For every nation, maps are a special language and tool to demonstrate knowledge on territory. All maps drawn by Chinese people before 1909 indicate that the southernmost point of China is Hainan Island. Meanwhile, Vietnamese made maps and European navigation charts since the 17th century, have depicted that the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelagos belong to Vietnam.

According to historian Duong Trung Quoc, China’s oldest map in contemporary times, “Hoang trieu truc tinh dia du toan do” (an administrative map of provincial boundaries) published in 1904, reflects China’s perception of its territory during the Qing Dynasty. This shows that by the early 20th century, the Chinese feudal administration had not yet intended to claim sovereignty over the two archipelagos of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa of Vietnam.

“This is important significant evidence and supplements the historical evidence proving Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagos,” Quoc said.

In fact, China only started claiming Hoang Sa from 1909 and Truong Sa from 1935 while Vietnam held much earlier evidence of its sovereignty in the East Sea , at least from the 17 th century.

According to East Sea researcher Nguyen Hong Thao, the evidence Vietnam has collected is overwhelming. They are recorded in royal historical works compiled by the Office of National History and printed during the Nguyen Dynasty.

They include “Dai Nam thuc luc chinh bien” (The Main Part of The Chronicles of Dai Nam, 1848), “Kham Dinh Dai Nam hoi dien su le” (The Dai Nam Administrative Records, 1843-1851), “Dai Nam nhat thong chi” (The Geography of the Unified Dai Nam, 1865-1882), “Lich trieu hien chuong loai chi” (Classified Rules of Dynasties, 1821), “Hoang Viet dia du chi” (Geographical Treatise of Imperial Vietnam, 1833), and “Viet su cuong giam khao luoc” (Brief History of Vietnam, 1876).

The oldest publication describing the existence of the islands is the “Toan tap Thien Nam tu chi lo do thu” (The Collection of Route Map from the Capital to the Four Directions, 1630-1653), compiled by a man named Do Ba alias Cong Dao.

The document consists of maps of An Nam from the 15th century. Of them, one clearly shows the Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos in the East Sea with the names of Bai Cat Vang and Truong Sa in Quang Nghia prefecture. Under King Minh Mang’s reign, Hoang Sa and Van Ly Truong Sa were clearly depicted in the “1834 Dai Nam nhat thong toan do” (The Complete Map of the Unified Dai Nam).

According to historian Duong Trung Quoc, Vietnam’s geographical location is between the Chinese and Indian civilisations and lies on one of the world’s main shipping lanes. So it is necessary to pay attention not only to maps from Vietnam or China, but also the navigation charts of other navigation powers, regarding related issues.

Sharing the view, Dr. Tran Duc Anh Son, Vice Director of Da Nang City’s Socio-Economic Development Research Institute, said that not only old Vietnamese and Chinese maps but many old Western maps also clearly show that Hoang Sa and Truong belong to Vietnam.

Son has just completed a research project on Vietnam’s sovereignty over the island district of Hoang Sa.

One of the biggest successes for his research group is a collection of 56 western maps drawn over a period of more than three centuries. Some maps are very old, such as the one drawn by Livro da Marinharia FM Pinnto in 1560, another by Gerard Mercator (1512-1594) dating to the latter half of the 16 th century, while some are more recently such as the map by Stielers Handatla drawn in 1891.

In particular, the “An Nam Dai Quoc Hoa Do” or Map of the Great Country of An Nam, published in 1838 in three languages of Chinese, Vietnamese and Latin, by Bishop Taberd, bears the words “Paracel seu Cat Vang” (Paracel or Cat Vang), affirming Vietnamese sovereignty.

This proves that as early as the 16th century, many Westerners already knew the area around Hoang Sa and regarded it as part of Vietnamese territory.

“Western cartographers, navigators and explorers have noted Vietnam’s sovereignty over these archipelagos in their geographic map and navigation charts. Therefore, the maps are valuable documents that help confirm Vietnam’s indisputable sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagos that are disputed by other regional nations,” Son said.-VNA