Entertainment activities of the Nguyen’s king and mandarins


During the 143 years (1802 – 1945) of its reign, the 13 emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty left their mark in Hue with many palaces, mausoleums and temples as well as relics reflecting the leisure life of the rich royals.

To satisfy the wishes of the emperors and royalty of the Nguyen Dynasty, various entertainment objects were skillfully made by talented artisans in Hue. Guests will have a chance to see these in use during the “Imperial Night” program at the Hue Festival 2014.

Many simple leisure activities such as tea drinking or game playing were modified by royal members to suit the noble class. Kings and mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty read books about the entertainment pursuits of Chinese courts and adapted them to their own liking. For example, the dart throwing sport xăm hường has become a unique, traditional game in Hue.

Tea drinking in the royal courts

Tea or wine drinking is considered a spiritual pleasure by Vietnamese. It is not only useful for relaxing, reciting a poem or discussing the world affairs but also for remembering the past. Drinking tea can also nurture your spirit and revitalize your mind. The Vietnamese also use tea as an indispensable means of communication in their daily life.

During the Nguyen Dynasty, the art of tea drinking was viewed as the etiquette of noble men. It was more and more associated with court life and seen as a mark of wealth. The art of tea drinking was rather complicated and included a combination of many elements, including tea making facilities, hierarchy observation and grace. The tea sets of the Nguyen Dynasty come in a variety of shapes, materials and decorations, especially the assortment of porcelain tea sets (now kept in the Hue Royal Antiquities Museum).

The tea set plays a very important role in making a good cup of tea. Each tea set includes tống, tốt, dầm, bàn and a tea pot. Tống is a big cup to hold tea from the tea pot while tốt is a smaller cup used to drink the tea. Dầm is the plate put under the big cup. Bàn is the small tray for holding the smaller cups. The big cup and the small cups are a similar shape but different sizes.


Hue’s tea cups were designed as the “buffalo’s eye tumbler” with round and heavy bases. When knocked, they swing as tumblers and then balance themselves. It is said that kings and mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty liked these cups because they represented the growth and strength of the Nguyen family against all the upheavals they faced.

There are many types of tea pots. The teapot for a solo drinker is độc ẩm; song ẩm is for two drinkers; tam ẩm is for three and quần ẩm is for many drinkers. Most of the tea pots are made of terra-cotta or porcelain and adorned with blue flowers on white glaze. Each tea set is decorated differently and may include dragon gardens, classic characters or references to famous poems. In Hue, the Nguyen Dynasty also made a tea set called “apricot and crane” showing images of a crane standing by an old apricot tree with two sentences from a famous poem by Nguyen Du.

Dicing and the wish of passing the entrance exam

Xăm Hường, also called dicing, originated in China and is now a favorite game in Hue. Initially, this game was popular in the court, but then spread to the palaces of princesses and mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty and finally became a typical game of the common folk. Xăm hường was a popular game to play for luck when wishing to pass the competition-examinations of ancient times. Xăm means cards and hường means pink. Because the pronunciation of the word “pink” was like the sound of King Tu Duc’s name, it was changed to hường.

A set of xăm hường includes a box of cards, six dice and a porcelain bowl. You can see a full set of xăm hường at the Hue Royal Antiquities Museum. The set of cards is now remained 56 cards in a total of 63 cards: 30 cards of high-school diploma in 32 cards, 12 bachelor cards in 16, 7doctor cards in 8, 4 first rank cards, 1 second laureate card and 1 first doctoral candidate.


The cards, which are made of elephant’s tusk, are inscribed with red Han writings showing different degrees of the system of formal competition-examinations such as high-school diploma, bachelor, doctor, second laureate, third highest academic title and first doctoral candidate. The porcelain bowl, especially the one with blue Chinese decorations and shaped like a bell, is used for dicing. The box to hold the cards is made of wood with 5 compartments for 5 different types of cards. The base has a small section to hold the dice. It is covered with extraordinary, decorative patterns.

Đầu hồ & darts

Đầu hồ originated in China was also a favorite game of kings and mandarins of the Nguyen Dynasty. This game was often played at court parties. Đầu means throwing and hồ means vase. A set of đầu hồ includes vases, darts and a false toad (also called a horse) and was made of various materials and shapes, but was usually wooden or bronze.

The most typical sets are in the Hue Royal Antiquities Museum. The wooden set of đầu hồ contains many parts. The vase was designed to look like a small bottle of wine with a small bottle-neck. The vase is covered with many motifs such as dragons, clouds or fairies. Its base is made of terra-cotta supports with four legs stuck together with a wooden bar. The base is decorated with patterns of four sacred animals and four precious objects together with eight weapons, including a bamboo fan, a four-chord lute, a rolled book and a horn.

The darts are made of hard but flexible wood which can be bent. Each set is composed of 12 darts, symbolizing 12 months of a year. The dart bodies are long and thin with a round point and a flat point making it very easy for players to use.


The toad is an oval piece of wood. This is what the darts will be thrown at by the players. According to documents of the Nguyen Dynasty, King Tu Duc and King Bao Dai were keen players and very good at this game.

Most of the finished products which amused the Nguyen’s kings and mandarins date back to the 19th – 20th century. These antiquities mark a prosperous period in Hue and are valuable historical examples of entertainment activities performed in the ancient capital.

If you travel to Hue during the Hue Festival 2014, you will have a chance to see many of these games performed in the “Imperial Night” program in the royal palace. The program attracts guests to Hue to enjoy the scenery but also discover the local culture.


Further information:

+ Collections such as tea sets, wine sets and traditional games used by the  royalty of the Nguyen Dynasty are now held in the Hue Royal Antiquities Museum (3 Le Truc, Hue).

+ The 8th Hue Festival 2014 takes place from April 12th – 20th. The “Imperial Night” performance is held in the royal palace.

From Internet