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Communist Vietnam embraces royal past

Written by: Staff

HUE, Vietnam, June 29 (Reuters) Led by a pair of elephants, robed men with red conical hats carry the king on a gilded, silk-tasselled sedan chair.

The streets are lined by tens of thousands of excited people.

The procession is not in an Asian monarchy such as Thailand or Japan, but at the Hue Festival of arts and culture in Communist Party-ruled Vietnam, which less than a generation ago shunned its feudal past.

This seemingly contradictory re-enactment of a royal ritual in communist Vietnam is one highlight of the mid-June festival, where officials are increasingly comfortable displaying the country's royal heritage to promote tourism and development.

''The Hue festival is unique in Vietnam because it is not a political event, it is not a celebration of the state, of the party or the revolution,'' said Michael DiGregorio, arts and culture expert with the U S philanthropic Ford Foundation that has funded parts of the two-yearly event since it began in 2000.

The king, an actor from a traditional dance troupe, is taken to a temple called Nam Giao or Temple of Heaven. There, he pretends to perform sacrificial rights on a goat, a pig and a buffalo and prays for good rains and his people's prosperity.

His performance and those of other actors in the roles of royal court officials are shown live on national television. The central Vietnam city of Hue was the royal capital from 1802 during the Nguyen dynasty until 1945, when the royal family abdicated to the communists.

NATIONAL IDENTITY The economy of the poor Southeast Asian country of 83 million is growing rapidly and tourism is booming as it enters its third decade of market reforms. Vietnam has shed parts of its centrally-planned economy and removed many barriers to trade with the rest of the world.

''Most of the leadership understand that the real struggle in Vietnam is not the political struggle but it is the struggle to maintain one's identity in globalisation,'' DiGregorio says.

''The cultural heritage of Vietnam is a way of reminding people who they are while going through this social transformation.'' About 150,000 people from 52 nations visited the June 3-11 festival and overall, 1.5 million attended, officials say. They say the city has earned 23 million dollars from tourism so far this year, an increase of 31 percent from the same period last year.

More Reuters SY DB0941

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