The national body charged with the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Department of Cultural Heritage (DCH), under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MOCST), within which there is a Division of Intangible Cultural Heritage Management. It is responsible for state governance of intangible cultural heritage at the national level. Its responsibilities include: drafting policies and procedures for safeguarding and promotion; evaluating nomination files for inscription on the Convention’s Lists; evaluating nominations for the recognition of artists who have made significant contributions to the safeguarding, presentation and transmission of intangible cultural heritage; strengthening international cooperation toward the safeguarding and promotion of cultural heritage; and monitoring the activities of associations, non-governmental organizations and individuals in the safeguarding and promotion of cultural heritage, in accordance with legal regulations. Each of the 63 Provincial Departments of Culture, Sports and Tourism (DOCST) has established a unit or division in charge of intangible cultural heritage. The legal framework for safeguarding – the 2001 Law on Cultural Heritage – was amended in 2009 to bring it into line with the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, followed by a 2010 Circular regulating the inventorying of intangible cultural heritage and the creation of a national list. A further Circular on providing recognition and incentives for bearers by conferring the honorary title of ‘People’s Master Folk Artist’ and ‘Excellent Master Folk Artist’ upon them is under preparation.
Training in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is provided by a number of universities and institutes. Universities of Culture in Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City are specialized education institutions (under the MOCST) for culture management staff, providing training at undergraduate and post-graduate levels. Most graduates from the Universities work as researchers or managers in the cultural heritage departments of Provincial Departments of Culture, Sports and Tourism, provincial museums, management boards, or divisions of culture at district and commune levels. Undergraduate instruction in ethnology, folklore and other relevant fields is offered at the National Universities of Social Sciences and Humanities, in Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City, and post-graduate study is available at specialized institutes. The Viet Nam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies (VICAS), under the auspices of the MOCST, is responsible for research activities and post-graduate studies, including doctoral training on culture and arts. The Institute of Cultural Studies, the Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies, and the Southern Institute of Sustainable Development, all under the auspices of the Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences, also offer post-graduate degrees relevant to intangible cultural heritage. The DCH has also organized large-scale seminars and training workshops to raise awareness and the capacities of civil servants in safeguarding cultural heritage and completing files of intangible cultural heritage for inscription on the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Between 2007 and 2012, 350 local officials were trained; this has markedly increased the capacities of local officials and communities at all levels.
The aforementioned offices and institutions are all active in the documentation of intangible cultural heritage. Documentation is mostly conducted by VICAS and the Vietnamese Institute for Musicology (VIM), with significant financial allocation from the government regular budget and the National Target Program in Culture. More than a hundred museums – both national and provincial – are involved in research into and the survey, inventorying, and documentation of intangible cultural heritage. Prominent among these is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Documentation also figures into the work of non-governmental organizations such as the Viet Nam Association of Cultural Heritage (VNACH) and the Association of Vietnamese Folklorists (AVF). Fifteen satellite databanks, linked to the central one, have also been installed at the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism or the provincial museums of 15 provinces and cities. These aim to collect, archive and provide information on the safeguarding and promotion of intangible cultural heritage. Individuals and organizations have access to these databanks upon request.
The inventorying of intangible cultural heritage has been undertaken in Viet Nam for several decades by a number of institutions such as VICAS, VIM and the Institute of Cultural Studies. However, this work was directed more at research and collection activities than safeguarding, and each institution adopted its own methods, criteria, definitions and classifications. In 2008, in order to assess the status of existing intangible cultural heritage inventories in Viet Nam, an international workshop, ‘Inventories of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Viet Nam, Lessons learnt’, was organized with the support of UNESCO. This workshop gathered together representatives from relevant state bodies, non-governmental organizations, local authorities and officials. Subsequently, the MOCST issued Circular No. 04/2010/TT-BVHTTDL dated 30 June 2012 regulating ‘the inventorying of intangible cultural heritage and filing dossiers of intangible cultural heritage items for inscription on the National ICH List’. Local authorities are responsible for setting up an Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory Board, in which the Directors of the provincial DOCST act as heads of the Boards. Board members include representatives from the provincial museums, People’s Committees of districts and communes, non-governmental organizations and individuals from communities concerned. Each province is to conduct field surveys, interviews, audio and visual recordings, collect published information and data, undertake documentation, and report annually to the MOCST on its results. All the original files of the intangible cultural heritage elements that have been inventoried are archived and stored at the DOCST offices. This Circular is currently being implemented in over 40 provinces and province-level cities.
The Circular also specifies that provinces may nominate an intangible cultural heritage element, once it has been inventoried, for inscription on a National Intangible Cultural Heritage List. To be included on the national list, intangible cultural heritage elements must meet all the following criteria: (1) Represent and constitute the identity of the relevant community and locality; (2) Represent the cultural diversity and human creation inherited and continuing across generations; (3) Respect requirements for viability and sustainability; (4) Have the consent of the relevant community, who also participate in the nomination and are committed to safeguarding the element of intangible cultural heritage. Once submitted, the nominations are evaluated by a scientific commission that recommends their inclusion on the national list. The DCH is creating an online platform through which local officials and communities may update information concerning their own intangible cultural heritage elements online, during and after the process of inscription.
To promote the function of intangible cultural heritage in society, the DCH has supported local communities in strengthening and disseminating their intangible cultural heritage through safeguarding projects and joint performances at both the national and international levels. The DCH has also conducted a number of intangible cultural heritage projects, e.g. in 2002, with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, to investigate five traditional handicraft villages in Hà Nội and its surrounding areas, whose craft tradition was under threat of disappearance. The aim was to teach students while safeguarding and promoting the craft villages in a sustainable manner. Local authorities at the commune and district levels also organize competitions, festivals and joint performances of intangible cultural heritage annually as a means of promotion and transmission. At a higher level, every two or three years, provincial and national agencies organize festivals and intangible cultural heritage performances. For over 40 years, with financial support from the Government and other non-governmental organizations, the Association of Vietnamese Folklorists has carried out 4,000 research and collection activities in relation to the traditional and folk culture of Vietnamese ethnic minorities. As a result, many intangible cultural heritage elements were ‘revitalized’, including 38 traditional ethnic minority festivals.
In the area of education, from 2006 to 2007, in collaboration with the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology and the Department of Education and Training of Hà Nội, and with the technical support of international experts, the DCH carried out a pilot project on ‘Developing Methods for Integrating Intangible Cultural Heritage Education into Formal Subjects in Hà Nội Schools’. Intangible cultural heritage elements were integrated into certain subjects in the natural sciences. For example: water puppets were used to illustrate how several things float; a monochord musical instrument (đàn bầu) was used to explain the development of sound waves; and chemical reactions were studied by introducing an old Vietnamese custom of chewing betel and areca, etc. As an innovative method in teaching and learning in Viet Nam, the approach not only provided schoolchildren with knowledge of intangible cultural heritage, but also helped to liven up their lessons of different subjects, thus making such subjects easy to understand and remember. In Viet Nam, traditional forms of intangible cultural heritage transmission within families and guilds are still valid, with guilds (e.g. Thang Long Ca tru guild) supporting elderly exponents in this regard.
Bilateral cooperation has been undertaken with other regional countries (Korea, Japan, Indonesia). Cooperation was also undertaken with Belgium through the development of an intangible cultural heritage tourist itinerary, and with the USA and Mekong River States through a four-year project (2004-2007) entitled ‘Mekong River: Connecting Cultures’ aimed at civil servants and communities in these countries, with the objective being to study intangible cultural heritage together and strengthen their capacity to identify it.
Viet Nam reports here on four elements on the Representative List: Nha Nhac, Vietnamese court music (incorporated in 2008, after being proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003); the Space of gong culture (also incorporated in 2008, having been proclaimed a Masterpiece in 2005); Quan họ Bắc Ninh folk songs (2009); and the Gióng festival of Phù Ðổng and Sóc temples (2010). The erosion of traditional values and the negative effects of tourism and commercial development have led Nha Nhac close to distortion (with songs being shortened and redesigned to fit in with tour schedules or with visitors’ levels of understanding); the restoration of instruments and is rendered difficult by the traditional skills and production techniques required and the lack of information. Even if the Space of gong culture still enjoys a large number of gong practitioners, urbanization has negatively impacted its viability as have changes in cultivation methods, lifestyle, customs and beliefs, etc. Some minority groups have abandoned their traditional beliefs in favour of newly introduced religions, giving up on practising the gong culture. Bắc Ninh and Bắc Giang Provinces have implemented a number of programmes to mainstream Quan họ in schools and train music teachers in this. A project is being developed to survey the status of Thanh Gióng worshipping spaces in Phù Đổng and Phù Linh communes and to promote the festival for sustainable tourism development in the Gia Lâm and Sóc Sơn districts of Hà Nội.