kieu Str., Da Lat City). This is regarded as a valuable library of more than 152 book titles with about 1,935 books that have very rich contents and is divided into nine topics: history, geography, military affairs, legislation, prose and verse, religion - ideal - philosophy, language – literature, socio-politics, culture - education.
The Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty were created primarily during the past activities of the Historiographer's Office of Nguyen Dynasty (established in 1820 under the Minh Mang reign) in Hue. Apart from the woodblocks of official literature and history of Nguyen Dynasty, woodblocks also included classic and historical books which were collected from the Temple of Literature of Imperial College (Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam) in Hanoi and transferred to Imperial College (Quoc Tu Giam) in Hue under the reigns of Minh Mang and Thieu Tri. Since 1960, the Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty have been transferred to Da Lat.
The woodblocks represent an important part of the country’s feudal history. They are original with clear origin from its creation. Most of them were compiled by the Court on the basis of official documents, which were carefully verified and were managed by state bodies through different historical periods. Due to such significant characteristics, woodblocks were considered as national treasure in feudal period, which could only be accessed by authorized people and people in Historiography's Office.
Regarding method of making the records, this is a close procedure costing a lot of time and effort: Firstly, the King launched a royal decree to allow to compile book. Then the Historiographer's Office was responsible in researching, editing, carving and printing those kinds of books. It researched old books and Imperial records to compile books. The completed manuscript was submitted to the King. Then this manuscript was sent back to the Office and they corrected as the King’s suggestions. After that, this manuscript was written down clearly and submitted with a petition to the King. After being approved, the manuscripts of the works were carved on woodblocks under the close control of the mandarins who were appointed by the king's edict. Then, woodblocks were used to print into books. People could only carve books under the Kings’ order.
To manipulate the records, the Historiographer's Office had to recruit many skilled carvers. The carvers selected from widely in localities across the country where is famous for wood carving, and the carving techniques were entirely manual. The words were carved on wood as contained all the enthusiasm of each worker. Each character engraved on the wood is very delicate and sharp. Each record is not only precious material but also a unique work of art. Therefore, apart from historical value, the woodblocks also have artistic values and values in manipulating technique, marking the development of woodblocks carving and printing profession in Viet Nam.
According to some documents, most of the wood blocks are made of thi tree wood and the nha dong tree, which is both soft and smooth with an ivory colour. These kinds of wood are especially good for preserving the shape of the carvings. Therefore, even gone through hundreds of years the woodblocks have been still in good physical condition. In addition, le and tao trees are also used for carving woodblocks.
The collection boasts many valuable and rare wood blocks, including Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (History of the Unification of Great Viet Nam) and Dai Nam Thuc Luc (Royal Annals of Great Viet Nam), Kham dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc, Kham dinh Dai Nam hoi dien su le... They also include poems and literature works written by prominent kings like Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Tu Duc.
Nowadays, woodblocks on the field of official literature and history of feudal dynasties like this kind of the documents are specially valuable and rare records of Viet Nam and also quite rare in the world.
These records formed during the past activities of the Emperor and bodies under the feudal machinery of administration in Nguyen Dynasty. Woodblocks are sources of reliable history to help to study, compare, review relevant history materials to serve better for researching in the fields of Vietnamese history.
On 30th July 2009, the woodblocks of the Nguyen Dynasty have been recognized as a World Documentary Heritage at the meeting of the International Advisory Committee (IAC) of the UNESCO in Bridgetown (Barbados), from the 29th to the 31st of July 2009. They became the first entry of Viet Nam in the list of UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme. The Woodblocks of Nguyen Dynasty are particularly rare documents in Viet Nam as well as in the world.