Historical Evidence To Support China's Sovereignty over Nansha Islands
2004/04/08

China was the first to discover, name, develop,conduct economic activities on and exercise jurisdiction of the Nansha Islands.

A. China the First to Discover and Name the Nansha Islands

The earliest discovery by the Chinese people of the Nansha Islands can be traced back to as early as the Han Dynasty. Yang Fu of the East Han Dynasty (23-220 A.D.) made reference to the Nansha Islands in his book entitled Yiwu Zhi (Records of Rarities) , which reads: "Zhanghai qitou, shui qian er duo cishi"("There are islets, sand cays, reefs and banks in the South China Sea, the water there is shallow and filled with magnetic rocks or stones"). Chinese people then called the South China Sea Zhanghai and all the islands, reefs, shoals and isles in the South China Sea, including the Nansha and Xisha Islands, Qitou.

General Kang Tai, one of the famous ancient Chinese navigators of the East Wu State of the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280AD), also mentioned the Nansha Islands in his book entitled Funan Zhuan (or Journeys to and from Phnom) (the name of an ancient state in today's Cambodia). He used the following sentences in describing the islands: "In the South China Sea, there are coral islands and reefs; below these islands and reefs are rocks upon which the corals were formed."

In numerous history and geography books published in the Tang and Song Dynasties, the Nansha and Xisha Islands were called Jiuruluo Islands, Shitang (literally meaning atolls surrounding a lagoon), Changsha (literally meaning long ranges of shoals), Qianli Shitang, Qianli Changsha, Wanli Shitang, and Wanli Changsha among others. Reference was made to the Nansha Islands in over one hundred categories of books published in the four dynasties of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing in the name of Shitang or Changsha.

There were more detailed descriptions of the geographical locations and specific positions of the various islands of the Nansha Islands in the Yuan Dynasty. For instance, Wang Dayuan, a prominent Chinese navigator in the Yuan Dynasty, wrote about the Nansha Islands in his book entitled Abridged Records of Islands and Barbarians in these words: "The base of Wanli Shitang originates from Chaozhou. It is tortuous as a long snake lying in the sea. Its veins can all be traced. One such vein strentches to Java, one to Boni (or Burni, a kingdom which then existed in what is now Brunei in the vicinity of the Kalimantan) and Gulidimen (another kingdom on the Kalimantan), and one to the west side of the sea toward Kunlun (Con Son Islands, located outside the mouth of the mekong River some 200 nautical miles away from Saigon) in the distance…." Wanli Shitang here refers to all the islands in the South China Sea, including the Nansha Islands.

In the Consolidated Map of Territories and Geography and Capitals of Past Dynasties published in the Ming Dynasty, we find the words "Shitang", "Changsha" and "Shitang." Judging from the geographical locations of these places as marked on the Map, the second Shitang denotes today's Nansha Islands.

The Road Map of the Qing Dynasty marks the specific locations of all the islands, reefs, shoals and isles of the Nansha Islands where fishermen of China's Hainan Island used to frequent, including 73 named places of the Nansha Islands.

B. China the First to Develop the Nansha Islands

Chinese people started to develop the Nansha Islands and engage in fishing on the islands as early as in the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. At that time, fishermen from Haikou Port, Puqian Port, Qinglan Port and Wenchang County went to the Nansha Islands to fish sea cucumber and other sea produce.

The 1868 Guide to the South China Sea has accounts of the activities of the Chinese fishermen in the Nansha Islands. According to the Guide, "fishermen from Hainan Island went to Zhenhe Isles and Reefs and lived on sea cucumber and shells they got there. The footmarks of fishermen could be found in every isle of the Nansha Islands and some of the fishermen would even live there for a long period of time. Every year, there were small boats departing from Hainan Island for the Nansha Islands to exchange rice and other daily necessities for sea cucumber and shells from the fishermen there. The ships used to leave Hainan Island in December or January every year and return when the southwesterly monsoon started." Since the end of the Qing Dynasty, fishermen from Hainan Island and Leizhou Peninsula of China have kept going for fishing on the Nansha Islands. Most of the fishermen come from Wenchang County and Qionghai County. One or two dozens of fishing boats from these two counties would go to the Nansha Islands every year.

The Road Map is another strong evidence to the development of the islands on the South China Sea by the Chinese people since the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Road Map served as a navigational guide to the Chinese fishermen for their trips to the Xisha and Nansha Islands for productive activities there. It was a result of the collective work of many people on the basis of their navigational experience. The first Road Map was produced in the Ming Dynasty and it was constantly improved later on. It showed the navigational routes and courses from Qinglan, Wenchang County, Hainan Island or Tanmen Port of Qionghai County to the various isles of the Xisha and Nansha Islands.

The development and productive activities of the Chinese fishermen on the Nansha Islands after the founding of the Republic of China in 1912 have been recorded in both Chinese and foreign history books. Mr. Okura Unosuke of Japan wrote about his expedition trip to Beizi Island in 1918 in his book Stormy Islands, which reads: "he saw three people from Haikou of Wenchang County when the expedition team he organized arrived in Beizi Island." In 1933, Miyoshi and Matuo of Japan saw two Chinese people on the Beizi Island and three Chinese people on the Nanzi Island when they made an investigation trip to the Nansha Islands. It is also recorded in A Survey of the New South Islands published in Japan that "fishermen planted sweet potato on Zhongye Island and that fishermen from the Republic of China resided on the islands and grew coconuts, papaya, sweet potato and vegetables there."

C. China the First to Exercise Jurisdiction over the Nansha Islands

The Nansha Islands came under the jurisdiction of China from the Yuan Dynasty. Geography Book of the History of the Yuan Dynasty and Map of the Territory of the Yuan Dynasty with Illustration both includes the Nansha Islands within the domain of the Yuan Dynasty. The History of the Yuan Dynasty has accounts of the patrol and inspection activities by the navy on the Nansha Islands in the Yuan Dynasty.

The inscription on the Memorial Tablet of the Tomb to General Qian Shicai of the Hainan Garrison Command of the Ming Dynasty reads: "Guangdong is adjacent to the grand South China Sea, and the territories beyond the Sea all internally belong to the Ming State." "General Qian led more than ten thousand soldiers and 50 huge ships to patrol tens of thousands of li on the South China Sea." All these descriptions clearly testify to the ownership by China of the Nansha Islands in the Ming Dynasty. The Hainan Garrison Command of the Ming Dynasty was responsible for inspecting and patrolling as well as exercising jurisdiction over the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands.

In the Qing Dynasty, the Chinese Government marked the Nansha Islands on the authoritative maps and exercised administrative jurisdiction over these islands. The Nansha Islands were marked as Chinese territory in many maps drawn in the Qing Dynasty such as A Map of Administrative Divisions of the Whole China of the 1724 Map of Provinces of the Qing Dynasty, A Map of Administrative Divisions of the Whole China of the 1755 Map of Provinces of the Imperial Qing Dynasty, the 1767 Map of Unified China of the Great Qing for Ten Thousand Years, the 1810 Topographical Map of Unified China of the Great Qing for Ten Thousand Years and the 1817 Map of Unified China of the Great Qing for Ten Thousand Years.

Between 1932 and 1935, the Chinese Government set up a Committee for the Review of Maps of Lands and Waters of China, which was composed of officials from the Headquarters of the General Staff, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Navy Command, the Ministry of Education and the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission. This Committee examined and approved 132 names of the islands in the South China Sea, all of which belonged to the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha Islands.

In 1933, France invaded and occupied 9 of the Nansha Islands, including Taiping and Zhongye Islands. The Chinese fishermen who lived and worked on the Nansha Islands immediately made a firm resistance against the invasion and the Chinese Government lodged a strong protest with the French Government.

All the names of the islands, isles and reefs on the South China Sea including the Nansha Islands were unmistakably marked on the Map of the Islands in the South China Sea compiled and printed by the Committee for the Review of Maps of Lands and Waters of China in 1935.

In 1939, Japan invaded and occupied the islands on the South China Sea. In line with the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of China, in consultation with the Navy and the government of Guangdong Province, appointed Xiao Ciyi and Mai Yunyu Special Commissioner to the Xisha and Nansha Islands respectively in 1946 to take over the two archipelagoes and erect marks of sovereignty on the Islands.

In 1947, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of China renamed 159 islands, reefs, islets and shoals on the South China Sea, including the Nansha Islands. It subsequently publicized all the names for administrative purposes.

In 1983, the Chinese Toponymy Committee was authorized to publicize the approved names of the islands, reefs, islets and shoals on the South China Sea.

In short, a host of historical facts have proved that it was the Chinese people who were the first to discover and develop the Nansha Islands and it was the Chinese Government that has long exercised sovereignty and jurisdiction over these islands. The Nansha Islands have become an inalienable part of Chinese territory since ancient times.


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