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China and Vietnam join hands to work on restoring ancient books

By Wang Qian | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-12 23:30
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Cui Zhibin (center), an expert from the National Library of China who specializes in restoration of ancient books, shares her experience with counterparts from the National Library of Vietnam during a training session in October. [Photo provided by National Library of Vietnam]

Scholars and researchers from China and Vietnam are collaborating to restore ancient books to their original glory, which underscores their shared commitment to preserving and promoting cultural heritages.

"Staff members from the National Library of China and the National Library of Vietnam are keeping contact through email to communicate on the methods and facilities applied in ancient book preservation," Chen Hongyan, head of the ancient book department of the National Library of China, told China Daily recently.

As a result of a groundbreaking program launched in late October, ancient book preservation will further promote cultural exchanges between the two countries, she said.

The program, focusing on the restoration of ancient manuscripts, was held from Oct 22 to 28 by the Chinese embassy in Vietnam, the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the National Library of Vietnam.

"There is a long history of cultural exchanges between Vietnam and China, which has created many shared cultural elements in the two countries. Books, as a main form of communication, are the best objects for studying such history," Chen said.

The program provided Vietnamese scholars and book restorers with the opportunity to enhance their skills in preserving and repairing the pages, while respecting the books and history.

More than 100 participants from various institutions and universities across Vietnam attended the event, which highlighted the significance and value placed on the preservation of ancient books.

The Chinese delegation, comprising Liu Bingmei, Cui Zhibin and Zhong Jingjing from the National Library of China, shared its knowledge and experiences through a series of interactive workshops and training sessions.

These sessions covered various aspects of restoration techniques, including paper material analysis, digitization of ancient books, and the use of specialized tools and materials. Participants had the chance to engage in practical hands-on restoration exercises, further deepening their understanding of the intricacies involved in this delicate restoration process.

During a session, the maintenance of microfilm for ancient books, the binding method of and material selection for thread-bound ancient books, and the removal of stains and tapes were discussed to help restorers from the National Library of Vietnam to better preserve ancient books.

After seeing several restored ancients books written in Chinese characters and Chu Nom, the former writing system of Vietnamese, Cui, from the delegation, discovered the different restoration and bookbinding techniques applied in the two countries.

The Chinese delegation brought back the Vietnamese handmade paper, which is traditionally made almost entirely from the bark of the Rhamnoneuron balansae tree. The National Library of China has been collecting primitive handmade paper from different regions as a paper resource base for better restoration of ancient books.

Chen, the head of the ancient book department, said the collaboration between China and Vietnam underscores the shared commitment to preserving and promoting cultural heritages, while also fostering mutual understanding and strengthening bilateral relations.

By combining Chinese expertise with Vietnam's rich history, the program aimed to create a synergy that revitalizes the field of ancient book restoration in both countries, she said.

This joint effort not only strengthened ties between the two nations, but also served as a testament to the enduring value of ancient manuscripts and books as crucial pillars of cultural identity, she added.

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