UNESCO to honor Vietnamese educator Chu Van An

By Viet Tuan   April 18, 2019 | 12:47 am PT
UNESCO to honor Vietnamese educator Chu Van An
The altar of Chu Van An at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Trang
UNESCO will commemorate Vietnamese teacher Chu Van An on the occasion of his 650th death anniversary next year.

The decision was made Tuesday by its executive board, which will issue a resolution in November for UNESCO to join Vietnam in the commemoration.

Chu Van An was a high-ranking mandarin of the Tran Dynasty (1,225-1,400 CE).

He was born in 1292 in Thanh Tri District of Hanoi and was praised by people for his ethical lifestyle from a very young age.

Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu, or Complete Annals of Dai Viet, a 15-volume work published in the 15th and 16th centuries chronicling the history of the Vietnamese from 2879 BCE to 1697 CE, describes him as "straightforward, clean, truthful, and not bothered about benefits."

During his time, schools were rare and meant only for the children of the rich and royalty. Ordinary people would send their children to small, private classes organized by local scholars in their village.

After he passed an examination considered the equivalent of a modern doctoral degree, An chose not to work for the court. Instead, he opened his own school to teach local children.

In 1314 two of his students passed the doctoral examination, spreading his and the school’s fame across the nation.

King Tran Minh Tong appointed him principal of Quoc Tu Giam, or the Temple of Literature, in Hanoi, Vietnam’s first university.

An contributed much to its development and created the curriculum himself. He also had the task of tutoring Crown Prince Tran Vuong.

After Tran Minh Tong passed away, Tran Vuong took the throne as Tran Hien Tong in 1329, but passed away two years later.

The new young king, Tran Du Tong, then five years old, was more interested in the pursuit of pleasure than ruling, leaving the country in a mess and the government full of corrupt mandarins.

An tried to advise the king in a last-ditch effort to save the country, submitting a petition to behead seven mandarins he believed had subverted the system for their own benefit.

Though his suggestion was ignored by the king, it shocked the public since the rules did not allow a mandarin like An to act like that.

Following his failure An gave up his title and position, retreated to a mountainous area in Chi Linh District, Hai Duong Province, not from his hometown, to become a teacher again.

He was said to have lived "happily in poverty" for the rest of his life, teaching and writing. Thanks to him, many people became excellent students, including Nguyen Thi Due, the only woman to pass the doctoral exam in Vietnam’s feudal era.

Later Tran kings invited An back to the court several times, but he always declined.

In 1370 he passed away in Hai Duong.

An altar was erected in his honor at the Temple of Literature, where he is still venerated.

An will become the fourth Vietnamese to be honored by UNESCO after Nguyen Trai, a Confucian scholar, poet, politician, and master strategist, President Ho Chi Minh and poet Nguyen Du.

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