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Past And Present of The South China Sea ep.1: The history of the South China Sea


07-04-2016 05:04 BJT

Full coverage: The South China Sea Issue

In the first episode today, we will look back on the history. China was the first country to discover, name and explore resources in as well as exercise jurisdiction over the South China Sea Islands. As early as 184 AD, Eastern Han Dynasty, 'Zhang Hai' was then commonly referred to as South China Sea.

Zhan Daowu, an ordinary fisherman in the South China Sea, became a captain when he was 22 years old.  From then on, each choice he made would affect the livelihood of dozens of his crew members and their families. He has never failed their expectations.
But now, he could not even make the simplest decision as whether to set out for fishing.

Zhan Daowu never doubts about his competency as a good captain and decades of sailing experience make “Genglubu” take deep roots in his blood and veins.

Geng Lu Bu, a popular sailing guide cherished by generations of local fishermen in Hainan Province, comprises the names of more than one hundred islands in South China Sea as well as the records of ocean currents. It can also be concluded that Xisha and Nansha waters had already become fishing ground for Chinese fishermen hundred of years before.

China was the first country to discover, name and explore resources in as well as exercise jurisdiction over the South China Sea Islands. As early as 184 AD, Eastern Han Dynasty, “Zhang Hai” was then commonly referred to as South China Sea. From 960 AD to 1279 AD in the Song Dynasty, the South China Sea was under the administration of “Jiyang Army, Qiongguan Anfu Dujian under Guangnan Xilu”

These historical records indicate that China not only encompassed the South China Sea Islands in its territories but also clearly defined its administration level. In 1405, Zheng He led a fleet of more than two hundred ships and launched the unprecedented maritime expedition, demonstrating China’s powerful capability of navigation in ancient time.

"Based on Zheng He’s chart, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands are marked here in this drawing," Dr. Li Jinming, Deputy Director of the Center for Oceans Policy and Law, Xiamen University, said.

"In spite of historical transformations, no matter in the Song Yuan Ming or Qing dynasties, the South China Sea Islands, places which were dubbed as Shitang and Changsha were invariably under administration of Wan Zhou Fu in Guangdong Province," Li Guoqiang, Deputy Director of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

From the 19th Century, westerners started to set their foot in Nansha, but at that time they only saw the Chinese engaging in development and operations the islands.

China Sea Pilot, a book published by the British authority in 1868, describes in detail what life is like for the Hainan fishermen travelling between islands in the South China Sea.

On May 19th, 1909, as assigned by the Zhang Renjun, the Governor of Guangdong and Guangxi, Li Zhun, then chief of Guangdong naval force conducted a mission, led three naval vessels, namely Fu Bo, Shen Hang and Guang Jin, departed from Yulin Port of Hainan Island and landed the Xisha islands.

They erected Yellow Dragon Flags of the Qing Dynasty to declare sovereignty over the islands they landed and gave names to these islands. Ganquan Island and Shanhu Island were named after their terrains.

China has been exercising jurisdiction and sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands and it has fought against foreign aggression for several times.

In February 1948, the Ministry of the Interior released the Locations of South China Sea Islands and declared to the international community both the names of the South China Sea Islands and the dotted line.

For a long period of time after the announcement was made, the whole international society, including other countries surrounding the South China Sea, have not expressed any objection.

In the fishing grounds where Chinese fishermen worked generation after generation, foreign soldiers and armed fleets started to appear since the 1970s.

From 1989 to 2010, there were more than 380 cases of attack, robbery, detention and shooting targeting Chinese fishermen involving more than 750 vessels and 11,300 fishermen.

In the early 21st century, the Philippines started to deny the existence of the dotted lines in the South China Sea and disturbance started to rise in the peaceful South China Sea.

A captain as he is, Zhan Daowu finds it hard to envision the glory of Zheng He who was also titled captain.

In fact, there are more than 1.6 million Chinese fishermen who are also concerned that whether their sons and grandsons will have the chance to sail and work in the traditional fishing grounds?

How can a life that lasted thousands of years be maintained?

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