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Chinese- Perfect Strangers of the Eastern Sea
Vu Huu San

Chinese are Purely Land Men

Ricci and his fellow priest, Michele Ruggieri, stayed for seven years in Chao-ch'ing, a town west of Canton. They built a mission house, and despite popular suspicion and occasional hails of rocks from the hostile populace, they were accepted as men of learning. On the wall of the mission's reception room Ricci mounted his map of the world. As Ricci himself reported: 

Of all the great nations, the Chinese have had the least commerce, indeed, one might say that they have had practically no contact whatever, with outside nations, and consequently they are grossly ignorant of what the world in general is like. True, they had charts somewhat similar to this one, that were supposed to represent the whole world, but their universe was limited to their own fifteen provinces, and in the sea painted around it they had placed a few islands to which they gave the names of different kingdoms they had heard of. All of these islands put together would not be as large as the smallest of the Chinese provinces. With such a limited knowledge, it is evident why they boasted of their kingdom as being the whole world, and why they call it Thienhia, meaning, everything under the heavens. When they learned that China was only a part of the great east, they considered such an idea, so unlike their own, to be something utterly impossible, and they wanted to be able to read about it, in order to form a better judgment....

Ricci also gave some notes about the Chinese nature as following: 

We must mention here another discovery which helped to win the good will of the Chinese. To them the heavens are round but the earth is flat and square, and they firmly believe that their empire is right in the middle of it. They do not like the idea of our geographies pushing their China into one corner of the Orient. They could not comprehend the demonstrations proving that the earth is a globe, made up of land and water, and that a globe of its nature has neither beginning nor end. The geographer was therefore obliged to change his design and, by omitting the first meridian of the Fortunate Islands, he left a margin on either side of the map, making the Kingdom of China to appear right in the center. This was more in keeping with their ideas and it gave them a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. Really, at that time and in the particular circumstances, one could not have hit upon a discovery more appropriate for disposing this people for the reception of the faith....

Because of their ignorance of the size of the earth and the exaggerated opinion they have of themselves, the Chinese are of the opinion that only China among the nations is deserving of admiration. Relative to the grandeur of empire, of public administration and of reputation for learning, they look upon all other people not only as barbarous but as unreasoning animals. To them there is no other place on earth that can boast of a king, of a dynasty, or of culture. The more their pride is inflated by this ignorance, the more humiliated they become when the truth is revealed.(See "The Discoverers", Daniel J. Boorstin, Random House, New York, 1983, pp. 56-64)

Another Western scholar, James Fairgrieve, in his books "Geography and World Power" (London, 1921), 242, has written: "China has never been a sea-power because nothing has ever induced her people to be otherwise than landmen, and landmen dependent on agriculture with the same habit and ways of thinking drilled into them through forty centuries."

In a recent work, we find this statement in a very fine book: "Essentially a land people, the Chinese cannot be considered as having possessed sea-power.... The attention of the Chinese through the centuries have been turned inward towards Central Asia rather than outward, and their knowledge of the seas which washed their coast was extremely small." (E. B. Elridge, The Background of Eastern Sea Power; Melbourne, 1948, 47.)

There are many reasons that The Chinese did not develop as a seafaring nation. (since 2634 B.C.) The main reason was that the vast land-mass of China absorbed their energies. Equally, the absence of neighbouring nations with whom to trade played a large part in the development of the introspective conservatism of the Chinese. However, Taiwan (Formosa) was noted for its fishing and an active local trade existed with the mainland.

In the legends of China, chronicled in the Shu Ching (Canon of History), the first three emperors, Fu Hsi, Shen Nung and Huang Ti, are each credited with a share in the invention of all the main activities of the people, including matrimony, building houses and the introduction of a calendar, but no mention is made of the sea, ships or of fishing (although hunting is mentioned). It is against this background that the virtual absence of Chinese sea-legend and sea sagas has to be viewed. (See Duncan Haws and Alex A.Hurst, "The Maritime History of the World, -A Chronological Survey of Maritime Events From 5,000 B.C. until the Present Day, Supplemented by Commentaries", Teredo Books Ltd., Brighton Sussex, 1985.)

In the Introduction Chapter of "The Nanhai Trade", Wang Gungwu also writes: The Chinese civilisation rose from the land, from the Huang Ho Plain far from the mouth of the river. When it rose, its world consisted of the fields in which the people tilled and for which they often fought, the rivers they feared and tried to control and the towns and fortresses where they hid from their enemies. The sea was only known as a peaceful boundary to the east that yielded salt and fish and as a deep and limitless boundary that divided prince, sage and common man from the saints and immortals. (See "The Nanhai Trade", Kuala Lumpur, 1959, page 3.)

Scholar Pin Ti Ho, who found out the backwardness in the Chinese ability to adapt with the water environment, have clearly identified that: "...It is sufficiently clear, therefore, that the rise of agriculture and civilization bore no direct relation whatever to the flood plain of the Yellow River, and that, of all the ancient peoples who developed higher civilizations in the Old and the New Worlds, the Chinese were the last to know irrigation." (See Pin Ti Ho, "The Cradle of the East", Chicago Press, 1975, page 48.)


Vietnamese are Naturally Seamen and Indigenous of the Easter Sea

On the contrary with the Chinese nature, Vietnamese have always been the experts in the arts of naval warfare and maritime transportation since the very ancient time.  

The Han Chinese wrote of southerners Viet people as follows "The Yủeh people by nature a indolent and undisciplined. They travel to remote places by water and use boats as we use carts and oars as we use horses. When they come (north - to attack) they float along and when they leave (withdraw) they are hard to follow. They enjoy fighting and are not afraid to die." (See "Eighth Voyage of the Dragon", Bruce Swanson, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis 1982, page 11-12). 

The vessels of the Yủeh in the Warring States period, however, were not all naval, and we can be sure that there were trading expeditions at least along the coasts of Siberia, Korea and Indochina. There were also some explorations of the Pacific itself. And of course, as ever, inland water transport. (See Needham, Joseph; Wang Ling and Lu Gwei-Djen, "Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 4: Physics and Physical Technology, part III: Civil Engineering and Nautics" Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1971, page 441.)

The off-shore ships of the Tonking (North Vietnam) Area were surprisingly big and so technically advanced for the Chinese observations. A 3rd-century text of capital importance does so, however. It occurs in the Nan Chou I Wu Chih (Strange Things of the South), written by Wan Chen, and run as follows:

The people of foreign parts (wai yu jen) call chhuan (ships) po. The large ones are more than 20 chang in length (up to 150 ft.), and stand out of the water 2 or 3 chang (about 15 to 23 ft.). At a distance they look like 'flying galleries' (ko tao) and they can carry from 600 to 700 persons, with 10,000 bushels (hu) of cargo.

The people beyond the barriers (wai chiao jen), according to the sizes of their ships, sometimes rig (as many as) four sails, which they carry in a row from bow to stern. From the leaves of the lu-thou tree, which have the shape of 'yung', and are more 1 chang (about 7.5 ft.) long, they weave the sails.

The four sails do not face directly forwards. but are set obliquely, and so arranged that they can all be fixed in the same direction, to receive the wind and to spill it (Chhi ssu fan pu cheng chhien hsiang, chieh shih hsieh i hsiang chu, i chhufeng chhui feng ). Those (sails which are) behind (the most windward one) (receiving the) pressure (of the wind), throw it from one to the other, so that they all profit from its force (Hou che chi erh hsiang she, i ping te feng li). If it is violent, they (the sailors) diminish or augment (the sails) to receive from one another the breath of the wind, obviates the anxiety attendant upon having high masts. Thus (these ships) sail without avoiding strong winds and dashing waves, by the aid of which they can make great speed."

This indeed a striking passage. It establishes without any doubt that in the +3rd century southerners, whether Cantonese or Annamese, were using four-masted ships with matting sails in a fore-and-aft rig of some kind. The Indonesian canted square-sail is not absolutely excluded, but it would be unwieldy on a vessel with several masts, and some kind of tall balanced lug-sail seem much more probable. (See Needham, Joseph, Wang Ling and Lu Gwei-Djen, "Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 4: Physics and Physical Technology, part III: Civil Engineering and Nautics" Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1971, Page 600-601.)

Viet Nam is a maritime country. None of the plains on which the great bulk of the population is concentrated lies very far from the coast. 

"The sea therefore is constantly present in Vietnamese life. Its products, salt and fish, play a vital role in the diet. The legendary emperors who founded the Vietnamese monarchy are said to have had their thighs tattooed with sea monsters in order to ensure a victorious return from their fishing expeditions. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries English agents sent to Viet Nam by the East India Company acknowledged that the Vietnamese were the best sailors in the Far East. Even more than the often narrow coastal corridor of Central Viet Nam, the sea represents the main line of communication between north and south- it is therefore an essential element of Vietnamese National unity in the economic sphere." (Jean Chesneaux "The Vietnamese Nation - Contribution To A History, Translated by Malcolm Salmon, Current Book Distributors Pty. Ltd. Sydney, 1966)

Western merchants also testified to the hospitality of the Vietnamese. By the old tradition of the sailors, they have especially expressed the genuine kindness towards other mariners, as described in a memo on trade with this region written probably between 1690 and 1700: 

When a vessel is shipwrecked, it get a better welcome (in Cochinchina) than anywhere else.. Ships come out from shore to salvage the equipment; nets are used to recover merchandise which has fallen overboard. In fact, no effort is spared to put the ship back into good condition. (See Taboulet, "La geste franẫaise en Indochine." Paris, 1955, Vol. 1, p. 87.)

Like his fellow Jesuits Ricci and de Nobili in China and India, de Rhodes never looked on the oriental Vietnamese as "underdeveloped" or even as just plain hungry, benightedly awaiting the benefits of Western technocracy and superior social structures. (See Rhodes Of Vietnam, The Travels and Missions of Father Alexander de Rhodes in China and Other Kingdoms of the Orient, Translated by Solange Hertz, The Newman Press - Westminster, Maryland, 1966.)

Two years before the "Mayflower" put ashore at Massachusetts, a Portuguese Jesuit priest, Cristoforo Borri (the same Father Borri, have mentioned above), landed with brother missionaries in Faifo, a Vietnamese port located near the present city of Danang in Central Vietnam. (The Portuguese called all of Vietnam below the 18th parallel Cochinchina; they called the people Cochinchinese, to distinguish them from the Chinese of China proper.)

Father Borri came as a friend and was so received by Vietnamese. This delightful mathematician expressed great enthusiasm for the local inhabitants, even commenting on the women’s feminine charms! Extolling their attire, he wrote that "though decent, it is so becoming that one believes one is witnessing a gracious flowering springtime." (See Georges Taboulet, "La geste Franẫaise en Indochine," Paris, 1955, p. 59.)

The record he left compares the people with those of China, where his journeys for the faith had also taken him. To his evident delight, he found the Cochinchinese truly hospitable and "superior to the Chinese in their wit and courage" (See Helen B. Lamb, "Vietnam’s Will to Live - Resistance to Foreign Aggression from Early Times Through the Nineteenth Century", Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1972.)


The "South China Sea" has never been Chinese.

The Vietnamese Eastern Sea (Chinese South China Sea) probably did not enter the Chinese geographical lexicon any earlier than the Han dynasty with the absorption of southern China. During that era, Ma Yuan led a fleet of approximately 2,000 vessels to carry out the conquest of Northern Vietnam. As a result of this successful military venture, the South China Sea might become an area of interest to Chinese historians and geographers, but they made no specific references to its islands and atolls - since then - for several centuries.

Though recent announcement of Chinese archaeological findings in the Paracel Islands confirm some contact with the islands as early as the Wang Mang interregnum, there is no proof that such contact was exclusively Chinese. On the contrary, the sea route connecting T'ien-chu (India) and Fu-nan (Cambodia) with Canton (known as Nan-hai chun or commandary of the Southern Sea) was well established by the first century, but was dominated by non-Chinese seamen for many centuries thereafter. Even as the importance of the Southern Sea trade grew in the third and fourth centuries, there is not any textual evidence to suggest any official Chinese cognizance of the island atolls. Indeed, not even the otherwise well chronicled voyages of the monks Fa Hsien and I Ching, offers indirect, let alone unequivocal mention of the islands of the South China Sea". (See Jon M. Van Dyke & Dale L. Bennett, "Islands and the Delimitation of Ocean Space in the South China" Yearbook 1993, The University of Chicago.

Fa Hsien was surely a traveling Buddhist Monk. Like any other Chinese at that time, they all rode non-Chinese ship as the common passengers.

Chinese shipping on the South China coast was usually insignificant; and the passage makes it clear that some 'transfer'' must have taken place. The fact is that the chief ships sailing along the China coast were those of the Yủeh. Since the majority of the people of the southern coasts were not "sinicized" till much later one, in some cases not until the T'ang dynasty (618-907) would be wrong to call the Yủeh sailors and shipbuilders of this early period "Chinese" just because their territories were under Chinese rule. Theirs could well have been the ships which first took the imperial agents out to some Nanhai mart where a transfer was made to ''barbarian'' vessels for the rest of the journey. But as the Yủehs had now become the subjects of the Han empire (-206 to 219), the author of the passage might have thought of them as Chinese. In this text, however, it is still necessary to make the distinction between the Yủehs and the Chinese... (See "Nanhai trade," Wang Gungwu, Kuala Lumpur, 1959, page 23.)


South Sea, the places so stranger and so far-away with the Chinese

Since the third century B.C., when Chinese armies invaded the South, the settlers from the north first came to the region, they occupied the land and displaced the indigenous Yueh peoples. Slowly and steady migrations of Chinese had made their way to the water world.

But, because their high plateau originality, the Chinese did not know much about the vast sea located right next to their southern borders until very recently. The Viet bronze vessels were described so vaguely in Chinese books and even the river water in the Nam Nam Areas was completely out of the natural matter!

Attention was drawn by Julien (Stanislas, Notes sur l'Emploi Militaire de Cerfs-Volants, et sur les Bateaux et Vaisseaux en Fer et en Cuivre, Tire'e des Livres Chinois, Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires de l'Acad. des Sciences, Paris, 1847, no. 21, p. 1070.) to the fact that Chinese writings of the early + 4th century refer to the covering of junk bottoms with copper. Thus the Shih I Chi, by Wang Chia, referring to an embassy from the Jan-Chhiu I kingdom in the legendary reign of Chheng Wang, says: a 'Floating on the seething seas, the ambassadors came on a boat which had copper (or bronze plates) attached to its bottom, so that the crocodiles and dragons could not come near it.' (Among the Chinese texts which mention boats of bronze or copper are the Lin-I Chi, Shui Ching Chu, Nan Yủeh Chih, Thai-Phing Huan Yủ Chi, Fang Yủ Chi, and the Yuan-Ho Chủn Hsien Thu Chih (+814.)

It has now been shown that stories of metal boats occur abundantly in the early Chinese literature of folklore and legend. They are particularly common in South China and Annam, where they often form part of the epic exploits of the Han general, Ma Yủan, who restored the far south to Chinese allegiance in the campaign of + 42 to + 44. The bronze or copper boats of which people see the vestiges are thus associated with the setting up of bronze columns to mark the southern limits of the empire, the casting of bronze oxen as landmarks, and the building of canals to shorten sea voyages or make them more safe. (See Hou Han Shu, also in the late +7th-century encyclopaedia Chhu Hsủeh Chi, and Thai-Phing Huan Yủ Chi.)

The evidential texts date from all periods between the + 3rd and the + 9th centuries, but the only one which specifically mentions the bottom of a ship is the early + 4th century Shih I Chi. Although it is quite possible, as sinologists tend to think, that the idea of using metal in the construction of boats was purely magical and imaginary in origin, it is at any rate equally possible that some southern group of shipwrights in those ages had the services of smiths who beat metal into plates fit for nailing to the hulls of their craft to protect the timbers … But iron armour for (Viet) warships was no legend, as we shall see … (See Needham, Joseph; Wang Ling and Lu Gwei-Djen, "Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 4: Physics and Physical Technology, part III: Civil Engineering and Nautics" Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1971, page 665.)

Further more, in one of Chinese tall stories about the south; the early +6th-century Shu I Chi describes a river in Tshang-chou the water of which is so dense that metal and stone will not sink in it - the opposite of the 'weak water' - , and conceivably an echo of the Dead Sea ... So the (South Barbarian) people make boats of stoneware and iron when they want to cross it. (See Needham, Joseph; Note f, page 665.)


Chinese Junk in History, Art and Literature

Among the meager arts and crafts practiced by primitive man, the knowledge of how to propel himself in or on some form of floating vessel was so certainly acquired from the very earliest time that this fact has been taken for granted by all ethnologists and antiquaries.

According to Chinese legendary history, all useful inventions, together with the philosophy of the sages, were said to be mentioned in the earliest of the classics, the " I Ching ", or " Book of Changes," and its appendices. The art of boatbuilding is also claimed by some (although this is difficult to believe) to be represented in the system of symbols of which the "I Ching" consists. One of these appendices, written after the time of Confucius, describes how Fu Hsi, the first of the five great rulers, traditionally dated 2852 B.C., taught the people many useful arts, including that of fishing with nets and how to make the first boats. These were built by "hewing planks and shaping and planing wood."

Tradition makes a lot of Fu Hsi, who was credited with being the offspring of a nymph and a rainbow. One of the most outstanding of the legends describes how celestial aid was sent him in his efforts for the enlightenment of his people by the sudden appearance of a " dragon " horse bearing a scroll on which were inscribed the eight mystic trigrams known as the pa-kua, which play so important a part in Chinese divination and philosophy. Little more is told us of this interesting personality except that he "dwelt in a hall, wore robes, introduced rafts and carts," and fittingly terminated his picturesque career by ascending to heaven on a dragon's back. (The Junks & Sampans of the Yangtze, G. R. G. Worcester, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland 1971, pp. 7.)

More or less authentic descriptions and paintings, dating back to 2600 B.C., exist of the ships of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and even of India and Persia. That is to say, the data available can be safely assumed to be so tolerably accurate in general that these ships can be reasonably reconstructed, and many old pictures of them are to be found which would not offend the historian or the sailor; but there is nothing of the kind relating to ancient Chinese junks'. No chapter in the history of China is so incomplete - as that concerning ships and sailors. There is no general collection of pictures, nor can literary sources be regarded as satisfactory. (The Junks & Sampans of the Yangtze, G. R. G. Worcester, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland 1971, pp. 9.)

The Shang people lived by agriculture, herding flocks and cattle, and by hunting. They were by no means a nautical people.

Excavations carried out at Anyang show that the Shang people buried with their dead a great variety of objects, some of exquisite workmanship. Moreover, their royal tombs were most elaborately constructed and decorated. It is infinitely to be regretted that nothing nautical, apparently, has come down to us. The inclusion of but one model boat would have been of inestimable assistance to nautical research. So cultured were these people, unlike some of the dynasties which followed them, that great reliance could have been placed on any contribution they made.

The Shangs were conquered by the Chous, who founded the dynasty of that name. At first they were vastly inferior in their culture and quite unimportant from a nautical point of view except that they produced that great man the Duke Chou, who is credited by some with the invention of the compass, and this dynasty provided much literary material, notably the "I Ching", or " Book of Changes "; the " Shang Shu ", or "'Book of History "; the "Shih Ching", or "Book of Poetry," and others which will be referred to later.

Interesting as all this may be, it casts no real light on the subject of nautical research in China. In default, therefore, of any reliable records of Chinese craft, the would-be historian, in trying to trace their evolution, is naturally led to make researches into the craft of contemporary or more ancient civilizations in that cradle of all civilizations, the Near East, and then to endeavor to link up with, or in some way explain, the Chinese types. The more this method is pursued, the more similarities come to light, so that it would seem that so many licenses could not be due to mere coincidence. Yet, unhappily, the exact opposite is equally easy to prove.

In seeking to trace the origins of the various types of craft it is natural to study not only the sculpture, literature, drawing, and painting of a country, but also its ceramic art, together with coins and seals, which have all, in the West, proved such a fruitful field for nautical research.

Very little can be gleaned from the earliest known representations of Chinese craft. Probably the oldest are three sampans on a sculptured slab of stone from a rock tomb of the Later Han dynasty, A.D. 25-221, situated fairly close to the tomb of Confucius at Hsiao T'ang Shan. These are depicted as assisting in the operation entitled " the Urn of Chou being brought out of the river." The seated occupants of the boats use a paddle, while in one boat a man stands with a pole, which he may be using either as a quant or as a sounding-pole.

Probably the second oldest portrayal of sampans is similarly sculptured on the walls of a stone tomb of a family named Wu, at Tzủ Yủn Shan, also in Shantung, dated about A.D. 147. These craft are heavier in type and have a more characteristic shape. The method of propulsion seems to be more in the nature of an oar than a paddle and is still operated from the stern.

As sculptors in stone the Chinese have produced very little else that is of interest to the nautically-minded. It is notable that in their stone or earthenware tomb figures and articles junks play no part at all. Except for those described above and the much-quoted fresco at Ajunta, in India, to be described later, which, even if it represents a- Chinese junk, was probably not executed by a Chinese artist, there are no other murals of note showing junks, and the only examples of junks carved in stone are the fanciful jade or soapstone objets d'art from the curio shops or, last and worst of all, the Dowager Empress's marble boat in the Summer Palace in Peking. This stone atrocity of dreadful design was built from funds which had been ear-marked for the navy.

As regards drawing and painting, junks and sampans frequently appear as motifs in early Chinese paintings of all dynasties after the Han dynasty, of which no authentic drawing or painting has come down to us. Some of the early representations clearly incorporate many features and fittings still in use to-day; but these are accidents reflecting more credit on the artist's powers of observation than his knowledge of rigging and seamanship. It is noteworthy that the Chinese artists confine themselves to painting the craft of river and lake, never do they attempt the sea-going type of junk. They never drew a boat for the sake of the boat, but only as an accessory because a sage, philosopher, or high official happened to be meditating in the vicinity.

Landscapes, in particular those depicting mountains and streams, rank highest in Chinese paintings, after which come studies of birds and flowers, dragons, and mythical creatures and animals. Chinese art is so stylistic that everything is cast in a stereotype mould. The rules require that any large sheet of water portrayed should be studded with sails, and a recognized technique was developed. (The Junks & Sampans of the Yangtze, G. R. G. Worcester, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland 1971, pp. 14.) 

It is difficult to arrive at any conclusion from many of these drawings owing to the obviously inadequate knowledge some of the artists had of the craft they illustrated. The Chinese practice of repeating famous pictures, with variations sometimes, and their habit of copying earlier masters is a great help to the student of the periods and styles of ancient artists but it is unfortunately no help to nautical research. In the study of Chinese art due allowance must always be made for the conventionality of the drawing, and this applies with equal force in the matter of Chinese junks.

In Chinese literature there is much more material upon which to draw, although the allusions are not very specific or instructive. There are always references to junks and sampans in the classics and the old dictionaries. Vague mention is made to the tribute brought by various tribes to the Emperor Yủ, which are described as "floating along down the rivers Huai, Ssủ, and Huang ." The semi-barbarous kingdom of Yủeh, comprising what is now Chekiang, about 472 B.C. had the largest navy of any of the feudal states and fought always on water, never using war chariots. There was a 21-years' war between this tribe and the state of Wu. The state of Yủeh became a maritime power, and it is probable that, when it is said that the Chinese reached the Yangtze cape in 1200 B.C., this was the occasion of the foundation of this maritime tribe.

Although the date of 1200 B.C. has been asserted with some confidence as being the time that the sea coast in the vicinity of the Yangtze was first reached, it seems far more probable that the Chinese had started their maritime adventures at a very much earlier date, although their excursions would have doubtless been at first confined to fishing, fighting, and other purely local activities.

Sea fights are specifically mentioned as early as 473 B.C., and it is stated in the "Shih Chi", the first general history of China, dating back to about 90 B.C., that: 

The King of the Wu kingdom made an attack upon the Ch'i kingdom from the sea, but was defeated and turned home.

Two years later, in a contest between these two marine kingdoms, the ruler of the Yủeh ordered his general to proceed along the coast and carry out an attack up the Huai River, which at that time entered the sea by its own estuary.

Among the many voluminous Chinese dictionaries, there is the " Shuo Wen by Hsu Shen, who died in A.D. 120. It comprises some 10,000 characters, but, despite numerous references to ships, there is nothing really descriptive of any craft that can be used as evidence of the existence of any definite type at any particular time.

In respect of one of the earliest mentioned voyages to the East, researches into the "Book of History " and the " Book of Odes " reveal how it is recorded that in 219 B.C. the Emperor Shih Huang, of the Ch'in dynasty, ordered Hsu Shih to go on an expedition with "several tens of thousands of youths and maidens to search for the three fairy Isles of the Blest." Other authorities have described how they started off from Shantung, and it is confirmed by various sources that they actually reached Japan. Unhappily, history does not appear to relate what success attended their mission. (The Junks & Sampans of the Yangtze, G. R. G. Worcester, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland 1971, pp. 16.)

In Europe, coins and, later, seals form a useful source of our knowledge of the craft of the ancients. From seals especially the evolution of the sailing ship can be followed. By their aid the development of the rudder, the growth of the forecastle and poop, rigging, the bowsprit, and even fenders can be accurately traced and, which is so important, dated. Unhappily there is nothing of the kind in China.

The Ku Pu spade coins, so called on account of their shape, are said to originate from the middle of the Chou dynasty, 1122-255 B.C., but it was not until some 2,000 years later, in 1931 to be exact, that anything nautical made its appearance. This was on the Sun Yat Sen 1 yuan. The very fine representation of a junk thereon is said to typify the ship of state, with Sun Yat Sen's Three Principles depicted by the three birds overhead, the Kuo-min-tang, being the sun's rays. This was issued at a time when Japan took the Three Eastern Provinces. The issue was recalled and the dies changed as it was thought that the three birds were the three provinces flying away from China under the influence of the sun rays of Japan. This coin is now very valuable and is extremely artistic. (The Junks & Sampans of the Yangtze, G. R. G. Worcester, US Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland 1971, pp. 14.)

Finally, Worcestor went to an conclusion like this: "And so we leave our researches with a final regret that Chinese painting, literature, and culture in all its many forms and with its amazing and continuous tradition of 2,000 years should contain so little about her ships and sailors."

Acquisition by Discovery ?

"Discover" is defined in "Webster's Dictionary" as :

1. to be the first to find out, see, or know about.

2. to find out; learn of the existence of, realize.

3. (a) to reveal; disclose; expose; (b) to uncover. [Archaic.)

Syn.- invent, manifest, declare, disclose, reveal, divulge, uncover.

China claims: China discovered the Nansha and Xisha Islands over 2,100 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. The discoverers, Admiral Yang Pu and his subordinates, were sent by the Emperor of the Han Dynasty".

People realized that the Chinese has just known Southeast Asia, especially Bien Dong very late, supposedly 2,100 years ago. Long time before, as least 4,000 years ago, the local people Southeast Asian, including Vietnamese had adventure to go out the Sea to reach the most remote shores of Siberia, India, Africa…. In more ancient time, the first "Boat People" of Bien Dong certainly reached Australia after long raft journey. Such 60,000 years old expeditions for sea discoveries was already certified by Scientists.

According to international law and custom at the time, "who discovers the territory, holds its sovereignty." Since Southeast Asians, the local inhabitants; clearly maritime oriented, discovered the Nansha and Xisha Islands; Chinese, originally land people from a far away country, can not hold the sovereignty over these islands.

Before the eighteenth century, discovery and symbolic occupation were enough for a claim of sovereignty, and China's claim of sovereignty over Truong-Sa and Hoang-Sa (Chinese Nansha and Xisha Islands) could have been sufficient to be recognized as valid. However, since the eighteenth century, claims of sovereignty by discovery need to be followed by effective occupation and acts of authority. All these facts was never qualified for the Chinese verifications.

Because there was not Vietnamese writing 2,100 year ago, the Chinese Han history books must be considered as the best evidence and we invite a joint study. Even the best investigation can not reveal any clues about Paracels/ Spratleys discovering. No any trace relating the "knowing" or "seeing" was mentioned in there!

After reading Han Shu, Vietnamese or anybody else believed that Chinese Admirals as Yang Pu or Ma Yuen, in most of their war-times, walked. Yang Pu walked to P'an-yu (the modern city of Canton) then stopped there. Ma Yuen marched with his armies thousand miles more. Both of them seldom rode Nam-phuong Lau-thuyen (Viet's boats) hundred miles the most, they did not go South very far, and nothing in History can prove that they went offshore!

It is necessary to give a short comment here. These were the first two Chinese wars invading the South (Nan Yủeh then, Viet Nam now), Commanding Generals betitled Admirals but Chinese Admirals had no Chinese-build ship. All their vessels were "nan fang lou hsiang" -nam phuong lau thuyen in Vietnamese. Nan fang was, at that time, named for the People of State in the South, Nan Man or Nan Yủeh People. The ship crew may be South People too! Chinese could build ship but in much later time...


The cases of Paracel and Spratly Archipelagoes

Chinese officials, long preoccupied with their continental empire and more specifically with the northwest, had an equally vague sense of the sea as a separate world in its own right, different from the land in its movements, rhythms, and dynamics. Although they implicitly recognized the zones of the water world�coastal strip, inshore waters (nan-hai), and creep sea (nan-yang)�they diet not conceive of them as an integrated whole.

It is not surprising, then, that the vocabulary they used to describe their maritime environment is at best imprecise and unclear. Whereas in the West the terms sea and ocean are roughly differentiated to the extent that a sea is thought of as being bounded in some way, for the Chinese hai (sea) and yang (ocean) were completely interchangeable." Although a few cartographers did make a vague distinction between hai as the shallow waters lying immediately off the coast and yang as the deep waters farther out, it is impossible to find a Chinese map showing where one gave way to the other. Most Chinese maps label all expanses of water as one or the other. The only important distinction for the Chinese was between the "inner" (net) sea or ocean and the "outer" (wai) sea or oceans. In the study of Dian H. Murray (1987), the waters referred to as the ''inshore seas of the Nan-hai'' usually appear on Chinese maps as either nei-hai or nei-yang; and those referred to as the "deep seas of the Nan-yang" usually appear as wai-hai or wai-yang.

NoiNgoaiHai.jpg (15238 bytes)

Map shows the "inner" and " outer" oceans off Kwangtung province's south coast. Note how close to land the Chinese of the day thought the outer (largely unknown) ocean lay. Officials tended to perceive the "inner" ocean as the farthest extent of their authority. From Kuang-tung hai-fang hui-lan, Comp. Lu K'un and Ch'eng Hung-ch'ih, n.d.. Vol.

Although the (above) Map has no scale. it shows where Chinese cartographers and officials believed the outer- ocean lay. Places no farther from shore than the Ladrone Islands at the mouth of the Pearl River were placed in the- wai-yang. For all practice purposes, that is to say, the outer- ocean began just beyond where the eye could see. In effect this meant that all outlying areas were virtually unknown.

They were also of little concern (about offshore lands). For example, although the Chinese made sweeping claims to the Spratly and Paracel islands, they made little attempt to incorporate them into their empires As late as the nineteenth century cartographers still disagreed about their exact location, and Confucian literati regarded them as little more than "a series of navigation hazards [at] the eastern edge of China's maritime gateway."

Accordingly, the narrow zone of the inner sea marked the farthest seaward extent of active Chinese governance. In choosing not to make coastal control a high priority, Chinese officials forfeited the opportunity to seize the military initiative in maritime China. As a result, theirs was a weak and passive presence in the heart of the water world. (See more arguments in Pirates of the South China Coast 1790-1810, Dian H. Murray, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1987.)


Conclusion: Chinese are Landmand and Perfect Strangers of the Easter Sea

The "have boat, will travel" argument, of course may not enough to convince China, but people also have many more critical arguments about the Chinese anti-maritime nature. So, this paperwork is long enough to go to the firm conclusion :  

"Chinese are Purely Land Men and Perfect Strangers in the Eastern Sea".

Vu Huu San
Posted on 25 Oct 2007
Chinese- Perfect Strangers of the Eastern Sea


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