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SCSC - To protect the sovereignty of sea and islands of the country, the Vietnamese feudal dynasties all attached importance to and allocated resources for the building of strong naval forces, which went from strength to strength since the Courts of Dinh, Ly, Tran Le, Nguyen. These forces contributed significantly in protecting the country and left historical marks in each period.

Achieved documents affirmed that at least since the 17th century, the Vietnamese feudal dynasties had established and exercised administration over the two Archipelagoes of Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) while also exploiting and exercising control over the East Sea.

The Book Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (History of the Unified Dai Nam) of the Nguyen Dynasty noted: “to the East is a chain of sandy islands lying horizontally (Hoang Sa) adjacent to the blue sea, serving as a moat; to the West controlling the Son Mwharan area is a long rampart made by piles of rocks to maintain its solidness; to the South, adjacent to Binh Dinh Province is a rocky wharf lying horizontally to the North is Quang Nam Province that can serve as the boundary”.

Especially, in the Nguyen Dynasty, the naval forces was built in large scale to protect the maritime boundary, because the silk road at sea was extended by the Western countries at the time, and Viet Nam was on that road.

In 1802, Nguyen Anh (Gia Long) defeated Tay Son and established the Nguyen Dynasty to reign a unified, long and complete Viet Nam like it is today. King Gia Long made every effort to develop naval forces, built sailboats, combat ships and sent vessels abroad. King Gia Long used to order the Ministry of Public Works to compile a book named Duyen Hai Luc (Notes on Coastal Regions) to note the depth of the coastal tides and the length of the sea route. What stood out in the Gia Long Dynasty was the active activities in exercising sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.

According to the book Dai Nam thuc luc chinh bien (Veritable Records of Dai Nam), in 1803, a few months after the foundation of the Nguyen Dynasty, King Gia Long “appointed Vo Van Phu as the chief of fishery team and recruited foreigners to establish the Hoang Sa Flotilla”. On top of that, the King reestablished Bac Hai Flotilla, and in 1805 merged Hoang Sa and Bac Hai into Truong Da Flotillas with the mandate of exploiting and management of the East Sea area from Quang Binh to Binh Thuan. Especially, in 1815 and 1816, King Gia Long “ordered the Hoang Sa Flotilla, the men of Pham Quang Anh to go to Hoang Sa Island to explore the sea route” and implemented activities to exercise sovereignty in an affirmative and unified manner.

Activities to exercise sovereignty of King Gia Long over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa were not only noted and archived in the formal historical books of the Court, but were also verified and valued by the Westerners. Jean Luis Taberd, a French bishop, who conducted missionary work for many years in the Central and South of Viet Nam in the early 19th Century, noted in the Note on geography of Cochin China published in Journal of the Asiatic Society that: “In 1816, he (King Gia Long) went with solemnity to plant his flag and take formal possession of these rocks, which is not likely anybody will dispute him”.

The naval forces of King Gia Long were described as “fleets with gunboats carrying 16 - 22 canons. Big ships had 50 - 70 oars and smaller ones had 40 or 44 oars”.

By the end of the Gia Long Court, the trend of militarization and regularization of Hoang Sa and Bac Hai Flotillas became stronger towards merging to the naval forces. The Hoang Sa and Bac Hai Flotillas were active and effective from the time of King Gia Long to the early second decade of the 19th century, then became part of the navy under Kinh Minh Menh. Naval fleets belonged to the Court’s regular forces and thus were eligible to recruit crews from the entire country. Those specializing on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa affairs were mainly recruited from the people of An Vinh, Sa Ky and Ly Son islands. The naval forces’ cope of operation covered the entire sea and islands of Hoang Sa, Truong Sa and other sea areas and islands under the sovereignty of Dai Nam (Viet Nam).

Under King Minh Mang’s reign, the naval forces were well organized. On top of the duties of waterway measurement, naval mapping, they were assigned a very important task of planting marks and installing sovereign steles in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagoes.

King Minh Mang made efforts to improve the naval forces. He decided the size and shape for each type of ship as models for the shipbuilding workshops to build accordingly. King Minh Mang also built some Western - styled steam - engine ships and bought some Western steamboats to reinforce the naval defense forces deployed in some key posts.

In 1822, King Minh Mang bought a bronze - wrapped ship of France and named it Dien Duong, meaning thunder, and asked shipbuilding workshops to replicate.

Dai Nam thuc luc chinh bien (Veritable Records of Dai Nam) noted: “In June that year, the King ordered naval engineer Phan Van Truong to study building Western - styled ships”. The first bronze - wrapped ship was named Thuy Long, meaning good omen. After that a series of bronze - wrapped ships was built, most of which were combat vessels; some were used for patrolling the East Sea.

In 1836, King Minh Mang ordered the Ministry of Public Works to built nine giant tripod cauldrons placed in front of the temple worshipping the Nguyen Kings. What should be noted was that in the cauldrons, there were 153 engraved images of famous sites of the country. In one cauldron, the image of the East Sea with rising waves was represented in a sophisticated manner. In another one, there was the South Sea; and West Sea in another. These were the three biggest cauldrons embodying the three first Nguyen Kings with their visions looking out to the East Sea. The images on sea and islands in the cauldrons reaffirmed the sovereign rights to the East Sea and the firm protection of the sea border of the Nguyen Dynasty.

During 400 years of history lasting from the Nguyen Lords to Nguyen Kings, there were many dramatic events attached to a dynasty with lots of turbulences. For the first time, the Royal City was located near the sea. Through ups and downs, Hue now becomes the ancient Royal City and the remaining sites still recall a glorious time. The stories of heroic troops, at the King’s order, sailing through rough seas and winds to defend Hoang Sa, Truong Sa Islands are still intact in the memories of families living in the place once the Capital of country.

Under the reign of King Thieu Tri (1841 - 1846), the Nguyen Dynasty had to fight the Siam invaders in a war between 1841 - 1845. Therefore, the royal naval forces could not totally focus on the work related to sea and island extraction. The dispatch of people to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa was delayed a number of times. However, sovereign activities related to sea and islands were maintained. During this period, there were many petitions applying to go to Hoang Sa, Truong Sa and there were notes from the King that due to work schedule or weather condition, it was not possible to send people to Hoang Sa, Truong Sa.

The time of King Tu Duc was a difficult one in history. In 1847, combat ships of France fired for the first time to Vietnamese vessels in the coastal area near Hue. In 1858, France and Spain attacked Da Nang and occupied Son Tra Peninsula, marking the start of the invasion of France. The naval forces had to cope with the invasion of France, thus could not regularly go to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. However, the awareness on the country’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa did not fade away.

Especially, during the reign of King Thieu Tri and King Tu Duc, a number of historical books of the Nguyen Dynasty were completed with clear notes about the exercise of sovereignty of Viet Nam over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa, such as Dai Nam Thuc luc Chinh Bien (Veritable Records of Dai Nam) compiled in the form of year book from 1778 to 1888; Kham dinh Dia Nam hoi dien su le (The Dai Nam Administrative Records) compiled by the cabinet of the Nguyen Court following the edict of King Thieu Tri and completed in the 4th Tu Duc Year (1851) and printed in the 21st Tu Duc Year (1868); Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi (the Geography of the Unified Dai Nam), as its name suggested, was a common, official geographical book of Dai Nam compiled at the edict of King Tu Duc, which started in 1865 and basically finished in 1882; Viet su cuong giam khao luc (A brief history of Viet Nam) was a set of geographical books written by Nguyen Thong, including 7 volumes, of which the first two were about history and the last five about historical geography; Khai dong thuyet uoc (a textbook teaching children social knowledge, included a map depicting Hoang Sa and noting that it belongs to Viet Nam) was printed in the 34th Tu Duc Year (1881).

Since the beginning of the 19th Century with the Nguyen Dynasty reigned over the unified territory and waters, which formerly had belonged to three ancient states. The milestone for such an establishment and sustained management was in 1757, and since then, the East Sea was understood in a uniformed manner as the long, wide sea areas running along and sheltering the entire Eastern part of the country, from Mong Cai (Northern farmost) to Ca Mau (Southern farmost) as well as extending to not only near - shore islands, but also Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. In other words, the consistent and popular perception of the Vietnamese people today on the East Sea was established right from the beginning of the 19th century.

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