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Viet Nam, Center of Trade

Nancy Tingley describes the heyday of Viet Nam's Hoi An, when it became "the port of choice" in Southeast Asia. (1 min., 28 sec.)

Nancy Tingley describes the heyday of Viet Nam's Hoi An, when it became "the port of choice" in Southeast Asia. (1 min., 28 sec.)

NEW YORK, February 2, 2010 - In conjunction with the opening of Asia Society Museum's Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: From River Plain to Open Sea, curator Nancy Tingley spoke about the four sections of this landmark exhibition, demonstrating Viet Nam to be a "center of trade." Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu introduced Tingley, a specialist in Southeast Asian art, at a lecture on the opening day of the exhibition at Asia Society headquarters in New York.

The Dong Son and Sa Huynh cultures that occupied Viet Nam from the first millennium BCE to the second century CE were "burial cultures," explained Tingley. "All the information that we have about them . . . comes from burial sites." In the North, the Dong Son buried mostly bronzes. The best known of these are the large drums used as regalia and in the afterlife. In the South, the Sa Huynh people are known for the "very thin-walled and very finely thrown" clay burial jars in which they interred their dead. The Sa Huynh were an Austronesian speaking people, a group that originated in Taiwan and settled throughout island Southeast Asia. 

From the first to the fifth century CE, the polity of Funan, in the Mekong River delta, was "the dominant trading region in Southeast Asia." This thriving entrepot developed before the Funan people adopted religious and political systems from India, not after, as scholars once believed. "Beautiful" statues of the Buddha and the god Vishnu show that Indian religions were practiced in Funan by the fifth century.

In the sixth century, the Cham kings, perhaps descended from the Sa Huynh people, took control of trade. Tingley described the brick temples built by the Cham on mountaintops along the coast, which served both as shrines to the Hindu god Shiva, and lighthouses for passing ships. Tingley demonstrated that Cham sculpture at first showed Indian influence, and later developed into a new "very bold, powerful, kind of exuberant style."

By the sixteenth century, Hoi An, "became the port of choice in Southeast Asia" and the site of an international market that "lasted for about six months of the year and extended for a mile." In 1992, a sunken ship, loaded with over 250,000 ceramics and headed for Southeast Asia, was found off the coast of Hoi An. Tingley concluded with a discussion of how this Cu Lao Cham shipwreck has led to a more precise understanding of the ceramics traded at Hoi An, the most recent of Vietnam's successive ports of call.

Reported by Lara Netting, Asia Society Museum Getty Fellow