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Revisiting the Coats of Arms of Vietnam's Major Cities Under French Rule

Did you know that several Vietnamese cities have coats of arms?

Coats of arms date back to 12th-century Europe and denote membership in a specific family, state, organization, school or corporation. The French brought them to their colonies which resulted in several cities in Vietnam having unique images designed by appointed authorities:

Saigon’s medieval-style coat of arms includes the nation's revered Indochinese tigers posed amidst native plants. The large boat in the middle honors the city’s shipbuilding industry, while the Venus star overhead symbolizes the Far East. The crown of towers at the top is a common French indicator of administerial rank, with five signifying the highest. The city’s 1870 maxim “Paulatim Crescam” means “I am to grow little by little,” which seems rather ironic today.

Hanoi’s coat of arms incorporates several local histories, particularly the legend of Hoàn Kiếm Lake via the sword in the center and dragons that harken to the capital’s former name of Thăng Long. It adds European imagery via olive branches symbolizing peace and oak branches for wisdom. The “sol invictus” at the top is a common French depiction of the sun with wavy rays first associated with the Roman sun god and later used for the Statue of Liberty. The words “Dislecta Fortitudine Prospera” at the bottom means “Courage brings the prosperity we want.”

In contrast to Hanoi and Saigon’s medieval style, Hải Phòng’s coat of arms is rendered in a Baroque style with Vietnam’s sacred whale god, cá Ông, at the center with a large anchor paying tribute to the city’s obvious role as a port. The three circles at the top represent Christianity’s holy trinity. The motto “Portunam Tulit In Undis” translates to “The harbor brings the ocean’s gifts.”

A pair of Lạch people (a subgroup of the K’Ho ethnic minority) stand at the center of Đà Lạt’s coat of arms. The city is an alteration of Đạ Lạch, or “stream of the Lạch.” The French used the name Đà Lạt to create the bacronym motto “Dat Aliis Laetitiam Aliis Temperiem” meaning “It gives pleasure to some, freshness to others,” a clear allusion to the city’s original use as a vacation destination for colonial officials, which is reinforced by the picturesque rolling hills.

Deciding how to deal with the remnants of colonialism is a fraught endeavor with some people proposing such extremes as destroying all trees that were planted by the French, and others upholding colonial architecture as the premier design aesthetic. Some might think that being able to appreciate these coats of arms as odd relics of history and unique visual interpretations of the cities’ characters falls somewhere in the middle.

[Images via Wikimedia]

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