The precious sword and seal of the Nguyen Dynasty
After abdicating, Emperor Bao Dai handed over his sword and seal, which symbolize the power of the dynasty, to the revolutionary government.
Unfortunately, these items went missing during the Vietnam war of resistance against the French.
Close-up of the “Hoang De Chi Bal” seal, made of gold, weighing nearly 11kg. (Archive photo).
Under the monarchy, the king’s sword and seal are the symbols of the supreme power. There are several kinds of seals made of silver, gold, or gems, but in general they are called “bao ty”.
According to ancient documents, the Nguyen dynasty (1802 - 1945) used over 20 seals with different functions and meanings. For example, the “Ngu Tien Chi Bao” seal is used to seal the king’s instructions and edicts with the contents being erased or to seal at adjacent places on two important documents.
The seal named “Sac Menh Chi Bao” was used in decrees or “sac phong” (documents conferring a title on somebody).
The seal named “Che Cao Chi Bao” was used on official dispatches and orders.
Dr. Phan Thanh Hai - Director of the Department of Culture and Sports of Thua Thien - Hue province (former director of the Hue Monuments Conservation Center), said that, of the 20 seals cast in the early Nguyen Dynasty, six were cast during the reign of Emperor Gia Long and 14 cast under Minh Mang's reign.
“The most important seal, which symbolizes the Emperor, is the seal called ‘Hoang De Chi Bao’. This is the seal that the last king of the Nguyen Dynasty handed over to the representative of the revolutionary government at Ngo Mon Square on August 30, 1945," said Dr. Phan Thanh Hai.
In 1952, the French colonialists returned the sword and the seal to former emperor Bao Dai in the resort city of Da Lat.
The seal ‘Hoang De Chi Bao’ was cast in pure gold on February 4 of the 4th year of reign Minh Mang (March 15, 1823). This is the largest and most beautiful seal of the Nguyen Dynasty.
The seal is square in shape, and its handle is a meandering dragon, with its head raised, looking straight forward. The top of the dragon's head is engraved with the letter Vuong (King); the dorsal fin is erect; the tail erects; the tail fin is bent forward; the 4 legs with five claws each hold firmly on the seal face.
The underside of the seal is engraved with four characters “Hoang de chi bao”. The two sides of the handle are embossed with 2 lines of letters, meaning “the seal was cast at auspicious hour on February 4, the fourth year of reign Minh Mang” and “cast in gold, the weight of 280.9.2 taels”. This seal weighs about 10.7kg.
According to the regulations of the Nguyen Dynasty, the seal “Hoang De Chi Bao” is used on the most important documents issued by the king.
By the time the seal was handed over to the revolutionary government, it was 122 years old.
Unlike the seal, the sword that comes in pair with it was made during the reign of Emperor Khai Dinh. According to documentary photos, this is a long sword with the steel blade, a gem-encrusted hilt, and a gold sheath.
At Ngo Mon Gate of Hue Royal Citadel, on the afternoon of August 30, 1945, in front of more than 50,000 Hue residents, Emperor Bao Dai, the last king of the Nguyen Dynasty, handed over the seal and the sword to the revolutionary government.
On behalf of the revolutionary government, Mr. Tran Huy Lieu received the sword and the seal and affixed the citizen badge of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to former emperor Bao Dai.
The very next day, the sword and the seal were brought to Hanoi for being used at the Independence Declaration Ceremony on September 2, 1945.
The reproduced abdication ceremony of King Bao Dai. Photo: Ho Chi Minh Museum in Thua Thien Hue province
In the book "Q&A about the Nguyen Dynasty and ancient Hue City", Mr. Nguyen Dac Xuan - Hue cultural researcher - said that when the French colonialists returned to invade Vietnam (September 1945) and sent troops to Hanoi in late 1946, the unit in charge of preserving the sword and seal hid them in the wall of an ancient temple in the outskirts of Hanoi, before withdrawing to Viet Bac base. But later, when the French soldiers destroyed the pagoda to get bricks to build their fort, they discovered the sword and the seal.
On March 3, 1952, in Da Lat, the French colonialists held a ceremony to hand over the seal and the sword to former emperor Bao Dai, now the "Chief of State" of a puppet government built by the French.
In 1953, in order to keep this sword and seal safe, the former emperor Bao Dai authorized Madame Mong Diep to take them to France and gave them to Queen Nam Phuong (wife of King Bao Dai) and Prince Bao Long.
“After Madame Nam Phuong died (in 1963), the sword and the seal were kept by Bao Long and he deposited them at a safe box at the Union des Banques Européennes.
Bao Dai and his son Bao Long sued each other to own this set of sword and seal. The court ruled that Bao Dai will hold the seal and his son would own the sword.
It is said that former prince Bao Long sold the sword. As for the seal, after Bao Dai passed away, it fell into the hands of Monique Baudot, the French wife that Bao Dai married in 1982, according to research documents of Dr. Phan Thanh Hai.
The last set of sword and seal, which is considered the most precious set of sword and seal of the Nguyen dynasty should have belonged to the Vietnamese people. However, in fact, these items and many other treasures of the Nguyen Dynasty are still wandering abroad, waiting for the opportunity to return to their homeland.
Quang Thanh - Phan Thanh Hai
The rickshaw that Emperor Thanh Thai gave his mother was transported to Vietnam by air in 2015 after more than 100 years staying in France.