China, being one of the cradles of civilization, had seen simple agricultural production and fishing activities, from fishing, shell-collecting in nearby waters to shark-hunting in coastal areas such as Zhejiang as early as the Paleolithic Age. With the development of technology and society, the Chinese people gradually began organized and planned fishing and fishery activities.
The historical records about the Chinese people's productive activities on the South China Sea date back to the Han Dynasty. Zhu Zhong in his book entitled Xiangbeijing (Classic of Prognostication by Shells and Conches) mentioned, "the shells from Nanhai (the South China Sea) shine like pearls." Yang Fu of the Eastern Han Dynasty also mentioned in his book Yiwu Zhi (Records of Rarities) the sea turtle and hawksbill turtles from the South China Sea. Chronicle of Guangzhou, published in the Jin Dynasty, has accounts that people found coral when fishing in Shanhuzhou (Coral Island), five hundred li south of (Dongguan) County. Zhang Bo of the Jin Dynasty in his book Record of Wu State documented the Chinese people collected coral in Zhang Hai (the South China Sea) with iron net. Xu Zhong of the Eastern Jin Dynasty in his Guide to the Southern Plant mentioned "a 3.5-cun long pearl was found in Zhang Hai" along with a detailed description on the Chinese fishermen's activity in collecting the pearls there. These documentations indicate that the Chinese already had a good knowledge and utilization of the resources in that area at that time.
Shen Kuo, an official of the Northern Song Dynasty, in his scientific encyclopedia Mengxi Bitan (Dream Pool Essays) mentioned "the marine life such as tridacna, a type of clam, was found in Nanhai." Zhou Qufei, a geographer of the Southern Song Dynasty, had a detailed description about the collecting and processing of clams on the South China Sea. Up till the Southern Song Dynasty, the Chinese people in developing the biological resources of the South China Sea already reached a high level.
For a long time, the Chinese fishermen from the coastal area have been conducting organized fishing and exploration activities in the South China Sea, which, including the waters around the Nansha Islands has been a traditional fishing ground for them. Every year when the monsoon starts, they would leave to fish in the South China Sea and use the reefs as a base. Recent archaeological discoveries have unearthed a large number of relics, such as pottery, iron knives, pots and other utensils, as well as ruins of habitation from the Tang and Song periods on the Xisha and Nansha Islands.
Geng Lu Bu documented the courses and routes of the Chinese fishermen of the Ming and Qing dynasties, who would depart from Qinglan Port (now Wenchang City in Hainan), Tanmen Port of Qionghai City, sail to the Xisha and Nansha Islands and conduct fishery and agricultural production there. According to Yazhou Zhi: Yudi Zhi II, a geography chronicle compiled by Zhang Xie, Xing Dinglun, Zhao Yiqian of the Qing Dynasty, "in Qiongzhou, there are quite a number of fishing boats, which are made of solid hard wood instead of the common pine wood. During the annual fishing season, these boats leave for the islands about 7- or 8-li away for two months to collect sea cucumber, shell turtles, and sun shark fins. Their fishing ground is usually in the shallow waters within the China Sea, where they still can see the coastline in the north. The fishing season is always in March. Each boat only has one or two helmsman with a couple of workers and light supplies. These boats then move on to Java and continue fishing in the shallow waters till the early June, when they bring home what they obtain as trading goods." As early as the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries, Chinese fishermen from Hainan Island have been engaged not only in fisheries but also the agricultural production and construction on the South China Sea islands despite the unfavorable natural and geographical conditions. According to Qiongtai Wai Ji (Unofficial Record of Qiongtai) by Wang Zuo, an official of the Ming Dynasty, "to the east (of Wanzhou) is Changsha and Shitang. During the hurricanes, the houses and rice fields are submerged and damaged in the tidal waves." Even now, the ruins of temple, wells, graves, and the remains that evidence the productive life from the Ming and Qing dynasties are seen on the islands in the South China Sea. The Chinese fishermen gradually scaled up their fisheries during Ming and Qing periods, and started to sell their products derived from the sea around Nansha directly to Singapore since the beginning of 19th century.
In the early 20th century, the natural resources of trochus and guano of the South China Sea became important raw materials for the aviation and chemical engineering industries. The Chinese merchants started large-scale, and commercialized production of trochus on the Nansha Islands with firm orders from Singapore since 1910. After the founding of the Republic of China, the government granted the businessmen special permit to manage the development of the region-specific resources in accordance with relevant regulations.
The South China Sea is the home to Chinese people. For thousands of years, the Chinese have been conducting productive activities on the islands as well as in the waters of the South China Sea, where we see generations of continuing and prosperous development. Chinese people are close to the South China Sea, in terms of geography, livings, and sentiments, and will continue to see harmonious coexistence with this region.