The research investigates the recent rejuvenation of ritual practices pertaining to former kings as enacted in contemporary Hue, the imperial capital of Viet Nam. It examines how former royalty once rebuked by the early socialist state currently emerge as key players in the promotion of a United Nations protected heritage site that attracts both a local and an international audience.
Previously forming the sacred core of the polity, the Nguyễn kings were subsequently pushed aside by the rising tide of the revolution that banned their public commemoration. This state of affairs was somewhat reversed after the đổi mới policies of the mid-1980s that signalled the state’s willingness to undertake market reforms. This tide of change gained momentum in the 1990s with the Hue royal complex recognized as a ‘World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO and a ‘National Treasure’ by the Vietnamese government. Today the Nguyễn kings are ritually recognised as extraordinary ancestors and potent dead who require and indeed demand propitiation. As a result, the citadel, the royal tombs and many temple complexes in and around Hue have been transformed into sites where a multitude of actors are drawn together to partake in rejuvenated ritual acts. Royal descendants are re-discovering ‘traditional’ forms of worship, local pilgrims are engaging in searches of blessings, and droves of foreign tourists explore the country’s glorious imperial past. In all these developments, the state has taken an active role in terms of sponsoring the restoration of royal complexes and promoting the re-enactment of royal rituals in order to raise the profile of the city as a worth-visiting site. Through these means, the state has also sought to appropriate and domesticate an otherwise equivocal imperial past.
The research investigates the complexities, intricacies, and ambiguities involved in the imperial restoration project. It examines how previously neglected royalty are fast becoming re-instated as potent ancestral figures and the significance this re-discovery has in a changing economic and political environment. It also considers the royal cult in the context of tourism and the commodification of social memory.
The research addresses a significant gap in our knowledge about Viet Nam by providing the first in-depth study of the re-invigorated royal rituals. During my time at IIAS, I will prepare this research for publication.