Publishing requires racking brain to develop

In recent years, many industries have had difficulties transitioning into a socialist-oriented market economy. Nguyen Cu, director of Van Hoc (Literature) Publishing House, talks about how the publishing industry is handling this transition.
Leading a prestigious publishing house and having experience in publishing, do you have any comment about the current issues that the industry is dealing with?

The publishing industry is faced with the most serious setbacks in its history. The state’s subsidisation programme was stopped in the early 1990s after the socialist-oriented market mechanism was introduced. Like several other industries, publishing has had two specific duties, disseminating the state’s cultural and art policies while profitably running the publishing business.
The Van Hoc Publishing House focuses on literary works that the writers have put their blood, sweat and tears into. Meanwhile, the price of paper, ink and materials for printing are increasing. These two reasons have led to an increase in book prices that urban residents can purchase, but are unaffordable to people living in the countryside who have lower incomes [without State subsidies]. So individuals weigh the decision to buy a book carefully.
The culture of reading books is in decline because of the internet, television, music, films and personal blogs.
Another obstacle for publishing houses is the decrease in the quality of books. It is very difficult to find good books among the numerous titles that fill bookstores. Some publishing houses do not care much about the quality of their books, so they print too easily. Some writers also release their final products quickly after just finishing their rough drafts. Faced with a large amount of books, readers may have a difficult time selecting the right quality book for themselves. People therefore are getting bored with reading.
Copyright infringement is on the rise currently. Publishing houses sometimes are unable to compete with the illegal book trade. What do you think about this situation?
Authentic publishing houses have to pay for taxes, copyright fees, royalties, editing, proof-reading, illustrations and draft printing, while illegal printers don’t pay for these costs. Although they look similar to genuine books, they are sold at much lower prices. Some readers choose to buy copied books because they are cheaper.
The illegal book piracy has harmed the publishing sector and is threatening to bankrupt the industry.
Previoulsy, only State employees were appointed directors of printing houses. Now that the printing industry has been privatised, an individual with financial resources can now own a printing shop.
Certainly the government manages the publishing industry, but the number of printing shops have increased from 1,000 to 20,000 in the country, which makes it difficult to regulate. There are many places where pirated books can be released. Most of the private companies have invested in modern equipment, which allows them to print books quickly and release them before the cultural authorities can check their business.
However, printing pirated books are not yet considered a crime. Publishers that print those books do not always get criminal files charged against them. They are usually forced to pay only an administrative fine.
HCM City authorities confiscated 50,000 pirated books, equivalent to 16 tonnes, in a raid, which were printed without permission. The printers were forced to pay a modest standard fine, which didn’t take into account the quantity of books that were confiscated or the street value for this material.
How do you deal with the difficult parts of this job?
I just try to do my best at work and I try to rack my brain in order to be creative. I have worked in the publishing industry for 30 years in several different positions. I’ve worked as an editor, writer and in the distribution sector. As an individual who has a strong attachment to the work and industry, I’ll try my best to uphold the industry due to my love and my responsibility for this work.
Do you have any solutions for this problem?
A publishing officer should be active, determined and brave. I pay close attention to even the smallest parts of the job like spell checking, layouts and picking the art.
In my own experience, I have had to revamp the system at the Van Hoc Publishing House since 2005. We have several major publishing projects that we are working on including Van Hoc Viet Nam The Ky 20 (Vietnamese Literature in the 20th Century). We will also release 100 titles to celebrate Ha Noi’s 1,000th anniversary and provide public libraries with books such as Tac Pham Van Hoc Dung Trong Nha Truong (Literary Works for School Use). We will also print Van Chuong Mot Thoi De Nho (Literature of an Era to Be Remembered).
The Van Hoc Publishing House is also preparing to publish a number of classic books from around the world with accurate translations. We will also publish comics for adults in the style that has become popular in China, South Korea and Japan.
Everyone must invest and create in order to find solutions.

Secrets of Vietnamese mummies explained

VietNamNet Bridge – The secrets behind mummies found in Vietnam are being explained in a new book by associate professor Nguyen Lan Cuong। The book, entitled “Secrets behind mummies of bonzes” (bonzes is another word for Buddhist monks) is considered a major event of the paleoanthropologist world। Cuong talked about his research in this area over the past 30 years.

Among the types of embalmment in Vietnam, what is most interesting to you and international paleoanthropologists?

There are two types of mummies in Vietnam. The first are mummies embalmed in inner and outer coffins and the second are mummies in the form of statues.

The most impressive type are the statue mummies because China also has mummies embalmed in coffins, even dating back 2,000 years ago. In Vietnam they are dated back to the Le Dynasty, around over 300 years only.

The statue mummies in Vietnam are also 300 years old but they are unique because they were embalmed using Vietnamese techniques. The dead bodies were embalmed using Vietnamese paint, Vietnamese cloth and soil.

It is a unique technique that helps maintain the dead and is only seen in this part of the world

The 200-page “Secrets behind mummies of bonzes’ is among the most well-researched book about paleoanthropology in Vietnam. The author used folk stories that have been told for hundreds of years. The book also includes more than 200 photos of the mummies of bonzes, the excavation and preservation process of mummies in dozens of year.
I took foreign visitors to admire the mummies of Vu Khac Minh and Vu Khac Truong at the Dau Pagoda. Both said they had never seen anything like it anywhere else.

Do Vietnamese scientists have methods to preserve these statue mummies?

Open to the environment, these mummies are harmed through oxidation. To preserve the mummies, we make glass boxes which we seal and blow nitrogen inside through a valve. We change the nitrogen every 2-3 years.

Besides statue mummies, could you talk about the process of excavation, research and maintenance of the mummy of King Le Du Tong?

The tomb of King Le Du Tong was unveiled in a hill named Rung Cam (Forbidden Forest) in Bai Trach village, Xuan Giang commune, Tho Xuan district, in the central province of Thanh Hoa in May 1958. But until April 1964, the tomb was excavated and the mummy was brought to Hanoi for research. This is a coffin mummy. The dead body is around 1.49m in height. The lower abdomen was a little swollen. When researchers pressed on the lower abdomen they felt gas and water inside.

Researchers still wonder about embalming techniques applied to King Le Du Tong and other mummies. The biggest question is how to prevent air. Mummies always look like drowned corpses at first but only five minutes after the coffins are opened, they turn pale.

Do you have any way to preserve coffin mummies that you have excavated?

No, not at all. So we decide to put mummies into new coffins and bury them immediately whenever we find a mummy. If we had funds, we would go to China to learn their mummy preservation techniques. In Vietnam, we only excavate mummies for research and then bury them again.