Vietnam 100 years ago: how to become a mandarin


There is no permanent Annamese aristocracy, except in the Royal Family. Titles are not hereditary; they drop one degree with every generation, so that if the members of a family do nothing by personal effort to deserve a renewal of their former distinctions, the family soon loses its honourable estate.

Any man in the kingdom may become a mandarin or high Government official, as all public offices are open to competition. This rule admits of a few exceptions. Those who render signal services to the country are entitled to similar honours.

The citizen, for instance, who has succeeded in developing a certain amount of uncleared land, transforming jungle into rice-fields, is ennobled ; even in this land of literary examinations, agriculture is rightly honoured. But yet it is the ” literary ” mandarin who of the two is held in the higher esteem. This demand for efficiency should be of good omen for the future of the country, but it must be remembered that education in Annam is not progressive.

The examinations of to-day are identical with those of many centuries ago. The subjects are literature, language, the doctrines of Confucius. If they could be altered, and some of the energy now spent on letters could be devoted to science, the nation would make rapid progress.

The mandarin almost always lives in a brick-built house with verandahs running round, after the fashion of the European bungalow. The tiled roof is in many cases much ornamented, and the crest, instead of being a straight line, curves to form the profile of a dragon.

Butterflies, bats, or lotus flowers are frescoed into the lime above doors and windows. As on the tombs, this is done by means of broken fragments of blue and green porcelain, but it is only on close inspection that one can see the hundreds of chips which have been required to complete a single design. The house is generally whitewashed inside, but in spite of this the rooms do not have a clean appearance. /…/

All the mandarins of Annam are poor, or, if not, they pretend to be so. The native governors of a province are not entitled to any fixed official salary ; they are considered as the “father and mother ” of the population they govern, and the “children ” are supposed to provide the “parents” with all the necessaries of life. This arrangement is far from perfect, for the “parents” often take advantage of their position to extort large sums of money from their ” children.”

Read more:
Vietnam 100 years ago: table manners
Vietnam 100 years ago: chewing the betel-nut
Vietnam 100 years ago: how to become a mandarin
Vietnam 100 years ago: religion and superstitions
Vietnam 100 years ago: worshiping ancestors

Vietnam 100 years ago: practice of polygamy
Vietnam 100 years ago: chief wives of the mandarins
Vietnam 100 years ago: numerous wives of the Emperor

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


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