Hoi An Old Town – An Ancient Beauty of Vietnam
With hundreds of housing and religious architectures of various groups including Cham, Viet, Chinese, Japanese built from X to XIX century, Hoian has currently become an attractive destinations for tourists who are eager to learn about cultures of different communities in the world. For these constructions, people seem to easily forget that from early XV century, Hoian ancient town had been an open economic zone which was identified on Hong Duc map (in 1490) as a centre on sea routs of Far Eastern trading boats.
At a longer time ago, according to Tien An Thu of Chinese, for the ancient Cham people from X to XV century, Hoian was playing the roles of a destination on the trading routes of traders from China, Arabica, Ba Tu, India, Malaysia. However the most prosperous time is under Nguyen dynasty with the policy of attracting and residential allowance to Japanese and Chinese traders. Hoian at that time was so crowded that a monk called Thich Dai San, visiting Hoian in 1635wrote in his memoirs with surprising that: “from a distance, the sails look like a forest of arrows. It turns out that they are boats carrying cereals which are stopping to wait for wind at Hoian”. Le Quy Don Scholar described in his Phu BienTap Luc that goods in Hoian were so many that hundreds of large boats cannot carry at the same time.
Moreover, Chua Sai (Nguyen Phuc Nguyen) allowed his daughter (nick name was Anio princess) to marry a powerful Japanese trader called ArakiShutaro (in 1961) who received the name of Nguyen Taro, official name as Hien Hung. At the same time, another Japanese trader cum owner of a trading boat named Furamoto Yashishiro was the first person in history to be recognized as the mayor of the South.
These foreign mayors had significant effects to the authority and they can even protect priests A. Rhodes at the time that the Nguyen dynasty boycotted Christian. Besides, in the relation with merchants, Lord Nguyen also gifted money and congratulated in kind foreign boats leaving Vietnam. Through the method of gibing presents, their purpose is to introduce and advertise their local products to the world outside. The annual fairs organized in Hoian themselves ware also a mean of introducing local and international products within a year. For some boats from nearby ports including Macau, Nam Hai, Tan Gia Ba, Lord Nguyen also reduced the taxes.
In 1602, Lord Thai Tong established official residence in Thanh CHiem village, Dien Ban district, Quang Nam province and assigned his eldest son Nguyen Phuc Nguyen to defend. Since then, Hoian had become the trading port with foreigners and also the largest one in the region of Thuan – Quang. The priest Chistoforo Borri who had lived in Hoian since 16818 described the town: “an airy city which can be divided into two areas, one of the Chinese and one of the Japanese. Those are the major businessmen of annual fair which lasts for 4 months”.
Japanese often brought 4 or 5 thousand silver ingots while the Chinese travelled on very beautiful sailing boats with lots of good silks and their special products. More importantly, this fair brought the king a large amount of money. The whole country, thus, gained some profits. However, Hoian became the most prosperous in the South maily because of the potential and the variety of goods in Quang Nam. Opening policy together with the abundance in local products were the twi major reasons making Hoian far ahead from Pho HIen in the North (Dang Ngoai). In Phu Bien Tap Luc, there is an article that says: “boats backing from Son Nam can buy only a kind of brown tubers; the unique thing can be bought from Thuan Hoa is pepper. However, from Quang Nam (Hoian), nothing is unavailable”.
Thus, in the international seminar about Hoian organized in Danang in 1985, by analysing the information on permits (Shuinjo) of Tokugawa boats, professor Iwao Seiichi said that only in the period from 1604 to 1634, Hoian received 86 out of 130 times when Japanese boats arrived to Vietnam.