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Discovering Craft Villages in Vietnam

Sylvie Fanchette
Nicholas Stedman

Preface to the new edition

Sylvie Fanchette


1Published in three languages, French, English and Vietnamese, the 1,500 copies of the 2009 edition soon found readers in France and in Vietnam. In 2010, in anticipation of Hà Nội’s Millennium, Thế Giới Publishing House republished this work in French and in English with the assistance of a subsidy from IRD.

2The request from Thế Giới Publishing House to print a new edition of this work in all three languages demonstrates their interest in this subject and for our project to bring scientific knowledge to a wide audience. The Vietnamese and travellers are interested in the future of craft villages in the Red River Delta, but above all, demonstrate their wish to visit them, to meet with artisans and to understand their specificities.

3However, since 2009, the peri-urban villages of Hà Nội have undergone several changes. Globalisation, the 2008-2009 export crisis and the acceleration of Hà Nội’s metropolisation have greatly compromised the economy of craft villages and the attraction they exert on visitors, namely their architectural and technical heritage and the many workshops hidden away down twisting alleyways.

4Craft villages are thus facing fresh challenges to attract tourists: the disappearance of manual activities from village centres and the deterioration of the rural landscape with the construction of major residential and industrial projects.

5With the crisis in export markets and the rise in land prices linked to metropolisation, the principal businesses that place orders with smaller ones and individuals have lost ground. Wickerwork and basket weaving, for example, largely intended for export, has been hit hard by this crisis. The downward pressure on prices by the big brands for distribution, which oblige domestic and international producers to compete against each other (particularly Indonesia, the leader in this sector), has a knock-on effect down the whole production chain. Some businesses quote very low prices at the risk of lessening product quality. In Phú Nghĩa (Itinerary 8), some unskilled artisans accept to work for low wages, and others leave or are hired by companies in the industrial park. Production managers have to seek workers in Hoà Bình Province, among the ethnic minorities, or subcontract workers in their homes to meet orders. Some of Phú Nghĩa’s satellite villages have ceased production while companies geared towards exports have scaled down production, if they haven’t shut up shop entirely. During the years 2008 and 2009, the village of Phú Vinh, in the Phú Nghĩa cluster, underwent a 25% reduction in workforce, that of lacquer workers in Hạ Thái lost nearly 20%, and the one for silk in Vạn Phúc lost more than 500 workers out of a total of 1,600 between 2008 and 2012. The many subcontractors working from home had to redeploy to other activities, while women and elderly people continued to weave in the villages of the Phú Nghĩa cluster.

6The construction of craft areas in the craft village clusters also affects manual cottage industries and explains the disappearance of workshops from village centres. We are thus witnessing a spatial and economic concentration of companies in these areas while a few very manual activities devoid of technical interest remain in the original workshops. In Hạ Thái (Itinerary 5), the lacquer craftspeople have abandoned small workshops in favour of the factories in the craft industry area, not easily accessible to visitors.

7The rural landscape is changing rapidly with the establishment of major urban projects and industrial parks, linked to the capital by wide motorways. Peri-urban villages find themselves cut off within new urban areas, without land reserves for expansion, and those located along the motorways gradually lose their agricultural land. The admirable village of Sõn Ðộng (Itinerary 9), specialised for over a thousand years in wooden and lacquer religious statuary is condemned to seeing the disappearance of all its agricultural land for new urban areas within the next few years. It is destined to join the numerous urban villages in Hanoi that have lost their activity due to the rise in land prices, the arrival of migrants and the loss of village cohesion. But with the investment crisis, developers encounter difficulties in implementing their projects, leaving a few years yet for craftspeople to consider their future.

8In addition, policies have been implemented by the state and Hà Nội Province since it celebrated its millennium in style and announced the safeguard and protection of its architectural, cultural and technical heritage. The “Preservation and development of craft villages in Hanoi” Project 2010-2015 is composed of three components: conservation of traditional craft villages, development of tourism in craft villages and protection of the environment in these villages. In spite of the good intentions announced, these policies are slow to have any impact on development of tourism. They are in complete contradiction with the policies of the Ministries of Construction and Industry for metropolisation of big towns and for industrialisation. A few attempts have been made by Hà Nội Province’s tourism service to promote some villages. In 2015, the Institut des Métiers de la Ville (a co-operation between Ile de France Region and Hà Nội Province) produced several brochures in French and Vietnamese to promote visits to villages in Phú Vinh, Hạ Thái, Vạn Phúc and Bát Tràng, presenting the technical specificities of their activities, the sites to visit, and a little historical information.

9Nonetheless, some activities such as artistic ceramics have a bright future. In the village of Phù Lãng (Itinerary 1 bis), the export crisis has forced artisans, some of them former Fine Arts students from Hanoi, to innovate and improve the quality of their artworks for a rapidly emerging urban market. They have equipped themselves with individual gas kilns and have left shared kilns to small producers of simple objects. Some artists have specialised in making decorated funeral urns and rely on the custom of the intellectual bourgeoisie to develop this niche market. Phù Lãng also benefits from an exceptionally picturesque environment, between the hills and the Cầu River, and remains distant enough from the big towns to avoid the gravitational pull of metropolisation. It is a favourite destination of Hanoian artists and the bohemian middle classes for a day out in the countryside.

10It would be tiresome to list all the villages affected by these transformations, as the processes of integration into the global economy vary in time and in space, but visitors will find the right perspectives to reveal the enduring qualities of these villages concealed beneath the standardising veneer of globalisation. The Vietnamese remain attached to their architectural and intangible heritage, as witnessed by the many festivals organised to mark the beginning of the lunar year and the lavish communal houses that continue to organise social life in ancient villages integrated into the urban sprawl.


Doctorate in geography from the University of Paris VIII. Since October 1993, she has been a researcher for IRD, the Research Institute for Development. She studies the urbanisation process of the countryside in densely populated deltas (the Red River, the Nile, the Niger, etc.). She has lived in Vietnam for several years and leads a research programme investigating “the development of craft villages in the context of the peri-urbanisation process around Hà Nội”.

© IRD Éditions, 2016




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