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Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

By Quynh Tran   November 26, 2022 | 04:07 pm PT
Duong Rach Sanh from HCMC boasts a collection of 2,500 artifacts from Chinese immigrants dating back to the first day they arrived and settled in the Saigon-Cho Lon neighborhood.
Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

Displayed in his home on An Duong Vuong Street in District 5, HCMC's Chinatown, most of the items here can be dated back to the early 19th century.

"Over a century ago, my own ancestors migrated here from China. Keeping the history of the Chinese community in the Saigon - Cho Lon area safe for future generations is important to me because I want them to know and appreciate their roots,” Sanh, 44, said.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

About 200 square meters of the home are devoted to exhibits, and are subdivided into sections dedicated to specific themes like "costumes," "documents," and "photos" .

The majority of artifacts were gifts from Chinese friends and relatives. One hundred paintings, garments, culinary utensils, garments and others from the 1950s are also on display.

"All of these artifacts were given to me in 2013 by a group of women whose homes were being demolished. Since they threw many items away, I kept some of the things they left behind.”

As his collection has expanded over the years, he decided to open his own personal showroom in 2019 where the items could be safely stored, easily inventoried, and protected from the wear and tear that would occur in a warehouse.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

The stone pedestal that once supported the wooden pillar in a Chinese temple in Cho Lon (no longer in existence) and the gatekeeper stone (lower left) are the oldest pieces in the collection.

It is estimated that there are 750,000 Chinese in Vietnam, with over 500,000 residing in Saigon alone, according to the 2019 study of 53 Ethnic Minorities Survey. The influx of Chinese into Vietnam began in the early 16th century and continued until the early 20th century.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

This Lu Ban pillow dates to 1898, brought to Vietnam by a Chinese family from Chao'an region, a district of Chaozhou City in eastern Guangdong Province in China, when settling in Saigon. This is one of the most valuable artifacts in the collection, Sanh said.

In addition, he also has many other types of porcelain, wooden pillows and other artifacts dating back to the early 20th century.

This pillow is said to had been created by Lu Ban (507-444 BC), a Chinese carpenter, engineer and inventor during the Zhou Dynasty. The pillow is formed by pieces of wood and can be folded.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

A bronze ironing board from the late Qing Dynasty, or the early 20th century.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

A sword forged in 1949 that was commonly used in martial arts training.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

The remaining ceramic tiles of pagodas, guilds and clan temples in Cho Lon.

Cho Lon was a city established in the 19th century. It was merged into neighboring Saigon in 1931, and “Saigon – Cho Lon” was born. The "Cho Lon" part was dropped and the merged city became “Saigon” alone in 1956. Since then, Cho Lon has often been referred to as the largest Chinatown in Vietnam.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

The ordination of Vietnam’s last king Bao Dai rewarded to Hui Hon Hoa, an immigrant of Chinese origin in Saigon, back in 1942.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

Many mugs, kettles, irons and others, belonging to different Chinese families dating back to before 1975 can be found on the shelves.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

In another area are large murals that look like they belong in a temple from the distant past.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

A space devoted to displaying traditional Chinese clothing and ornaments for special occasions like Chinese New Year and weddings.

Century-old collection of Chinese immigration artifacts offers glimpse into history

The collector displayed over 200 items in a spare room designed to seem like a 1970s grocery shop.

"I loved remembering my childhood and looking at all the stuff my family used to have. Furthermore, there are several other priceless artifacts, which document the gradual but steady assimilation of Saigon's Chinese community," Hue Trinh, a visitor from District 11, said.

Sanh explained that the gallery is not publicly accessible on a regular basis because it is a private residence. He hopes he'll be able to put together an exhibition for everyone to see in the future.

 
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