Up Front

It is hard to imagine a traditional Vietnamese house without an entrance screen. The screen id found somewhere in the courtyard or within the house itself, standing behind the main entrance. These old screens reveal a great deal about Vietnam’s history and culture.

In 1687, Lord Nguyen Phuoc Thai moved the capital of South Viet Nam from Kim Long Village to Phu Xuan (now Hue City). They to this decision were the existence of a mountain. Lord Nguyen Phuoc Hoai believed that Mac Son Mountain had been created by nature to protect the capital to a new kingdom, which he was destined to rule. His conviction was so strong that he did not hesitate to build an entire city. The mountain was then renamed Ngu Binh (Royal Screen) and became a symbol of Hue.

A screen is a product of Vietnamese people’s belief in feng shui, which is an effort to harness good energy and to ward off bad energy. People in Asia have believed in fengghui for many generations. The characteristic of the land are observed before nay building is erected.

Erecting screens outside of resident and tombs arose from the fengshui concept of trieu and an. Trieu means “to attend”, denoting the relationship between a host and guest. The mountain “attends” to the royal court or to an auspicious place. The word a literally refers to a table set in front of a person. In fengshui it describes a small mount set in front of a house or a tomb. Taken together, the concepts of trieu and an were translated into a protective screen.

The screen stops inauspicious elements or the Fire Flow (in the theory of Yin – Yang) from entering the front door. Initially, screens were made of simple and easy-to-find materials like bamboo, wood, stone slabs or just a small bush. Over time, people began to use bricks and other materials. The screens grew diverse in form, size and sophistication. Deeply influenced by the philosophy of fengshui, Vietnamese people felt that a screen was an indispensable part of their houses.

Trieu and an are two distinct concepts. Therefore, their applications differ. In the theory of fengshui, an “attending mountain” is preferred but should only be applied to major building or to a whole compound, like a city ỏ royal tombs. Over a thousand years ago, after finding the Thang Long area, Emperor Ly Thai to praised it as a land of “crouching dragon and hiding tigers” with “attending mountains and converging waters” ideal for the construction f a capital city.

Le Quy Don, a top mandarin and scholar of the Le Dynasty, praised the location of Hue when he came to this city in 1775, noting its “attending mountain: He said: “This land is even with the land rising in the center, looking to the East from the West, facing mountains that attend to this place while waters flow in to nurture prosperity”.

Since most plots of land do not have such an auspicious combination of natural elements, attention is only paid to an. There are two types of an: eternal an external, depending on the screen’s position against the house or structure. For bog buildings, the external screen could be a natural or artificial mountain. Smaller building could have a screen, a fence, a slab of stone or even a line of stress.

A brick screen serves as both a fengshui element and a decorative object. Generally built like a wall, the screen can take many forms. The most common form is shaped like a crolled book and features designs of the four sacred animals (dragon, phoenix, kylin, and tortoise). At temples and pagodas, motifs such as horse or tigers might also be employed.

Inside the house there can also be internal screens. While the forms differ, they share one common feature: these screens are movable. Materials include wood, bamboo, rattan, stone or a combination of various materials. Wood is the most popular. Most indoor screens feature sophisticated and artistic decorations.

Indoor screens come in two forms: fixed and folding. The fixed Varsities are very heavy and hard to move. The folding ones are generally formed of to ten attached pieces. These may be moved quite easily.

Having been home to Vietnam’s last royal court, the city of Hue has more screens may be seen in Hue’s temples, pagodas, community houses and ancestors’ shrines. The Hue Museum of Royal Relics is a fine place to admire Vietnam’s ancient screens. Here, visitors will find beautiful screens on wood, ivory and even gold.

This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel

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