Insights into signature aspects of the world’s most spectacular places
Tomb of Tu Duc
By David Raezer
A hundred years – in this life span on earth
talent and destiny are apt to feud.
You must go through an event in which the sea becomes mulberry fields
and watch such things as make you sick at heart.
Is it strange that who is rich in this is poor in that?
Blue Heaven’s wont to strike rosy cheeks from spite.
Overcoming the rebellious Tay Son — who had replaced Confucianism (with a religiously-tolerant system that favored Buddhism) and the Chinese language (with indigenous Nôm) — the Nguyen (pronounced n-WHEN) rose to power in 1802 under the leadership of Gia Long, unifying the country.
The gradual unwinding of the dynasty — and the psychological impact this necessarily had on the rulers who were experiencing it — is one of the more fascinating stories that the tombs tell.
Historical Context & the French Threat Tu Duc’s reign is the pivotal one. It was under him that the Nguyen dynasty lost its air of inevitability. Things were getting worse and its grasp on the reigns of power began to loosen.
How does this worsening situation reflect itself in the tomb? No doubt, Tu Duc saw with clear eyes that the dynasty’s days were numbered. He retreated to the fortified complex, an escape from the realities outside, and what is now the temple served as his palace. The tomb is the biggest built by the Nguyens — perhaps this was done as a show of strength to both the French and the Vietnamese people. Further, while the interior is certainly grand, it is decidedly more somber: the bright-red paint associated with earlier temples is gone, replaced by dark unpainted wood.
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