craft villages are a longstanding convention in Vietnam
as a means of supplementing income from farming – nearly
always rice cultivation.
time, the members of individual villages developed special
skills and combined their efforts, either working as single
units making a common product, or working on a particular
element of a more complex article, such as inlaid furniture,
where the production process could be broken into stages
– an early forerunner of the ‘assembly line’.
The heartland of craft villages is the Red River Delta,
and particularly around Hanoi. Ha Tay Province, adjacent
to Hanoi to the south, has hundreds of them specialising
in products as diverse as fine silk, bamboo bird cages,
knives and woodcarving. On the outskirts of Hanoi, Bat Trang
village has become famous for its ceramics and attracts
thousands of visitors each year.
The craft village concept has its roots in the Vietnamese
family structure and the availability of local
raw materials. Non-competitiveness meant that labour could
be pooled, costs shared, and products delivered in large
consignments to wholesalers in the city, therefore cutting
down on time lost in transportation.
In an environment
where innovation hardly ever occurred, the market was stable
and production levels could be controlled to fit in with
the peaks and troughs of rice production.
The Old Quarter
in Hanoi was the destination for most of the products produced
in craft villages. The areas were divided into specialist
streets, each selling a specific product range. From there,
the merchants would retail direct, or sell the products
on for retailing elsewhere or for export.
decline of the craft villages
The craft village tradition thrived through hundreds of
years, but after Ho Chi Minh’s Declaration of Independence
in 1954, the new government of North Vietnam implemented
a programme of collectivisation based on the Marxist-Leninist
USSR model. This mainly affected agriculture, but also included
light industrial production.
were linked together, but the theoretical advantages of
economies to scale were overwhelmed by the loss of communal
benefit and ownership. A softening of the policy from collectives
to co-operatives did little to stem the decline of craft
The introduction of the ‘doi moi’ (open door) policy in
1986 breathed new life into the craft villages. However,
two other factors led to their resurgence. As ‘doi moi’
gathered pace, the government committed itself to tackling
the enormous legacy of poverty left by nearly a century
potential of the craft village model, the authorities began
to encourage other poor villages to specialise, and to welcome
investment and projects aimed at helping poor people to
work communally to generate income.
tourists began to arrive in ever increasing numbers. Traditional
crafts were a big attraction, and several villages began
to cater for the new market that was opening up.
Trang, originally a poor village producing low quality pottery
products from clay from the Red River for local consumption,
is a good example. Investment in skill training, marketing
and new kilns enabled the village to upgrade to ceramics.
Since then it
has gone from strength to strength and now sells large quantities
of fine ceramic products to the domestic, tourist and international
The title ‘craft
village’ for Bat Trang is something of a misnomer in these
days of large-scale production schedules and major export
contracts! However, plenty of the craft villages are still
involved in ‘high-skill, low-tech’ production for the local
and domestic markets.
role for the craft villages
village development is now a key element in the government’s
poverty alleviation programme. New craft villages are being
established all over the country, particularly in poor areas.
In June, 2003,
Ho Chi Minh City announced that it would be developing several
new ‘craft villages’ in the very poor area surrounding the
city. Hardly ‘traditional’, but very good for generating
employment and wealth in impoverished communities!
plenty of authentic traditional craft villages, barely touched
by tourism and offering fascinating insights into a bygone
time, are available to Haivenu customers!