Since the year 1858 the Kingdom of Annam has ceased to be an unknown country, for Missionaries now travel freely in every direction, and the ports of Haiphong, Hanoi, and Quinhon are open to foreign trade. Bold explorers, either in the interest of science or gain, have gone through the country to China, to Siam, or to Burmah, following the course of the rivers or the mountain paths, sometimes peaceably, at other times armed as conquerors and fighting their way through the land. Finally, the occupation of Lower Cochinchina by the French has done more than anything else to throw light upon this country, which, if it does not occupy so important a position historically amongst Orientals as China and Japan, yet from its favourable geographical situation and from the interest Europe takes in the surrounding countries, will be obliged sooner or later to enter the comity of nations, and change the condition of its people, at present probably the most miserable in the world.
Annam became known to the civilized world through the Catholic Missionaries who went there during the sixteenth century, though their works on the subject did not have a large circulation; some never having been even published and all being very scarce at the present time. Father MARINI wrote at the end of the seventeenth century a relation of Tunquin, and the Jesuit priest ALEXANDER of RHODES also published a history of that country. In the Lettres edifiantes et curieuses ecrites des Missions Etrangeres there will be found many references by Father GAUBIL and others to the history of Annam, and with reference to the religious aspect of the kingdom also in the Chronicles published during the last century by the Dominican and Augustinian Fathers of the Philippines. JOHN BARROW, a well-known traveller, has likewise published a narrative of a voyage to Cochinchina made in 1793.
Books relating to Annam have considerably increased in number during the last thirty years; most of these have been issued in Saigon and in France, and treat of the Annamese, their history, laws, customs, etc. It is to be regretted, how-ever, that. in these works the Chinese characters have not been used for the names of people and places; and this has caused more or less confusion in their identification. In their attempts to avoid this inconvenience, the French and Spanish Missionaries have introduced a system by which Roman letters with various dots and signs are made to represent Annamese words phonetically; but this is useful only to Annamese who wish to write their own language in Roman characters. In these pages an endeavour has been made to give the Chinese characters fur all names which it has been possible to identify.
The literature of Annam is very poor. Except the Annals, written by order of the King 聖宗 THANH-TONG in 1477 by NGO-SI-LIEN, and continued at later periods, and other compilations of laws, such as the 皇越律例 Hoang-viet-luat-le published with an introduction by the King 嘉隆 GIA-LONG in the 11th year of his reign, all the books found in the country are of Chinese origin, the literature taught in the schools being also Chinese. Nothing else could be expected from a country which has no real civilization of its own, but is only a reflex of China in everything relating to art, religion and government.
In China numerous works on Annam are to be found, but few of them can be looked upon as trustworthy. For instance the Chinese do not reckon as proper kings of Annam those who did not receive their investiture from the Emperor. Again, a deplorable confusion exists as regards names and dates. Finally, from the fact that the relations of China and Annam have frequently been of a hostile nature, and that many or all the works on Annam were written by Chinese officials employed to fight against that country, it is easy to see how their narratives would be of a very partial character and many facts grossly misrepresented.
The study of the numismatics of this country is completely new to Europeans. Several Chinese who have written on coins have published in their Catalogues lists of Annamese coins, and half of the 17th volume of the 古今錢略 Ku-kinn-ts'ien-lioh deals entirely with them. However, all the coins alluded to form but an incomplete list of those issued by the last 黎 LE Dynasty, and the notices of them are certainly neither better nor worse than those in other Chinese books. As there exists thus no trustworthy basis on which to found this notice, it must not be expected that the work will either be complete or correct; but the greatest possible care has been used in the endeavour to make it so. Much information has been obtained from Father MIGUEL PORTELL, now in Tunquin, and from the distinguished Annamese savant PETRUS TRUONG-VINH-KY, whose aid is indispensable to all Europeans who require any information concerning Annam. From his work, Cours d'histoire annamite, the historical notices which precede the description of the coins themselves have been partially taken.
In order to tone down the dryness of a long numismatical list, we insert some general introductory remarks explanatory of the periods when coins were made, the laws relating to them, the working of mines, the issue of paper-money, etc., which referring to a country so little known as Annam, will probably not be without interest.