Proposal to name Da Nang streets after foreign missionaries arouses controversy

By Nguyen Dong   October 8, 2019 | 04:00 am PT
Proposal to name Da Nang streets after foreign missionaries arouses controversy
A sign of Alexandre de Rhodes Street in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung.
A move to rename Da Nang’s streets after two Portuguese missionaries has been objected to for the colonial context in which they worked.

Alexandre de Rhodes and Francisco De Pina are credited with contributing significantly to Quoc Ngu, the Vietnamese writing system based on the Roman alphabet.

Huynh Van Hung, director of Da Nang’s Department of Culture and Sports, affirmed that the missionaries’ names were being suggested for their role in devising Quoc Ngu.

"The creation of Quoc Ngu helped Vietnamese culture become stronger," said Hung, adding the two were suggested to be included in the list by several historians and cultural researchers.

The rule of multiple Chinese dynasties shaped Vietnamese culture and literature from 207 BC to 939 AD. As a result, the official Vietnamese language was written in classical Chinese (Nho), followed by the development of native Vietnamese script (Nom), before the adoption of Quoc Ngu.

On Monday, Da Nang’s culture department said it was collecting public comments on a proposal to name and rename nearly 140 streets and public sites this year.

Included in the proposal is the renaming of two streets in Hai Chau District after missionaries Francisco De Pina (1585 - 1625) and Alexandre de Rhodes (1593 - 1660).

However, some retired officials have opposed such an honor saying the missionaries’ role in creating Quoc Ngu was rooted in the colonial enterprise.

In response, Hung said that missionaries had come to Vietnam to convert people into Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it was "too harsh" to say they were associated with the colonialists. The French colonialization of Vietnam started in 1858 and ended in 1954 following the historic Dien Bien Phu battle.

Hung said that many experts have high regard for the two missionaries as well as Vietnamese scholars of the time.

In December, the Da Nang Association of Historical Sciences will hold a seminar celebrating the 100th anniversary of Quoc Ngu.

Hung said experts will continue their conversation about the contributions of the two missionaries, helping the public form an objective view.

In Ho Chi Minh City, a street was named Alexandre de Rhodes in 1995 and it now stands in the heart of the city, running along the major Le Duan Street in front of the Independence Palace.

Da Nang's street renaming proposal is scheduled to be submitted to the city's legislators for approval in December. It has many streets in the central city named after foreign scientists.

Apart from the missionaries, other candidates include Mother Nguyen Thi Suot (1906-1968), a heroine during the Vietnam War. She risked her life to ferry Vietnamese soldiers and artillery in a small wooden boat from 1964-1967.

Vu Xuan Thieu (1945-1972), a pilot martyr who fired two rockets and then rushed his plane into a B52 aircraft of the U.S. Air Force.

The proposal also includes naming a street after Nguyen Dinh Thi (1924-2003), a well-known novelist who also composed songs, poems and plays.

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