Vietnam 100 years ago: practice of polygamy

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The practice of polygamy among the Annamese differs widely. The King of Annam has a great number of wives, but even the greatest mandarins
rarely have more than four or five.

The poor of necessity possess only one, for it is mere worldly fortune that regulates the number of wives. A travelling merchant or official generally has a family in each of his principal business centres, the wife acting as his commercial agent and steward.

Some authors say that polygamy is due to the preponderance of female births, but it is also on account of the desire to secure to the richest and most gifted the largest posterity.

The legal wife is called the wife of the first degree: “vo chinh.” She takes an important position in the household. She is the queen of the hearth. All the secondary wives, servants, etc., owe her obedience; all the children respect and honour her.

At her death mourning is worn for three years, while for the death of any of the other wives it is only worn for one year, and then only by her own children.

At the death of the father all the children of the different wives receive the same amount. The first legal wife retains a life interest in her husband’s property. The possessions of each mother are divided among her own children.

It may be observed that the social condition of the Annamese woman has attained a high standard. Many Western civilisations have not recognised the rights of women to a greater extent. /…/

The wives of artisans are noted for being as keen and clever in business as their husbands, and it is for this reason that it is no uncommon thing for Chinese merchants to choose Annamese wives.

Read more:
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Vietnam 100 years ago: practice of polygamy
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Vietnam 100 years ago: numerous wives of the Emperor
Vietnam 100 years ago: beauty standards
Vietnam 100 years ago: emperor and aristocracy

Text: Gabrielle Vassal
On & off duty in Annam, London 1910
Photo: old photo from internet

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