Not just an icon of the ancient capital, the lake is considered a sacred place in the hearts of Vietnamese for its connection to the legend of King Le Loi, 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 Hanoi – 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 their 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 Ta Hong Quan, a resident of Hanoi, 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 Vietnam News Agency.
“From the stories of King An Duong Vuong (a giant turtle helped the king build the Co Loa Citadel to defend against northern invaders in 200BC) to Le Loi, the material is there for us to create a unique spiritual symbol for Hanoi,” he added.
Quan noted that many countries have animals as their national symbol and as of now Vietnam 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.
Quan’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 Le, Prof. and turtle expert Ha Dinh Duc and historian Duong Trung Quoc.
Quoc, 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 Tran Khanh Chuong.
Chuong said a turtle’s natural pose is lying flat. “From a sculptor’s point of view, this is very difficult to work with,” he 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. Tran Lam Ben, 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,” Ben 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 Quan’s proposal from city authorities.
Head of the city’s culture department To Huy Dong said there are already two large turtle replicas preserved at the Ngoc Son 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 Truong Minh Tien 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,” Tien 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 a statue of King Kong, a mythical creature featured in the latest Hollywood blockbuster Kong: Skull Island, which was filmed in Vietnam.VNA