Updated: 20:10 GMT + 7, Thursday 17/10/2019
Historical - Legal Document
Evidence about Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagoes through the Nguyen Dynasty’s Officials Documents In The Early 19th Century

Recently, the website www.biengioilanhtho.gov.vn of the National Boundary Commission under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the book “Collection of officials documents of the Nguyen Dynasty on the exercise of Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes”, published in 2013 by the Tri Thuc Publishing House, publicised some documents in original Chinese together with translated versions, namely officials documents issued under the reign of King Minh Mang in 1830, 1833, 1835, 1836, 1837, and 1838 and under the reign of King Thieu Tri in 1847.


A page of an official document of the Nguyen dynasty

This is an important effort that shows the original versions, even their colours, which are valuable in terms of history and international laws as they demonstrate the State’s real possession of the islands. For example, in 1909, China’s Guangdong authorities assumed Paracels to be unclaimed and began to organise move to take possession of the archipelago in the way Western countries did. Meanwhile, official documents under the Nguyen dynasty are powerful evidence proving that Paracels, or Cat (Kat) Vang or Hoang Sa archipelago, had already been under Vietnam’s ownership. Vietnam used to send its naval force with the assistance of Hoang Sa militia to the islands as early as 1816. Particularly, since 1836, the planting of markers and erecting sovereignty steles in the archipelago had been made an annual task. The activity had already been done earlier but not annually.

Analyses of official documents relating to Hoang Sa indicate that the Nguyen dynasty paid much attention to this region. This fact was shown in the regulation that made the planting of sovereignty steles in Hoang Sa an annual activity, the clear assignment of tasks to flotillas sent to Hoang Sa, as well as fair reward and punishment given to those who disobeyed orders.

Clearly writing concrete missions of the Hoang Sa works

Through the remaining documents, we can see that the specific mission of the navy with the assistance of militia and conscripted labourers in Hoang Sa archipelago was conducting exploration and surveys (an official document of the Ministry of Public Works submitted to the King on January 26, the seventh year of the Thieu Tri reign (1847), reads that the sending of people to Hoang Sa for surveys was put off in June, the fifth year of the Thieu Tri reign (1845).

Exploring and surveying activities were also recorded in many other official documents such as making survey diaries and drawing maps. It was written in a document dated July 19, the 19th year of the Minh Mang reign (1838) that the Governor of Quang Ngai province submitted a report to the king which said: “This year comes the planned time to send people to Hoang Sa to conduct surveys and measure the whole area.” The Ministry of Public Works’s report on June 21, the 19th year of the Minh Mang reign (1838), also noted that: “The ministry has questioned officials, namely Do Mau Thuong, imperial guard Le Trong Ba from our department. They said this time, they arrived in 25 islands in three areas. Of which, there were 12 islands they had visited earlier and 13 others they had never been before. Guide Vo Van Hung said that the whole Hoang Sa region includes four areas, three of which were surveyed this time. The remaining one was located in the south and far away from the former three while the southern wind was blowing hard, making it unfavourable for travelling. Besides, it would be too late if waiting for propitious wind, thus the sending of boats to that area should be delayed until next year. Regarding the four maps brought back from the trip (three separate maps of the three areas and a common map of all the three areas) and an incomplete diary, please allow the ministry time to carefully verify and perfect them for later submission.”

“Also according to this official, during the trip, they collected a copper plated canon, many kinds of red corals, seabirds and sea turtles.”

Another proposal of this ministry dated the second day of the intercalary April, the 19th year of the Minh Mang reign (1838), reads that: “Under the royal order of sending people to Hoang Sa, the ministry proposes the departure to be in the late March to measure, draw and survey the whole Hoang Sa region”… “Though 11 sandbanks and islands were surveyed, the map drawing has not been completed…”

Some documents also indirectly referred to punishment for not bringing back maps. For example, a report of the Public Works Ministry on July 13, the 18th year of the Minh Mang reign (1837), in Volume No.57, page 244, noted that: “The ministry reviewed last year’s works, overseers and guides were presented with two strings of coins (each string contains 600 ancient coins)… However, only overseer Truong Viet Soai did not bring back maps, and should be decapitated but under the royal instruction he was imprisoned until autumn awaiting trial. The ministry requests a direction to judge this official.”

Some people who drew unclear maps were punished, as was written in a document of the Cabinet dated July 13, the 16th year of the Minh Mang reign (1835), in Volume No.54, page 94: “Officials who were in charge of drawing maps but failed to produce good maps, include overseers Tran Van Van, Nguyen Van Tien and Nguyen Van Hoang. They should be punished with 80 lashes each but have been pardoned.” An instruction document on July 13, the16th year of the Minh Mang reign (1835), in Volume No.54, page 92, also reads: “Officials who were blamed for producing unclear maps include overseers Tran Van Van, Nguyen Van Tien and Nguyen Van Hoang. They should be punished with 80 lashes each but would receive a pardon this time.”

Stating clearly that planting sovereignty markers in Hoang Sa was made an annual routine

In the legal struggle on the international arena to prove Vietnam’s real possession of Hoang Sa, the document in 1836 is the most important. A report of the Public Works Ministry on February 12, the 17th year of the Minh Mang reign (1836), in Volume 55 of Minh Mang reign’s royal records, page 336, notes that:

“The Ministry of Public Works reports that the ministry has received the Cabinet’s document which requires that “Each boat sent to Hoang Sa has to bring along 10 wooden steles measuring 4.5 thuoc (old measure of length equivalent to 1.8 metres) long, five tac (equivalent to 0.2 metre) wide, one tac thick, and engraved with the words: The Binh Than year, (the 17th year of the Minh Mang reign), naval commanders under the royal order went to Hoang Sa for surveys and installed this marker to mark the arrival.

“This time, the royal naval commander sent to Hoang Sa, is Pham Huu Nhat, who traveled by boat from Thuan An rivermouth to Quang Ngai province at the hour of the Cat (between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.) yesterday. The ministry will immediately prepare the planned amount of wooden steles and send an urgent letter to the province to ask it to deliver the steles to this official.




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