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China the First Country to Discover and Name South China Sea Islands
2016-06-27 20:51

One of the main intentions that the Philippines has in its initiating the South China Sea arbitration is to deny China's sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands. But historical facts show that China was the first country to discover and name the South China Sea Islands and has indisputable sovereignty over them. Discovery could give rise to incomplete ownership and "serve to temporarily prevent another state from occupying".

According to Chinese ancient texts, as far back as the Han dynasties, China had had large-scale activities of ocean navigation, trade and fishing, with the South China Sea being the major ground of China's maritime activity at the time. It was in their frequent navigation through the South China Sea and the islands, that the Chinese people became the earliest people to discover these islands, islets, reefs and shoals and name them. It is recorded in the Treatise on Geography, part of the Book of Han composed by Ban Gu of the Eastern Han Dynasty, that Emperor Wu of Han sent envoys to the states on the South China Sea Islands, which began keeping records of Chinese navigation in the South China Sea. It is recorded in the Yiwu Zhi, a treatise on the South China Sea by Yang Fu of the Eastern Han dynasty, that "Zhanghai Qitou has shallow waters and countless reefs". "Zhanghai" is the ancient Chinese designation of the South China Sea.

For the purpose of navigational safety and the identification of shipping routes, ancient Chinese fishermen and sailors gave different names to the South China Sea Islands according to their features, e.g. Shanhu Zhou, Ruluo Zhou, and Changsha Shitang. With the advancement of seafaring techniques, the ancient Chinese deepened their knowledge of the South China Sea and of the islands therein, and gave the South China Sea Islands such general designations as Qianli Changsha, Wanli Shitang, Wangli Changsha and Nan’ao Qi according to location and scope. These names of the Nansha Islands were historically used by foreigners. The Song Hui Yao (Song Compendium), for example, mentioned that the envoys from Champa (in today's southern Vietnam) and Chenla (in today's Thailand) all used "Shitang" and "Wanli Shitang" to call the Nansha Islands when recounting their voyages to China.

Counting from the time the South China Sea Islands were recorded by Yang Fu of the Eastern Han Dynasty in his Yiwu Zhi, nearly 2000 years have passed since the Chinese people discovered the islands, well over 1900 years before 1947 when the Philippines, as it claims, discovered the Nansha Islands. And the Chinese history of naming the Xisha and Nansha Islands dates back nearly 1000 years, when the Xiasha Islands were named "Jiuru Luozhou", and the Nansha Islands "Shitang", during the Song Dynasty.

The Chinese government throughout the ages never ever gave up its sovereignty over the South China Sea Islands, and it enforced effective administration by naming the islands. In 1909, under orders of Zhang Renjun, then Viceroy of Liangguang (the provinces of Guangdong and Guangxi) in the Qing Dynasty, Guangdong Admiral Li Zhun led more than 170 naval officers and soldiers to go and survey the Xisha Islands, where they drew maps, verified and named 15 islands; and the results were then proclaimed to the world. Afterwards, the Chinese government renamed the South Chinese Sea Islands three times. In 1934 through 1935, the Nationalist government's Water and Land Map Review Commission reviewed and approved the Chinese and English names of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and published in the first issue of its journal the names of 132 islands, reefs, cays and shoals in the South China Sea. In April 1935, this commission went on to publish the Map of Islands in the South China Sea, which classified the South China Sea Islands into four groups of islands - named, from north to south, Dongsha, Xisha, Nansha (today's Zhongsha), and Tuansha (today's Nansha), respectively. On December 1, 1947, the Nationalist government's Ministry of the Interior re-examined, approved and announced 172 names for the South China Sea Islands. The former Nansha Islands were renamed the Zhongsha Islands and the Tuansha Islands were renamed the Nansha Islands. Also published was the South China Sea Islands Location Map, in which the four groups of islands in the South China Sea - Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha, and Nansha - were delineated. In April 1983, the Chinese Government published the Standard Names for South China Sea Islands, including 287 place names.

Being the first to discover and name the South China Sea islands entitled China to have sovereignty over them and implement effective management.

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