Handicrafts in Vietnam: an ancestral presence

Handicrafts emerged in Vietnam before the emergence of village structures. It took
wait for the organization of the company into villages so that this activity becomes an element
structuring and constitutive of the Vietnamese economy and identity.

Already in the first century AD, at the time of the Chinese conquest, craftsmanship in the
Red River delta had reached a relatively high level of technicality. The
metallurgical techniques, bronze and iron casting were already mastered. The two
the most prosperous craft trades then were weaving and basketry. Cotton fabrics,
in silk, baskets, baskets in bamboo and rattan were very famous.

Handicrafts were also intended for the daily life of a village society oriented towards
local consumption: cotton articles, ceramics, agricultural and hydraulic tools,
basketwork, mats, processing industries for agricultural products. The great variety of
plant and animal raw materials available for craftsmanship allowed the
manufacture of many articles.

Each type of article gave rise to a large number of variants which was the activity of a
specialized village. Basketry is the branch with the greatest variety of articles.
On the one hand, because the raw material in this case bamboo, includes at least eight
varieties with particular characteristics, which allows the manufacture of very varied baskets,
by their shapes, sizes and more or less tight braiding. Their use is
multiple: cooking, transporting crops or land, irrigation, drying
harvests, their conservation, the breeding of silkworms.

The relations of vassalage towards the former Chinese colonizer (for more than a millennium,
Vietnam was under Chinese domination: from -111 AC to +938 AD) were under-
strained by the handing over of artisanal tributes by the Vietnamese feudal state for several
centuries. This one controlled his subjects and imposed many taxes, chores: he recruited
also soldiers … craftsmen were heavily taxed, when they were not all
simply requisitioned and brought by force from their village to work in the
state factories (shipyards, armories, minting coins), or construction
of residences and palaces for the enlargement of the city in the 16th century and in the 17th century in
virtue of the công týõng system, equivalent to chores (Nguyễn Thừa Hỷ, 2002).

It is interesting to note that the reason why the craft is not really
developed to reach an industrial level is linked to the importance of the doctrine
Confucian, centered on rural society, which devalued market activity. This limited
the emergence of a commercial and industrious bourgeoisie. The merchants occupied the
last place in the hierarchy of labor: “scholar, peasant, craftsman, merchant”

Handicrafts such as basketry, wood carving and mother-of-pearl inlay
on wood, although they have rarely developed into an industrial model, have nevertheless
enjoyed wide support from the state and provinces. It’s a great chance, because
these trainings allowed the sustainability of ancestral know-how: cooperatives
provided training courses to peasants in the vicinity of the artisanal villages
more famous so that a sufficient volume of workers can take over the orders of the
large market in Eastern Europe. Great master craftsmen were requisitioned by the state
to train an army of new artisans. The state took charge of the orders,
marketing of raw materials and products. The transmission of know-how
took place through learning, training and intergenerational transmission within

Handicrafts, as organized in clusters in Vietnam, have not yet been swept away by the
capitalism, unlike the East and South-East Asia region where liberalism and the great
industry (large consumer of cheap labor) have sounded its death knell. TO
the shadow of China, whose companies are difficult to compete with, Vietnam manages to
find its way and continues to produce artisans. But until when ?

MARCH 2019

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