Vietnam authorities have agreed to “look into” how the former Hmong royal family’s palace was handed over for use to a local culture department.
The decision came following angry demands by the family in the northern highlands’ Ha Giang Province.
Vuong Duy Bao, grandson of the last Hmong King, Vuong Chi Sinh (or Vuong Chi Thanh, 1886-1962), wrote a letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc last month asking for the century-old palace to be returned to the family.
He expressed anger and confusion at Ha Giang authorities’ decision to hand it over to the Dong Van District Department of Culture and Information in 2012, which he said the family had only learned of two months ago.
In 1993 the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism had listed the palace as a National Heritage Site without informing the family, and in 2002 Ha Giang authorities attempted to evict them from the palace to turn it into a museum, the letter said.
Following the clan’s petition to the government against the eviction attempt, the culture ministry said its decision in 1993 did not nationalize the palace, and confirmed the family has the right to use and live in the palace, the letter noted.
The family only agreed to move out of the palace in 2002 to make it easier for it to be maintained and preserved, and did not donate it to the state.
The Ha Giang People’s Committee’s decision to grant the palace’s land-use rights to the district culture department in 2012 was therefore illegal, it said.
After initially claiming the 2012 decision was in accordance with the law, the province’s culture and environment departments have both refused to comment until the inspection, scheduled to start next week, is done.
Speaking to the media, Tran Dinh Thanh, deputy head of the culture ministry’s cultural heritage department, said the fact the government has turned a place into a National Heritage Site does not mean its owner must give its title up to the state.
While the state would get priority should the owner of a National Heritage Site want to sell it, such transactions must be mutually agreed, he added.
Luu Tran Tieu, a former deputy culture minister who had signed off on the 1993 decision to make the palace a heritage, agreed with Thanh saying Ha Giang authorities need to clarify on what legal basis they handed over the palace to the culture department.
The culture ministry’s Chief of Staff, Nguyen Thai Binh, said a ministry team would go to Ha Giang to look into the issue.
Located in Sa Phin Valley, 10 hours north of Hanoi, the palace was the seat of Hmong kings Vuong Chinh Duc and Vuong Chi Thanh, who ruled over the region during the French colonial era up until Vietnam regained independence in 1945.
The monarchy was abolished after Thanh died in 1962.
The Hmong king’s palace sits in Sa Phi Valley, 15 kilometers from Dong Van District center. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh