The East Sea disputes
China’s argument includes: 1) Chinese were the first who discovered these islands and named them; 2) Chinese fishermen explored these islands for thousands of years. This proves China’s sovereignty; 3) China’s sovereignty over the islands is strengthened by archaeological unveils; 4) China has performed its management over these islands for a long time. We will consider argument and historical title of China concerning the Paracel and Spratly islands.
According to a map, published by the Qing Dynasty in 1894, Chinese
territory ended at the Hainan Island.
According to a map, published by the Qing Dynasty in 1894, Chinese
territory ended at the Hainan Island.
“From the age of Emperor Wu of Han (156 BC), Chinese people began traveling in the South China Sea. After a long time of marine practice, Chinese people discovered the Xisha (Paracel) and Nansha (Spratly) islands,” wrote the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s White Paper dated January 30, 1980, to prove the so-called “China’s indisputable sovereignty over Paracel and Spratly islands.”
The argumentation and the historical title of China concerning the Xisha and the Nansha are founded in the historical writings from the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-265) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), especially in the following documents:
- Nan Zhou Yi Wu Zhi (Exotic things of the southern regions) by Wan Zhen (period of the Three Kingdoms) discussing strange things in the Southern countries.
- Fu Nan Zhuan (Account of Funan) by Kang Tai (period of the Three Kingdoms) discussing his ambassadorial mission in Fu Nan.
- Yi Wu Zhi (Exotic things) from the Yang Fu period of the Oriental Han (25-220) discussing exotic things (also of foreign countries).
- Wu Jing Zong Yao (General program of military affairs) by Zeng Gongliang and Ding Du, of the Song dynasty (960-1127), dealing with the military system and important matters relating to national defense.
- Ling Wai Dai Da (Information on what is beyond the passes) by Zhou Chufei, of the Song dynasty (1178), mainly addressing the SEA countries. In the passage about the Sea of Giao Chỉ ancient name of Vietnam) mention is made of the Changsha and the Shitang.
- Zhu Fan Zhi (Notes on foreign countries) by Zhao Juguo, the Song dynasty (1225), describing foreign countries. A passage mentions the Qianli Changsha, Wanli Shitang as landmarks to situate the Hainan Island, such as Champa, Zhenla.
- Dao Ji Zhi Lue (General glimpse of the islands) by Wang Dayuan, the Yuan dynasty (1349), describing the physical geography, climate, riches and customs of about 100 foreign countries. Wanlishitang is treated in a separate chapter, like other regions.
- Dong Xi Yang Kao (Studies on the ocean of the East and the West) by Zhang Xie (1618) and Wu Beizhi (about the seven voyages of Zheng He 1405-1433 in the Southern seas and the Indian Ocean) by MaoYuanli(1628).
- Hai Guo Wen Jian Lu (Things heard and seen in overseas countries) Quing dynasty, by Zhen Lunchiung. Wanli Changsha and Qianli Shitang are mentioned in a passage on Vietnam on the way from Xiamen to Quang Nam (Vietnam).
- Hai Lu (Note on sea voyage) by Yang Bingnan, Qing dynasty (1820) discussing the 99 countries and regions of Europe and America. Wanli Changsha and Qiangli Shitang are mentioned in a passage on Java. The drawing of hemisphere attached to the book contains Changsha, Qiangli Shitang in the SEA region.
- Hai Guo Tu Zhi (Notes on foreign countries and navigation) by Wei Yuan, Qing dynasty (1848).
- Ying Huan Zhi Lue (Brief geography of the globe) by Feng Wenzhang in the reign of Daoguang (1848). Changsha and Qiangli Shitang are marked on the map of SEA and not on that of China.
Taking into account the mentioned books, there must be about 100 of them. The books in subsequent periods of the Song dynasty are more numerous than those of previous ones. Not one of the books directly speaks of the Xisha and the Nansha, and not one speaks of Chinese sovereignty on the Xisha and Nansha islands. A number of books speak of toponyms such as Qianli Changsha, Wanli Shitang, Qiangli Shitang, Jiuruluozhou, which are today considered by Chinese researchers as the Xisha and the Nansha.
For the most part, the mentioned books deal with relations, accounts of voyages, monographs and nautical books concerning countries other than China.
Some of them describe the activities of Chinese fishermen. Some others are written or related into books accounts by persons who have actually made sea travels such as Cinh Cha Zheng Lan, Ying Ya Zheng Lan, by Fei Cin and Ma Huan respectively who participated in the Zheng He expedition in the Southern sea, or Hai Lu,written by Yang Binhnan (period of the Qing) according to the statements of Xie Quinggao (1765-1821), an old Chinese sailor who worked aboard foreign ships and who was knowledgeable about maritime routes and the countries of SEA.
Some others were written by ambassadors to SEA, such as Fu Nan Zhuan (the account of Funan by Kang Tai ambassador to Funan, the geography of Zhenla by Zhou Daguan, Ambassador to Zhenla, the Hai Guo Guang Ji (an account of a voyage by the Ambassador Wu Hui to Champa). The Sui Zhi (History of the Sui) relates the voyage of Ambassador Chang Jun across the Bien Dong (Eastern Sea).
The other books are by people who did not make sea journeys but who reported the "things heard and seen" in the same way as Zhang Xie when he wrote his Dong Xi Yang Kao: by putting questions to people coming from afar whom he met on the wharves (sailors, travellers, etc.).
The Chinese authors evidently studied all the documents more or less relating to the Xisha, but they had to make careful choices, retaining what was right and discarding what was erroneous. It is regrettable that they collected all the found writings without sorting them out, but rather deliberately making deductions or arrangements.
For instance, it is written in the Fu Nan Zhuan: "In the Zhanghai there are coral shoals; under the shoals there are rocks on which corals grow." But Han Zhenhua explains that these are the Xisha and Nansha archipelagoes.
The Ji Wu Zhi simply writes: "The reefs of the Zhanghai are found in shallow waters where there are a lot of magnet stones; the large iron - banded junks of foreign countries cannot pass there." According to Han, Zhanghai is the South China Sea "comprising the islands of the Southern sea" (The South China sea has an area of over 3,400,000 km2; what does the Zhanghai represent?; the totality of the South China Sea or only a part of that sea, and which part?), and the reefs are those of the islands of the Southern Sea.
The Nan Yue Ji Wu Zhi (Strange things of the peoples of the South) of the first century writes: Chinese fishermen captured places, scaled tortoises; the Guang Zhou Ji writes: ancient men found corals while fishing at sea; but Pan Shiing deduces that the Chinese reclaimed and exploited the first islands of the Southern Sea, though these two books speak of the sea in general, not specifying which one.
The Dong Xi Yang Kao writes: Qi Zhou Yang is the maritime zone where the seven islands are found at 100 li (50 km) from Wenchang district. However, it is affirmed that the sea of the Xisha lies several hundreds of kilometers away from Wenchang.
The Zhu Fan Zhi writes: "Hainan was the Yazhou and the Dan Eu of the Han period." But Han Zhenghua affirms in an explanatory note that the name indicates the Hainan Island of today and the islands belonging to the islands of the Southern Sea (underlined by the author), in the clear intention of putting it among the Xisha and the Nansha. In the part reserved for Guangnan donglu (presently Guangdong, the Wu Jing Zong Yao contains a passage on the royal order of the Song to set up sea patrol posts and a passage about the route from Guangzhou to India, but the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made it into the one and only passage, in order to pretend that the Chinese navy of that time had carried out patrols in the sea of the Xisha.
The Quan Zhou Fu Zhi says that General Wu Sheng himself conducted the patrol, starting from Qiongya and passing by Tonggu, Qizhouyang, Sigensha, making a tour of 3,000 li. According to these toponyms, it was actually a patrol around the island of Hainan (underlined by the author).
But the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has affirmed that General Wu Sheng had made "patrols in the sea of the Xisha." Regarding the names quoted by the books: Jiurulozhou, Wanli Shitang, Wanli Chengsha, Qianli Shitang, Qizhouyang, Qizhousan, the Chinese authors conclude that: Qizhouyang, Qizhousan indicate the Xisha whereas the other names indicate the Dongsha, Zhungsha, Nansha archipelagoes. The names Qizhouyang and Qizhousan are most often quoted in the itineraries from Southern China to Vietnam, Champa and further to the South.
In the Hai Yu, Huang Zhung in the Ming dynasty (1536) writes: "Wanli Shitang is found East of the sea of Wu Zhu and Du Zhu" (Wu Zhu is an island situated to the East of the islands Xiang Chuan, Xia Chuan, district of Wan Ninh, Guang Dong. Du Zhu is an island situated to the South-east of the island of Hainan).
"Wanli Changsha lies to the South-east of Wanli Shitang, i.e. the shoals of sand of the barbarous countries of the South-west". According to the author, Wanli Shitang indicates here "the shoals of sand of the barbarous countries of the South-west." Han Zhenhua, after omitting the words "the barbarous countries of the South-west," affirms that it is the Xisha and the Zhungsha, although, annotating the book Dao Ji Zhi Lue by Wang Dayua, he said that Wanli Shitang indicated all the four archipelagoes Dongsha, Xisha, Zhungsha, Nansha and, annotating the book Song Hui Yao, Song dynasty, he said that Wanli Shitang indicated the Zhungsha archipelago. Even Han Zhenhua does not know exactly what Wanli Shitang designates: Zhungsha, Xisha, or both, or even all four archipelagoes? Han is self-contradictory.
The Zhi Nan Zheng Fa, at the end of the reign of Kang Xi, writes: "If one goes beyond Qizhou and in the direction of the East for seven geng, one will find Wanli Changsha... if one goes to the East, one will one day see the island Weila before the eyes. Going to the East, after seven geng, [one will arrive in] Wanli Shitang."
Presenting the books Shun Feng Siang Sung and Zhi Nan Zheng Fa in 1961, the China Publishing House (Peking) said: "Wanli Shitang: from the Vietnamese port of Xinzhou, one goes towards the islands Hiaobei for seven geng to the North or from the island Weila towards the East, one can also reach Wanli Shitang, i.e. in the North-east of present day Binh Dinh of Vietnam. This is not likely to be the Southern part of the Xisha archipelago. Wanli Changsha: to the South-east of the island of Hainan, only a seven-geng [sail] South of the island Dazhou, is the Northern part of Xisha archipelago."
According to Pan Shiing, the Song had given the Nansha archipelago the name Shitang, Qianlishitang and Wanlishitang. In his turn, he is in contradiction to Han Zhenhua. Groenevelt, the translator of Shibi Zhuan (History of Sibi), the Mongolian general who commanded the expedition of the Yuan against Java in the XIIIth century, estimates that Wanlishitang designates rather the shoal Macclesfield (for Peking, it is the Zhungsha archipelago) which is even now submerged under more than 10m of water. Qianlishitang, Wanlishitang, anlichangsha... In fact, what do these toponyms represent? It seems that Qiangli Changsha is the Xisha (Paracels) and Wanlishitang, the Nansha (Spratly). It is clear that a scientific examination is necessary to correctly conclude the study of these toponyms. And where is Jiurulozhou?
The Wu Jing Zong Yao indicates the itinerary from Tunmensan to India: "From Tunmensan, with an Eastern wind, going towards the South-west for seven days, one will arrive in Jiurulozhou and in three days more, one will reach Pulasan..."
Tunmensan is to the North-west of Jiulong (Hong Kong). Thus, Jiurulozhou is on the route leading to Pulasan (that is to say the island of Cham of Vietnam) and from Tunmensan to Pulasan, it takes 10 days. In the Gu Jin Tu Shu Bian, Zhang Huang the Ming dynasty says that the route from Xiang San (Guangdong) to Champa, Siam passes by Qizhouyang, and it takes 10 days to reach the sea of Vietnam (Wailasan), i.e the island of Cham.
In the Huang Hua Si Da Zhi, Jia Shen (730-805), the Tang dynasty, writes: "From Guangzhou by the maritime route to the South-east one reaches Tunmensan, sailing to the West li 200, one will reach Jiu Luoshi in two days and Xiang Shi in two days more, and Pulasan in three days more to the South-west."
That is to say, from Guangzhou to Pulasan takes nine days. And observing the traditional itinerary of the Chinese, Jiu Luo shi designates the group of seven islands called Qizhou to the North-east of the island of Hainan, and Xiang Shi designates the island Dazhou to the South-east of the same island. Jiurulozhou being three days from Pulasan must be a point between the island of Dazhou and the island of Cham of Vietnam (Pulasan), and on the maritime route along the coast of Hainan towards the South. If Xiang Shi designates the Xisha as Han Zhenhua annotated, it is impossible to make the journey from Tunmensan to Xisha four days by the means of that time.
According to Jia Shen (the Tang), Zeng Gongliang, (the Song), Mat) Yuanji, Zhang Huang, La Rigeng (the Ming), Zhen Lunchiung (the Qing), the route along the coast towards the South, starting from Guangzhou or from Zhejiang, Fujian, is always the same: Tunmensan, the group of seven islands Qizhou, the island of Dazhou or Tou Zhousan, Wailasan (island of Re of Vietnam), the island Yangsiu (Poulo Gambir, Vietnam), Lingsan, Chi Kansan, (the red hills of the province of Binh Thuan, Vietnam), Kouen Louensan (Poulo Condore, Vietnam), the island Pulau Tioman (to the East of the Malaysian peninsula), Dong Zhousan (on the island Aor to the North-east of Singapore).
What would be the route taken by Zheng He to reach Indonesia and the Indian Ocean?
According to Zhang Xie, the author of Dong Xi Yang Kao; there were two routes of communication between China and SEA: the Dongyang route passing by Malacca, Borneo, the Philippines and Formosa and the Xiyang route passing by the coast of Vietnam, Malaysia, Java.
Zheng He, who had reached Sulu, Lucon (the Philippines), and Borneo, took the Dongyang route. As for the Xiyang route, it follows the coast of Vietnam and Champa. The map drawn by Mao Yuanji in the Wu Bei Zhi clearly noted: "After passing Dong Zhousan, cap at 350° then at 15°, the ship reaches Kouen Louensan and passes outside. From the exterior of Kouen Louensan, cap at 25° for 15 geng, the ship arrives in Chi Kansan; then the cap is aimed at 40° then at 15°. From the Lingsan on, the cap is at 355° then at 345° for 5 geng and the ship is facing Yangsiu, then reaches Kiao Peisan. From Kiao Peisan, cap is at 355°for 7 geng and the ship reaches Wailasan, sailing outside. From the interior of Wailasan, cap is at 25° then at 15° for 21 geng and the ship comes to Tou Zhoushan" (translation by Y.Manguin). In brief, even based on documents quoted by Chinese authors, the following remarks can be made:
1. There are about ten books speaking of the maritime route from Guangzhou to the South of the South Sea, or to places named Wanlichangsha, Qianlishitang, etc. But, the cited books not relating to the Xisha and Nansha or the knowledge of the Chinese people about these archipelagoes, are 3-4 times more ample. The reader cannot help asking why so many books cited when they are not necessary for the study? Would it be because of the necessity to pad the history of a question for which convincing documents are still lacking, or to make it impossible for the reader to discern what is right and what is wrong?
The question of the toponyms of the Xisha and the Nansha cannot be settled by unfounded affirmation, by simple deduction that this is the Xisha and the Nansha and that these archipelagoes have been known by the Chinese people from time immemorial and named by them, even the names are those of kings, mandarins, or generals... And if the attribution of names to the archipelagoes and the islands was so early, one cannot understand why the map of China printed in 1935 used the names which are simply phonetic transcriptions of international names (such as Amphitrite, Crescent, Lincoln, Pattle, Dido, Bombay, Triton, Duncan), or the simple translation of international names (such as North Reef, Antilope, West island, etc.) Even the name of the Dongsha archipelago was a phonetic transcription of Pratas, and the Nansha archipelago previously was named Đoàn Sa.
2. All the authors have tried to affirm that the Xisha and the Nansha belong to Hainan to deduce that the Southern end of the Chinese frontier is constituted by the afore-said archipelagoes. But their efforts are contradicted by a great number of other Chinese documents.
The Zhongguo Dilixue Jiaokeshu (Manual of geography of China) compiled in 1905 and published in 1906 says in the chapter Generalities: "In the South at 18°13 latitude North, the terminus being the coast of Yazhou, island of Hainan; in the North at 53°50 latitude North, the terminus being the confluence of the Amour and the Oussouri rivers; in the West at 42°11 longitude East, the farthest end is the mount Tunglinh. From the South to the North, there are over 36° measuring 7,100 li, from the East to the West over 61° measuring over 8,800 li. The area is 32,605,156 square li or 1/4 of Asia, 1/10 of the continents, larger than Europe."
This is in complete conformity with the Hoang Qing Zhi Sheng Xoan Tu, Hoang Chao Yi Tong Yu Di Zong Tu (General map of the unified Empire) under the reign Guangxi (1894); all of them are official maps, which did not represent the Xisha and the Nansha.
In the Guangdong Yu Di Tu of the reign of Guangxi (1897) prefaced by the Governor of the two Guang, Zhang Renjun, there is a map of all the provinces of Guangdong and that of Qiongzhoufu which did not represent any archipelago of the Southern sea, in conformity with the legend saying that the southernmost point of the Chinese territory is constituted by "the mountain outside of the port Yulin, Yazhou 18° 9 10 ."
3. In spite of the scarcity of direct writings, it is believable that the Chinese people have known since remote times that there were coral islands in the Southern sea, because they have for a long time engaged in maritime navigation and fishing. But no writing says that they have occupied any island. However, there is a great difference between discovery and knowledge.
Everyone knows that simple knowledge cannot establish the acquisition of territorial authority. The lengthy discussions on the problem of the priority of discovery, the dispute about Canada between Cabot, who had sailed along the Canadian coasts and Cartier who had explored that country, the rivalry between the Frenchman De Brazza and the Belgian Stanley about the question of the Congo, the convening of the 1885 Berlin Congress to determine the principles and the modalities of occupation of land res nutlius show that discovery alone does not suffice. It must be followed by occupation and the consolidation of that occupation by actual continuous and peaceful performance of state functions.
A State expedition like that of the eunuch Zheng He, having an official title, a powerful armada did not occupy any island in the Bien Dong sea or in the Indian Ocean. What should we say then about the fishermen of Hainan 2000 years ago who could go to sea only when the weather was fine and who had, with greater cause, no possibility to go as far as the islands Nansha of an over 1000km distance from Hainan. In fact, only from the time of the Northern Song (960-1127) on-- could the Chinese use the navigation compass for sea voyages.
Dr. Nguyen Hong Thao/Luu Van Loi