A merchant house in Hoi An dating to about 1790 displays carved chairs, ceramics, and ancestral altar.

Ancestral altars like the one displayed here are common in many Vietnamese homes. (Photograph by Margery H. Freeman. More about the photograph)

The merchant house shown here was built about 1790 at Hoi An. The style of the room decorations and the written characters on the pictures at top left indicate the ethnic Chinese background of this merchant family. Beginning hundreds of years ago, merchant Chinese settled at coastal ports throughout Southeast Asia where they continue to dominate many trading businesses.

On the left is the altar dedicated to local gods and ancestors. Note the small ancestral portraits at the rear of the altar. On the right are two glass-fronted display cases enclosing the kind of antique blue and white ceramics that have circulated throughout Southeast Asia for over five hundred years. A large number of these ceramics were produced in China, although Vietnam also became a major ceramic production center for areas to the south such as Indonesia. Above these cases are two large portraits of a male and a female relative.