Source: Tuoi Tre News
A Han-Chinese map of China published in 1904 reveals that China stretched as far south as Hainan Island, and that Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands did not belong to China.
Shanghai Publishing House printed the map whose Vietnamese name is “Hoàng triều trực tỉnh địa dư toàn đồ” (Map of all Chinese provinces).
After holding it for 30 years, Dr. Mai Hong, former head of the Library of the Institute for the Study of Chinese and Demotic Scripts and Cultures, has decided to release the historical evidence.
Hong recently sat down with Tuoi Tre for an interview about the map:
How did you get this map?
I got this map when I administered a library of Chinese and Demotic Script books (now Institute for the Study of Chinese and Demotic Scripts and Cultures) in 1977. At that time, collecting maps was not our administrative function. However, to my surprise, an elderly man who often sold books to us showed up at our office one day and recommended I buy this map. I spent one month’s salary to purchase it without my family’s knowledge.
Is it a valuable map made a long time ago?
Yes, it is. It’s a color-coded paper map that has a carton-paper cover and can be opened like a book. Inside the map, there are more than 35 pieces – each measured at 20cm wide, 30cm long – stuck on canvas. Because I can read Han-Chinese, I’ve translated about 600 Han-Chinese words into Vietnamese that adequately represents the origin and date of the map.
According to the translation, the map was created across nearly two centuries (1708 – 1904), from the Kangxi Emperor who ruled China from 1661 – 1722 to the Guangxu Emperor from 1875 to 1908. The emperors asked many clergymen and gifted astronomers and mathematicians to make this map.
More specifically, in 1708, King Kangxi recruited some western clergymen to draw the map of the Great Wall. In 1711, the King continued to ask the clergymen to survey lands in 13 provinces nationwide. After that, Chinese intellectuals and western clergymen worked together for nearly 200 years to finish this map. Among famous western clergymen helping King Kangxi with the map were Matteo Bicci from Italy, Joannes Adam Schall Von Bell from Germany, and Ferdinandus Verbiest from Belgium.
In 1904, Shanghai Publishing House printed this map and distributed it to all provinces of the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China ruling from 1644 to 1912. The introduction of the map was written by the director of a Chinese observatory.
What is some helpful historical data from this map?
In this map, the director of a Chinese observatory greatly appreciated achievements by western clergymen, who were at the time ahead of China in the field of astronomy and mathematics. As the map indicates, there are no photos, drawings or surveys of Truong Sa or Hoang Sa islands on the map. The Chinese themselves also admitted that Hainan Island was the end of their land to the south.
Why did you decide to release this map?
In my opinion, this map will provide some helpful evidence that helps Vietnam get more active in resolving disputes with China over the ownership of the two islands in the East Sea. This is also helpful data for local scholars or researchers who are studying the seas and the islands’ sovereignty.
According to Pham Hoang Quan, a local researcher on Han-Chinese and Demotic Scripts, the map, measuring 115cm long and 140cm wide, was printed on separate sheets and belonged to a group of large-scale maps.
Quan added that during the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were only 60 maps of this kind.
The map’s accuracy in terms of longitude and latitude is nearly on par with modern maps. This map was made by experts at the Observatory of the Qing Dynasty, so it can be considered official, he said.
On July 4, Dr. Mai Hong contacted the National Museum of Vietnamese History to hand over the “Hoàng triều trực tỉnh địa dư toàn đồ” map for display and preservation. The ceremony marking the gift is scheduled for the morning of July 24 in Hanoi, with several historians expected to attend.