The Southern Country
The former Thang Long city (now Ha Noi) was surrounded by four old provinces (Tu Tuyen or Tu Tran),the one on the south called Son Nam (Southern Country): This province covered the territory of the present provinces of Ha Nam and Nam Dinh and part of some other provinces.
This is a lowland area forming part of the northern delta watered by the Red River and the Thai Binh river. It produces food (rice, maize, potatoes) and also industrial crops (peanuts, sedge, sugarcane, jute, mulberry, ramie). The exquisite small “royal bananas” of Nam Dinh (called chuoi ngu) are known all over the country. But Nam Dinh is mostly known for its chief town Nam Dinh town, 87 km from Ha Noi. An industrial, commercial and intellectual centre, this town is the third largest urban area after Ha Noi and Hai Phong and the second river port in the North. Unfortunately, for a decade now, it has lost more and more of its importance on the economic scene, its textile industry on the decline and its geographical position keeping it away from the new communication hubs.
Nam Dinh as well as all the “Southern country” of which it was a part had their moments of national glory in many respects.
Here lies the Tuc Mac village, cradle of the founders of the Tran dynasty (1225-1400), victors over the Mongol aggressors (13th century) who had terrorised a good part of Asia and Europe. Numerous palaces and temples were built in the ancient prefecture of Thien Truong. The Tower Pagoda (Chua Thap) or Pho Minh is a must for any visitor to Nam Dinh. Its stupa, built to keep the relics of King Tran Nhan Tong, founder of a Vietnamese thien (zen) Buddhist sect, stands 21 metres and 14 tiers high. It was rebuilt in the 15th century and repaired many times.
The people of the “Southern country” are hardworking and reputed for their love for studies. Typical was the swotter scholar or village school teacher. Nam Dinh and Thang Long (Ha Noi) were the only places in the North to have a campus of candidates (Tr where a regional or interprovincial contest (thi huong) was organized every three years to grant the titles of master (cu nhan) and bachelor (tu tai). The number of graduates was very small, often one hundredth of the number of candidates. The traditional contest, mainly on Confucianism and using Chinese ideograms, were abolished by the French administration during the First World War.
Two scholars have brought their original contributions, to classical literature. Yen Do or Nguyen Khuyen (1835-1909) who has left many satirical works and poems singing praises of pastoral beauty; and Tu Xuong (1870-1907), also a satirical poet, who mercilessly lambasted profiteers of the French occupation. The scholar Pham Van Nghi (1805-1884) trained numerous brilliant disciples and conducted an armed struggle against the French invaders.
Finally, many villages of Son Nam are well known handicraft centres: Van Chang (blacksmiths), Tong Xa and Cong Luc (bronze casting), La Xuyen (wood sculptures), Cat Dang (lacquered wood).
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