“Book doctor” restores hundred-years-old documents

It is rare to see a Vietnamese youngster like Bui Tien Phuc making a career out of restoring physical prints of valuable texts and old books, as well as stone tablets written in Han Nom characters. His work contributes to the preservation of Vietnam’s precious cultural values through ancient documents.

Restoring timeworn books requires absolute concentration, meticulousness, a sense of responsibility, and a scientific approach.
The restorer must first take apart the book, and analyze the type of paper, as well as the printing and binding method. Next, he begins his work with great care. The “book doctor” needs to detail the current state of the book, number the pages, and clean the paper with specialized substances depending on its state and the client’s request. Next, he carries out pH and acid tests, cooks the glue and begins repairing each element.
To reach his level of expertise, Bui Tien Phuc spent years diligently studying the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage at a university in Taiwan (China). Before that, he had graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Han Nom from the Faculty of Literature and Languages, University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
After many years of hard work, he returned to Vietnam and founded Han Nom Duong, the first private facility in Vietnam restoring ancient documents, royal decrees, and paintings.
“In Vietnam, this is a niche profession with very few learners. But the job opportunities and amounts of work are tremendous. There are so many book titles, family trees, imperial documents, and even Buddhist texts that need to be restored and preserved. We need a team of professional youngsters to build a large restoration center, like a “book hospital” in other countries," said the book restoration and preservation expert.
As Mr. Bui Tien Phuc said, restoring ancient books focuses on longevity over aesthetics. Therefore, restoration equipment such as sewing tables, book presses, or tweezers are imported at a rather high price. The cost for repairing an average old book reaches millions of VND.
“My monthly earnings reach around eight figures in VND, more than enough to make ends meet. I think this is a good motivation for young people to take up this craft," he said.
Phuc has spent about VND10 billion to pursue his career. Not only does he want to live life to the fullest with a passion for academics and dedication to culture, he also wants to share his knowledge and inspire more people so they can appreciate ancient documents and know how to properly preserve books.
Phuc is currently training five young apprentices who are all 3rd and 4th year university students. They are expected to be offered an official job at Han Nom Duong right after graduation.
“I hope after receiving media coverage, this craft will be known to more young people who are willing to learn it. I believe this art can live on, and this job has been impactful to me. It gave me a source of living, and preserving ancient texts means a lot to society. These are troves of treasures in terms of culture, history, medicine, and other fields. I want to preserve these documents to help the highly cultural research and development of Vietnam," he said.
Bui Tien Phuc was offered to teach a class on restoring ink wash paintings by the Center for Preservation and Remodeling of Fine Art Works under the Vietnam National Fine Arts Museum. Besides books, he also restores old paper paintings, silk paintings, and scans old steles onto paper. He also holds classes and studies on these crafts.

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