HÀ NỘI — A proposal to build a statue of a turtle beside Sword Lake, located in the heart of the capital city, was submitted to the Hà Nội People’s Committee earlier this week.
As well as an icon of the ancient capital, the lake is considered a sacred place in the hearts of Vietnamese citizens for its connection to the legend of King Lê Lợi, one of the country’s heroes who defeated Chinese invaders with a holy sword given to him by the gods.
He later returned the sword to the lake – now known as Sword Lake in downtown Hà Nội – and a giant turtle took it before disappearing under the water.
The king’s reign ended and his empire eventually crumbled but the legend remains a part of local lore. The lake continues to remind Vietnamese of the courage and determination of our forefathers in the fight to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and independence. Any changes proposed for the lake’s surrounding area always attract a lot of attention from the public, and often severe criticism.
Author of the proposal Tạ Hồng Quân, a resident of Hà Nội, was well-aware of that fact.
“My hope is that the capital may get another cultural landmark. I knew the idea will attract a lot of criticism but it comes from my love for the city as a resident,” Quân told the Viet Nam News Agency.
“From the stories of King An Dương Vương (a giant turtle also helped the king build the Cổ Loa Citadel to defend against northern invaders in 200BC) to Lê Lợi, the material is there for us to create a unique spiritual symbol for Hà Nội,” he added.
Quân noted that many countries have animals as their national symbol and as of now Việt Nam has yet to decide on one.
He also clarified some misunderstandings regarding his proposal.
“Some people think it’s made of gold and that will be a huge waste but my proposal is that the statue to be made of copper covered in a layer of gold. Also, it will be around the size of a small car (not taller than 2.5 metres),”
“I’m just trying to put the idea out there. Once approved, a contest should be held to select the most pleasing design,” he added.
Quân’s idea was received with enthusiasm by some of the country’s prominent scholars including President of the Vietnam Association of Historical Sciences Phan Huy Lê, Prof. and turtle expert Hà Đình Đức and historian Dương Trung Quốc.
Quốc, however, said city authorities must consult with the public and experts in related fields to understand the repercussions of such a project.
Making a beautiful statue may prove to be a challenge, however, according to President of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association painter Trần Khánh Chương.
Chương said a turtle’s natural pose is lying flat. “From a sculptor’s point of view, this is very difficult to work with,” Chương said.
Aesthetic considerations aside, promoting the turtle as the city’s spiritual symbol may require further discussion.
Turtles and snakes are animals associated with floods and therefore, often held in contempt by farmers, said Prof. Trần Lâm Bền, a cultural expert.
“My question is why the change of heart now? The turtle is one of the four sacred animals often seen in temples. Personally, I don’t think it’s appropriate to put it by Sword Lake, which is already an iconic cultural landmark of the country,” Bền said.
For the time being, the proposal is on ice. A recent announcement by the capital’s culture department said it has not received any instructions on how to proceed with Quân’s proposal from city authorities.
Head of the city’s culture department Tô Huy Động said there are already two large turtle replicas preserved at the Ngọc Sơn Temple as well as a four-ton ceramic turtle statue made for the occasion of the capital’s 1,000th anniversary in 2010.
His deputy Trương Minh Tiến also commented on the matter, saying the city already has a symbol, the Temple of Literature.
“The lake is special. Each and every project must be carefully considered. The city will also listen to the public’s wishes and expert opinions,” Tiến said.
Recent ideas regarding Sword Lake that drew a lot of flak from the public, as well as the press, included a Hollywood-style Walk of Fame and statue of King Kong, a mythical creature featured in the latest Hollywood blockbuster Kong: Skull Island, which was filmed in Việt Nam.