UNIVERSITY OF SOCIAL SCIENCES & HUMANITIES - HOCHIMINH CITY (HCMC - USSH)
PROFESSOR BUU CAM
SINO-NÔM TEACHER AND RESEARCHER
Interview: Le Quang Truong, MA
Translator: Le Thuy Tuong Vy, MA
Editors: Doan Le Giang, Prof.
Tran Thi Phuong Phuong, PhD
HO CHI MINH CITY - 2009
Vo Van Sen, Prof.
Bang Anh Tuan, MA
Doan Le Giang, Prof.
INTERVIEWERS OF CAO TU THANH
Interview: Le Quang Truong, MA
Translator: Le Thuy Tuong Vy, MA
Editors: Doan Le Giang, Prof.
Tran Thi Phuong Phuong, PhD
Interview in English 4
Interviews in Vietnamese 21
Interview Data 33
PROFESSOR BUU CAM
SINO-NÔM TEACHER AND RESEARCHER
BUU CAM, conventional name is Nguyen Phuc Buu Cam.
He was born in August 14th 1920 in Vi Da, Hue. The first-born son of poet Ung Oanh and poetess Trinh Thi To. To be in royal birth, grand son of Prince Tuy Ly Mien Trinh (who he calls great-grandfather).
Due to his weakness throughout childhood, constant ill from ten to twenty years old, he spent much more time in learning at home and self-studying than at school. At twelve years old, began composing poetry and prose. Over twenty years old, chief-editor of Tinh hoa Digest and Gio len Magazine, published in Hue.
Thanks to his cultural activities, was proposed as Vietnamese Literature teacher in senior high school in Quoc hoc, Hue (1950).
1956, moved to Saigon, managed Office of Collection and Research, Institute of Archaeology.
In 1958, was offered lecturing on Sino-Nôm and some other subjects, like: Vietnamese History, Vietnamese Linguistics, Oriental Philosophy in School of Letters, Saigon University.
In 1969, was conferred Lecturing Professor.
In 1972, was promoted to Official Professor of Saigon University. Sponsor of many graduate students preparing MA and PhD dissertations.
Throughout this period, was delegated to attend International Conference of Sinology in overseas. Besides, member of East-West Cultural Value Determination Committee (UNESCO) and Deputation of Exchanges with Center of Research on Southeast Asian Culture in Japan.
Buu Cam, Hong Duc map (Hồng Đức bản đồ), Ministry of National Education Publishing House, Saigon, 1962.
Buu Cam (annotate), Imperially ordered annotated text completely reflecting the history of Viet (Kham dinh Viet su thong giam cuong muc), vol. 1, Ministry of National Education Publishing House, Saigon, 1960
Buu Cam (annotate), Chronologic Table in Jiazi of Imperial Viet (Hoàng Việt Giáp Tý niên biểu), Ministry of National Education Publishing House, Saigon, 1963.
Buu Cam, Diplomatic Relations in Repertory of the Administrative regulations in the Kingdom of An Nam (Bang giao trong Khâm định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ), Office of the Minister of State in charge of Cultural Affairs, Saigon, 1968.
Buu Cam (revise), Imperially ordered annotated text completely reflecting the history of Viet, introduction (Khâm định Việt sử thông giám cương mục tiền biên), Vol. 2, Ministry of National Education Publishing House, Saigon, 1965.
Buu Cam (revise), Flexible Interior Policy in Repertory of the Administrative regulations in the Kingdom of An Nam (Nhu viễn trong Khâm định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ), vol.132-133, Ministry of National Education Publishing House, Saigon, 1965.
Buu Cam (hiệu đính), Flexible Interior Policy in Repertory of the Administrative regulations in the Kingdom of An Nam (Nhu viễn trong Khâm định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ), vol. 134- 135- 136, Ministry of National Education Publishing House, Saigon, 1966.
Buu Cam, To Understand the Books of Changes (Tìm hiểu Kinh Dịch), vol. 1, Nguyen Do Publishing House, Saigon, 1957.
Buu Cam, Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime: Essay on Philosophy (Tống Nho: Triết học khảo luận), University Series of Humanities Publishing House, Hue, 1954.
Buu Cam and Le Ngoc Tru, Bibliographical notes on Nguyen Du (1765-1965) (Thư mục về Nguyễn Du (1765- 1820)), in the ceremony of the two-hundred birthday of great poet Nguyen Du, Saigon, 1965.
Buu Cam, Our National Appellations from Annam to Dainam (Quốc hiệu nước ta từ An Nam đến Đại Nam), The Bookcase of History, Office of the Minister of State in charge of Cultural Affairs, Saigon, 1969.
Buu Cam, Wandering around the Universe (Du lịch thái hư), 1948.
Buu Cam, Vietnamese Lexical Orthography (Việt ngữ chính tả từ vựng), 1949.
Buu Cam, Recollection of the Past Poems, Explicative (Hoài cổ ngâm chú thích), 1950.
Buu Cam, To Understand the Books of Changes (Tìm hiểu Kinh Dịch),Vol. 2, Philosophy of Life, Vietnam, The cradle of modern literature. (Dao Lam của nền văn học mới).
Buu Cam, Treatise of East and West Philosophy (Đông Tây triết học khảo luận).
Bửu Cầm, East and West Culture in Comparison (Đông tây văn hóa tỷ giảo).
Buu Cam, History of Chinese Philosophy (Trung Quốc triết học sử).
Buu Cam, Sketchy Essay on the New Chinese Literature (Trung Quốc tân văn nghệ lược luận).
Bửu Cầm, History of Chinese Literature (Trung quốc văn học sử).
Bửu Cầm, Poetry book Universal Spirit (Tập thơ Hồn vũ trụ).
We paid a visit to Professor Buu Cam’s house in the period of 2008 to the beginning of 2009. It was really hard to have a chance to meet him. Since his early retirement, he began to close door, refuse visits, so not many people could come to see him except for his students and fellows. Professor Nguyen Khue, his student and then his colleague in the Vietnamese-Sino department of the School of Letters, Saigon University, is the one who often came to give his regards to Professor Cam and welcomed there. So to me, to be able to meet Professor Buu Cam and have this interview was not easy at all. Fortunately, thanks to Professor Nguyen Khue’s introduction and even his time – spent time to accompany me to Professor Buu Cam’s house – I had an opportunity for a personal interview with Professor Buu Cam.
Professor Buu Cam is now 90 years old. Although he looked tired, he still seemed to be very lucid by his way of talking. He even apologized for greeting us in the bedroom, instead of in the living room. However, after just a short talk, he wanted to rest and then fell into a nap.
Recognizing that it would be hard to interview and write an article about professor, we decided to have a general report on materials his family provided, together with the memories and judgments of some of his students and relatives, especially his closest ones, such as: Professor Nguyen Khue and his family.
An erudite scholar
Whoever used to be professor Buu Cam‘s student shares the same thinking that he is a scholar, an erudite and estimable professor. According to you, how do you feel about Professor Buu Cam?
Pro. Nguyen Khue: “Students and researchers respect him in both wide knowledge and pedagogic style. He is not a mandarin-based intellectual, but a scholar. His wide knowledge is the result of his self-study. Over 20 years old, he was a chief editor of Tinh hoa Literary Magazine and Gio len, published in Hue. At the age of 25, he wrote Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime: Essay on Philosophy (Tống Nho- Triết học khảo luận) (Tran Trong Kim wrote a preface in 1945)”.
What are your comments about professor’s masterpiece Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime?
Pro. Nguyen Khue: “This book is a highly-assessed research works in academic idea with voluminous reference bibliography, including 2 national literature books, 63 Chinese literature books and 13 French literature books. It requests a writer must have profound knowledge about Confucianism in generally and Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime in particularly. It is not an advantageous task at all, exactly; it must be full of challenges for any sinologist. Otherwise, the number of only 2 national literature books shows that at that time (and even this time) Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime is one of the scarce books of the same sorts in Vietnamese book collection.
It should be added that Tran Trong Kim is a well-known scholar who compiled many valuable research works, one of which is Confucianism. According to my limit of knowledge, I have not found any preface from this Tran scholar in any books. He wrote the preface in Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime of a 25 year–old young man, which means that he recognized its worth”.
Besides the work above, would you please mention to his other noteworthy works?
Pro. Nguyen Khue: “After writing Chinese Philosophy under Song Regime, he was continued writing about 20 works in many categories, such as: compilation: Vietnamese Lexical Orthography (Việt ngữ chính tả từ vựng), To Understand the Books of Changes (Tìm hiểu Kinh Dịch), Our National Appellations from Annam to Dainam (Quốc hiệu nước ta từ An Nam đến Đại Nam), Bibliographical notes on Nguyen Du (1765-1965) (Thư mục về Nguyễn Du (1765- 1820))…, translation: Chronologic Table of Imperial Viet (Hoàng Việt Giáp Tý niên biểu), Hong Duc map (Hồng Đức bản đồ), Imperially ordered annotated text completely reflecting the history of Viet (Khâm định Việt sử thông giám cương mục), Repertory of the Administrative regulations in the Kingdom of An Nam (Khâm định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ), transcription and note some Nôm works: A piece of Nam music (Nam cầm khúc) of Prince Tuy Ly, Recollection of the Past Poems (Hoài cổ ngâm) of Prince Tuong An, One-hundred beloved (Trăm thương) of Prince Tuong An). Besides, he has many articles published in Culture Monthly, Archaeologist Journal, Dong Nai literary magazine.”
Pro. Nguyen Tri Tai: “Professor Buu Cam’s works have great worth not only in academy at that time but also in history. He was a specialist of Institute of Archaeology so his research works are meticulous as the style of the one working in archaeology.”
A respectable and exemplary professor
Would you please tell me something about his teaching career?
Pro. Nguyen Khue: “From 1950 to 1953, he taught in Quoc hoc High school, Hue. Since 1958, he was invited to teach Vietnam History, Vietnamese Linguistic, Vietnamese – ancient Chinese Literature, Chinese Literature, Oriental Philosophy in School of Letters, Saigon University. In 1970, when Professor Nghiem Toan left, he was appointed to Chairman of Ancient Chinese Department. Thanks to his great dedication in researching and teaching, in 1969, he was conferred Lecturing Professor, in 1972, he was promoted to Official Professor. He supervised for many MA. and PhD. Dissertations, as well as, was the head examiner or member of academic staff who evaluated the graduate essays about National language literature, Vietnamese-Sino literature, Chinese literature, History, Oriental Philosophy. In 1972, School of Letters started doctoral program, he continued teaching then, also was the Head examiner of Doctoral Candidacy Examination in Ancient Chinese. He was also invited to the international conference about Chinese studies in Taiwan, appointed to join Deputation of Exchanges with Center of Research on Southeast Asian Culture in Japan and he was the member of East-West Cultural Value Determination Committee (UNESCO).
When I studied bachelor of Vietnamese – ancient Chinese, there are just two Official Professor, Professor Nghiem Toan (Dean) and Professor Buu Cam, in ancient Chinese Department, the others: Mr. Tham Quynh, Mr. Bui Luong… are visiting lecturers. All of them were descended from either ancient Chinese or both West-influenced and Sino academy, so they have their own specific pedantry style.”
Is it right that Professor Buu Cam sponsored your MA thesis and your PhD dissertation?
Pro. Nguyen Khue: “At our time, to attend MA or PhD program, entrance examination is not necessary but graduate students must be qualified some academic conditions as well as be supervised by a professor. So, like Professor Nghiem Toan, he was serious in MA and PhD supervision. During my BA period, I had never visited his house (the same with the other teachers). However, under his supervision, I met him so often that I could ask for his consultancy and submit my finished parts and chapters in my MA, then, PhD dissertation. Every time, he warmly welcomed me, guided, suggested and corrected my errors thoughtfully (he was always carefully in reading and following deadlines). He also introduced me reference documents related, even borrow us those which could not be found in many libraries. Many generations of students respect him for his profound knowledge, dedicated teaching career and love for students.”
It is said that your MA thesis was also under Professor Buu Cam’s supervision. What are your opinions about your professor?
Pro. Nguyen Tri Tai: “Actually, I had not personal interview with Professor Buu Cam as usually as Mr. Nguyen Khue did, because I was in a different department. I was in Oriental Philosophy Department where Professor Nguyen Dang Thuc and Professor Nguyen Khac Hoach were the Dean respectively. At that time, Professor Buu Cam was in Ancient Chinese Department, so was Mr. Nguyen Khue, thus, he knew about Professor Buu Cam much more than I did. Before Mr. Nguyen Dang Thuc left his Dean, he introduced me to Professor Buu Cam so that my MA thesis “Mèng Zĩ philosophy” could be sponsored. After discussing, he advised me to correct my thesis to “Mèng Zĩ ethics” (Đạo đức học Mạnh Tử) with 2 parts: moral and virtue. In my opinion, it was an exact and subtle idea. People said that Professor Buu Cam, who was a specialist in the Institute of Archaeology, is like Lao Tzu, who was the bookkeeper in library of Zhōu Dynasty. This comparison implies his erudite knowledge as well as his pure and upright life.”
A pure and upright professor
In spite of his royal descent, Professor Buu Cam has an elevated and austere lifestyle. He is living in a small house located at the end of a narrow alley, near Pham Van Hai market, next to peaceful Hai Quang pagoda. The iron door leads you to a cloister which is little enough to put some bonsais. The lifestyle of a professor – a scholar in his glorious top is as pure and upright as that of a Confucian who led his life to recluse. This is the daily life of Professor Buu Cam, the one who has devoted his life to research, to teach and has warmly treated to every student.
Being one of his closest students, please share your impression on Professor Buu Cam’s life?
Pro. Nguyen Khue: “Since he had taught me until 1973, in my remember, Professor and his family were living in a small rent house located in a narrow blind alley on Dang Dung street, Tan Dinh area, district 1. Even rainy or sunny day, he went to school and back home on foot. I was familiar with him always wearing white shirt and necktie or a suit, only did he attend MA Academic Judgment. There was another Professor who both taught in School of Letters and lived in Dang Dung Street, not far from Professor Cam’s house, went to school everyday in a luxurious car. The big contrast shows Professor Buu Cam’s pure and upright lifestyle.
In 1973, he bought a house, more spacious than the old one, in Mai Ngoc Khue Street (now called Nguyen Thanh Tuyen street), Tan Binh District, which is too far for him to walk to school. Therefore, he had his sons or motormen take him to school by motorbikes instead. Anyway, Professor likes this house a lot because of the small garden just enough for him to plant a cluster of bamboo, put an apricot and hung some orchids.
In your “State of mind of Prince Tuong An by his poetry” (Tâm trạng Tương An Quận vương qua thi ca của ông), I read the note at the end of Professor Buu Cam’s Preface: “Written at Three-No House in Tan-Dinh”. “Three-No” may be Professor Cam’s residence, what does “Three-No” mean?
Mr. Nguyen Khue: “It is true that he called the place where he read and composed in Tan Dinh “Three-No House” and usually noted at the end of every preface that “Written at Three-No House”. When Professor wrote commentary on my “State of mind of Prince Tuong An by his poetry”, he also noted (I cited exactly the capital letters and hyphens):
Written at Three-No House at Tan-dinh,
Saigon-city, Mid-Autumn, Gengxu (1970)
Professor is known as Three-No Anchorite (三不居士). “Three-No” is the abbreviation of “Wealth cannot make one become lustful, poverty cannot make one change his integrity, power cannot make one yield”. As can be seen, it is his way to protect righteousness.”
Now, Professor is living in “Natural Fragrance House” (Dã phương trai) which implies a secluded and decent life.
Mr. Nguyen Khue: “In 2000, Professor again moved to a new house which was named “Natural Fragrance House”, located at the end of a blind alley and not far from the old one in Mai Ngoc Khue Street. His old-aged life was described by his poem ( in Tang’s Poem style) he sent me:
DÃ PHƯƠNG TRAI
Nhà tôi chỉ có sách và hoa,
Một chiếc đàn tranh, một ấm trà.
Khóm trúc, cành mai đùa gió sớm;
Hiên trăng, gác mộng đón hương xa.
Ong vờn giậu cúc tình chan chứa,
Bướm lượn thềm lan ý đậm đà.
Trước cửa chim trời cao giọng hót,
Ngoài song tiếng dế cũng ngâm nga.
NATURAL FRAGRANCE HOUSE
There are just books and flowers in my house
One sixteen-chord zither, one teapot
A cluster of bamboo, a twig of ochna playing in morning wind
Moon terrace, dream house welcoming distant fragrance
Bees fly around daisy pots with full of love
Butterflies hover corridor of orchids meaningfully
In front of the door free birds pleasantly sing
Out of the window the sounds of crickets hum
Whoever has visited Professor at Natural Fragrance House might see all ochna, orchid, daisy, bamboo at the first step to the small garden (which is even smaller than the one on Mai Ngoc Khue Street). Inside the house, there are a horizontal lacquered board engraved with three silver-plated Chinese characters野芳齋 (Natural Fragrance House), a pair of conch-inlaid wood panels, some Chinese pictures, a 16-chord zither, some antiquities around the living room, and some big book shelves. With his peacefulness and confidence, it seems that Professor have no concern about life. But that is just the outlook. Through some conversations with Professor and the poem composed at the age of his 80, his last poem in order to stop writing, we can recognize there are many inmost feelings in his mind.
MỪNG THỌ TÁM MƯƠI TUỔI
Con cháu đông vui họp một nhà,
Tám mươi tuổi thọ hãy mừng ta.
Thương người bốn biển, trời không phụ;
Mê sách ngàn pho, thánh chẳng xa.
Mong thấy thiên đường thay địa ngục,
Muốn nghe nhân nghĩa định sơn hà.
Hoàn thành ước nguyện, lòng thanh thản,
Thượng uyển phương quỳnh chớm nở hoa.
CONGRATULATION THE 80TH BIRTHDAY
Crowded children and grand-children gather in one house
To congratulate my 80th birthday
Compassionating four-sea-drifted human, God have not been thankless
Adoring thousands of books, I am not far from deities
Hope for Heaven will replace Hell
Wish for charity and justice will strengthen country
When these are accomplished, my soul will become tranquil
In Royal Park, an orchid cactus has just begun blossoming
It is said that Professor’s lifestyle is the harmonious combination between “Three-No” uprightness of a Confucian scholar and refine-mannered personality of a royal descendant.”
Caution and meticulosity in style of research and a wide variety of topics
Many valuable writings on Chinese culture are the result of his days in the Institute of Archaeology as a specialist. He could have been one of first among Vietnamese researchers specializing in Chinese pottery. In his writings, he presented porcelains of Sung Dynasty in two facets: feature, jewelry. Especially, he emphasized on places famous for porcelain in Sung time, basing on which he stated Sung Dynasty marked a golden age of Chinese porcelain industry.
In 1959, he had a series of articles which researched into many issues about authors, texts, contents and forms in Book of Poetry (Shih Ching). Then, he wrote about the origins of Chinese literature. After analyzing many documents both genuine and fake, he came to a conclusion that all works in prose of pre-Zhou dynasty’s time were all fakes, and those in poetry were unreliable, too. Exceptionally, prophetic sayings on tortoise shell and bronze inscriptions had reliable evidences. He also studied the poetry schools in Tang Dynasty, neo-poetry of late Qing age and later, all of which were valuable for reference at that time.
Assessing his scientific studies, we realize that all his writings, research articles and works which were carried out seriously, carefully, meticulously, clearly as a result of process of analyzing numerous exact sources provide the reader with useful, plentiful and reliable knowledge.
His research works, though most of which comment China-related issues, are full of highly national. For him, studying China is considered as means to study the Vietnamese history, culture and literature. Many of his articles came from this purpose, such as a series of those studying the national culture in some fields, like: culture, literature of Ly-Tran dynasties, our national appellations, the origin of Nôm, the Vietnamese educational systems throughout dynasties, national appellations Đại Nam and Việt Nam… especially, those about national Nom.
Studying Book of Poetry of China is to compare it with Culture Improvement, the one which is considered as “Book of Poetry” in Vietnam; studying Book of Poetry and Books of Changes are to confirm that the origin of six eight verse is ours; introducing A piece of Nam music (Nam cầm khúc) by Prince Tuy Ly is to prove and clarify some of history-related materials in Vietnam.
The path which Professor Buu Cam experienced is also the one his successors, especially his Sino-Nom students, will follow. Researching on China is not only to understand the history and culture of a country that has had great influences on ours, but also to mutually exchange cultures as well as to better understand our history and culture.
We would like to express our thanks you to Pro. Nguyen Khue, Pro. Nguyen Tri Tai and professor Buu Cam‘s family for spending time in the interview and providing us valuable materials so that this article can be done well.
Interviewers: Le Quang Truong, MA
Le Thuy Tuong Vy, MA