Vietnam in the late 19th century through French photographer’s lens


By Mai Nhat  &nbspSeptember 14, 2020 | 08:40 am GMT+7

French lensman Pierre Dieulefils captured images of daily life in Vietnam in the 1880s.

At the end of the 19th century, southern women preferred ao ngu than (five-part ao dai) with beaded jewelry. According to Vietnamese designer Sy Hoang, rich women in this period of time used to wear this type of ao dai, with the four layers representing the parents of both the wife and husband. The fifth layer represents the wearer. The clothing also has five buttons, symbolic of the five qualities every one should have - nhan (kindness), le(decorum), nghia(uprightness), tri(wisdom) and tin (faithfulness). These photos are in Indo-Chine Pittoresque & Monumentale: Annam – Tonkin book, which includes a collection of photos taken by French lensman Pierre Dieulefils, who was a soldier in Indochina before returning to Vietnam  in 1988 to follow his passion for photography.

At the end of the 19th century southern women preferred “ao ngu than” (five-piece ao dai) and beaded jewelry. According to designer Sy Hoang, rich women used to wear this type of ao dai, with four layers representing the parents of the wife and husband and the fifth, the wearer. The tunic also had five buttons, symbolic of the five qualities everyone should have – nhan (kindness), le (decorum), nghia (uprightness), tri (wisdom) and tin (faithfulness).
These photos are in a book called “Indo-Chine Pittoresque & Monumentale: Annam – Tonkin”, by Dieulefils, who was a soldier in Indochina before returning to Vietnam in 1888 to follow his passion for photography.

Southern women gather for a daily meal. Urbanites who are rich used to wear ao dai to differentiate themselves with poorer ones. These ao ngu than had been popular until the early 20th century, when another type of ao dai with Westernized featured was introduced.

Southern women eat a daily meal. Rich urban people used to wear the ao dai to differentiate themselves from poorer ones. The ao ngu than was popular until the early 20th century, when another kind of ao dai with westernized features was introduced.

An official in Saigon and his long nails, symbolizing the intellectual’s traditional exemption from manual labor. Many Confucians used to believe that their bodies are gifted by their parents, so they have to keep it as much as possible.

A Saigon official with long nails symbolizing intellectuals’ traditional exemption from manual labor. Many Confucians also believed that since their bodies were a gift from their parents, they had to keep it as unchanged as possible.

Members of the Chinese ethnic community (Hoa people) in Saigons Cho Lon area prepare ducks.

Members of the ethnic Chinese community (Hoa) in Saigon’s Cho Lon area prepare ducks for cooking.

Cho Lon was formed from the 17th to 19th century when Chinese and their offsprings settled down and built a bustling area. When the French dominated the country, Cho Lon was a separated town from Saigon. The two were combined in 1956. Currently, Cho Lon is Ho Chi Minh Citys Districts 5 and 6.

Cho Lon was formed between the 17th and 19th centuries when ethnic Chinese and their offspring settled here and built a bustling area. When the French dominated the country, Cho Lon was a town distinct from Saigon. The two were combined in 1956. Currently it is Ho Chi Minh City’s Districts 5 and 6.

Funeral of a rich person in the south.

Funeral of a rich person in the south.

Father and son in northern Vietnam. Ao dai with band collars were popular, together with the traditional turban, the set appeared at important occasions such as funerals, weddings, etc. These ao dai have five buttons, usually made of ivory, bones, gold, silver or bronze, depending on the social class of wearers.

Father and son in northern Vietnam. Ao dai with banded collars were worn along with the traditional turban especially at important occasions such as funerals, weddings, etc. These ao dai had five buttons, usually made of ivory, bones, gold, silver, or bronze, depending on the social class of the wearer.

Family of an official in the north.

Family of an official in the north.

Officials used to travel by horses with their servants carrying parasols and stuff.

Officials used to travel on horseback with their attendants carrying parasols and other stuff.

King Duy Tan sits on a litter in Hue Imperial City. His original name was Nguyen Phuc Vinh San (1899-1945), emperor of Vietnam from 1907 to 1916. According to the Vua Dua Tan (King Duy Tan) book written by Hoang Hien and published in 1995, the king was confident talking with foreigners and could speak French fluently.

King Duy Tan sits on a palanquin in central Hue Town. His original name was Nguyen Phuc Vinh San (1899-1945), and he ruled Vietnam from 1907 to 1916. According to “Vua Duy Tan” (King Duy Tan), a book written by Hoang Hien and published in 1995, the king was confident in dealing with foreigners and could speak French fluently despite his tender age.

Women of the Lo Lo ethnic community in the mountainous areas of northern Vietnam, near Chinas Yunnan Province. Their traditional outfits include colorful turbans, long-sleeve shirt with square collars.

Women of the Lo Lo ethnic community in the northern mountains near China’s Yunnan Province. Their traditional outfits include colorful turbans and long-sleeved shirts with square collars.

Members of the ethnic Tho community in Dong Dang District of northern Lang Son Province.

Members of the ethnic Tho community in Dong Dang District, northern Lang Son Province.

Photos by Pierre Dieulefils



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