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On May 14th 2014, Viet Nam’s Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents were recognized as a Memory of the World for Asia - Pacific. This decision was made at the 2nd session of the 6th plenum of the Memory of the World Committee for Asia - Pacific (MOWCAP), which took place in Guangzhou, China with the participation of 54 delegates from 17 countries. With outstanding features in terms of contents, formats and styles, the “Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents” were nominated among 20 documents to be recognized by UNESCO as a “Memory of the World for Asia - Pacific”.

On July 30th 2014, Hanoi held a ceremony upon receiving the certificate of the “Memory of the World for Asia - Pacific” recognized by UNESCO for Viet Nam’s Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents.

Beside great values in politics, security, national defense, economy, society and culture, the Official Documents of Nguyen Dynasty also provide ground for Viet Nam to assert sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. The Official Documents consist of 773 volumes, 85 thousand documents, around 200 thousand scripts of 11 reigns of Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1945, namely Gia Long, Minh Menh, Thieu Tri, Tu Duc, Kien Phuc, Ham Nghi, Dong Khanh, Thanh Thai, Duy Tan, Khai Dinh and Bao Dai. The Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents are official documents of Viet Nam’s feudal state and all have autographs by Nguyen kings when approving important issues of the country. The Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents contain various information on every aspect of Nguyen Dynasty’s society including, among others, politics, security, national defense, economy, diplomacy, culture and education. This is considered the database of over 20 different types of documents under Nguyen Dynasty such as royal proclamations, ordinances, decrees, conferring diplomas, petitions, reports, etc. related to national economic, political, military, cultural and social activities. On this occasion, we would like to introduce our readers to the Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents related to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes.

So far, 19 Official Documents that show detailed information about Nguyen dynasty’s exercising sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes have been found. These Official Documents indicate that Nguyen Dynasty annually sent Hoang Sa teams to exercise sovereignty and exploit goods in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa by conducting activities such as sea surveillance, exploration, sea route measurement, map drawing, sovereignty marker plantation, tree plantation and so on. Such activities proved that Nguyen Dynasty had managed and exercised efficient sovereignty over the two archipelagoes. These 19 Official Documents also proved that Nguyen Dynasty had had concrete plans and methods to exercise sovereignty and exploitation in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.

The time of departure and arrival of Hoang Sa teams had also been clearly stated in the Official Documents. Since Hoang Sa and Truong Sa are located in the middle of the East Sea, where occurred many typhoons, and the technology then was simple, people could not live frequently on the islands. Based on experience of coastal fishermen, Nguyen kings set up a timetable for Hoang Sa surveillance activities that allowed boats to sail to the island in around March and return to shore in August of the lunar calendar before the typhoon season between summer and autumn. That was the best time for people conducting their activities in the island as the weather and wind movement allowed. Indeed, the wind systems in coastal and archipelagoes areas were quite complex. In general, south - west winds in summer would be good for sailors to sail to the islands but they would have to return to shore by August before the typhoon season when south - west winds were weak and north - east winds started to come. Due to wide experience of fishermen in Quang Ngai coastal province, myriads of boats, small and weak, had sailed out to sea and come back safe and sound despite of dangers from unusual winds, storms. According to some Official Documents, preparations for sailors started in February, including arrangements for employment of sailors, boat hiring, and gathering in Quang Ngai waiting for favorable wind to sail. The March - August timetable for go - and - return was strictly followed. In case of bad weather when sailing was to be canceled, Hoang Sa teams would have to report to the king, as stated in the Official Document dated April (leap month) 2nd, 1838 or 19th year of Minh Menh’s reign.

Many Official Documents clearly show that the main tasks of Hoang Sa teams included, among others, surveillance, measurement, dairy record, and map drawing. The measurement activities started in the era of Nguyen Lords and early Nguyen Dynasty. Under Minh Menh’s reign, this task was considered a vital activity, which was then more organized and advanced. Measurement activities were composed of measuring the depth of coastal line, the length, width of islands and sand banks to put in maps. The surveillance and measurement results were reported in details to the kings. In the Official Document dated June 21st, 1838 or 19th year of Minh Menh’s reign, foreign affairs officer Do Mau Thuong and imperial guard Le Trong Ba reported to the Ministry of Public Works after their accomplishment of surveillance activities as follows: “This time, the survey team has reached 25 islands in 3 groups of islands, including 12 islands visited annually and 13 visited for the first time. According to the pilot Vu Van Hung, the entire region of Hoang Sa comprises 4 groups, and this time, the team conducted the survey in 3 groups, the remaining group in the South is rather far away, and strong southern wind blew so powerful, so it was unfavorable to go there; it would be late to wait for favorable wind, therefore, ships should be sent there next year. Considering 4 maps brought back, 3 of which drawn separately and 1 drawn as a whole, together with a yet edited logbook, our Ministry would like to request for a thorough examination and modification to the maps before submission”.

The Official Documents also describe actions to enhance national sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa through marker plantation and stele installation conducted by Hoang Sa teams. According to the Document dated February 12th, 1836 or 17th year of Minh Menh’s reign, which is currently restored under Microfilm format at the U.S. Hawaii and Harvard Universities, “Each of boats planning to go to Hoang Sa needs to carry ten wooden markers, which are 4 - 5 “thuoc” long and 1 “tac” thick each, on which this phrase would be clearly scarved “Minh Menh 17th year”. In the year of Binh Than (Monkey), Navy Commanders following the order to go to Hoang Sa on this surveying mission has to plant the markers to mark the route”.

Hoang Sa island has a variety of bird, fish, coral, snail, tortoise, and holothurian. This area is also a dangerous area with many sand banks and reefs, causing accidents as boats pass by. Boats stricken in accidents in this area left several weapons and assets deep down the sea. The Official Documents mentioned that Hoang Sa teams had collected a lot of products and assets in this area. The Official Document dated June 21st, 1838 or 19th year of Minh Menh’s reign wrote that: “According to the report by these officers, they had collected one bronze - covered cannon, red corals, some sea birds and turtles”.

The Official Documents also wrote about rescue activities by Nguyen dynasty helping foreign merchant boats. Sand banks and rock reefs in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes are causes for many accidents in these areas, which was mentioned in many documents written by Nguyen lords and foreign writers. Some of these cases was recorded in Nguyen Dynasty’s Official Documents. The Official Document dated June 27th, 1830 or 11th year of Minh Menh’s reign described in details the accident of a French merchant boat in Hoang Sa as follows: “On the 20th the boat left shore and on the 27th Chief Officer Idoir and 11 crewmembers returned on a light boat. They said that on the 21st as they were passing west Hoang Sa, the boat was stranded and submerged more than 8 “thuoc” (3.2m) in the water. The captain, envoys and 15 other crewmembers moved to another boat with 2 silver - coin trunks and came back later”. Being informed of the accident, Manager of Da Nang port “immediately sent patrol boats carrying fresh water to go searching for the missing boat”. The Official Document dated December 22nd, 1869 or 22nd year of Tu Duc’s reign wrote about an incident where 540 merchants from Phuc Kien province had an accident in Hoang Sa. Da Nang coast guards rescued and assisted these merchants. Above is an example of Nguyen Dynasty’s responsibilities in territorial management and disciplines.

Notably, the Official Documents also cover compensation and punishment policies extended to teams sent to Hoang Sa and Truong Sa to conduct activities of exercising sovereignty. The Official Document dated July 13th, 1837 or 18th year of Minh Menh’s reign mentioned: “Our Ministry has considered the work done last year: the corporal and pilots who were sent to Hoang Sa on a surveying mission returned home without bringing maps have been punished; the soldiers and sailors have been rewarded with one month salary bonus, and the laborers have been rewarded with two “quan” each. Returning this time, except for four officers, including Pham Van Bien and his group, all soldiers and laborers have been granted rewards as decided by your Majesty. As for royal guard Truong Viet Soai, who had violated the military law and was sent on duty, he was already sent to Hoang Sa last year, but upon his return, he did not bring home any maps to submit, therefore following the order, his sentence of suspended beheading was requested to be maintained. Now we would like to report and request for an order on how to punish this officer this time”.

The Official Document dated July 19th, 1838 or 19th year of Minh Menh’s reign was about tax regulations applied to Hoang Sa boats’ productivity: “Obeying the King’s order, this time I hired and arranged two big local boats and two boats from Binh Dinh province, which were at our port at the time, to accompany the Envoy to Hoang Sa to carry out the mission. Now the team has returned, and I would like to request for a tax exemption to be granted for the above boat this year. Tax is a very important issue, which is why I would like to submit this request for approval. The total sum all the boats have to pay for the year together with names, ages and addresses of the boats’ owners are attached overleaf. I would like to respectfully submit this report”.

Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents are the one and only administrative documents that remain in the Viet Nam’s history of feudal kingdoms. These documents are of great importance as they contain kings’ autographs, were stored in royal archives and record data related to almost all activities of the Nguyen Dynasty. The Official Documents also have historical and legal values as they contain information related to Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. Official Documents on activities conducted by Hoang Sa teams are vivid examples of Viet Nam’s exercising sovereignty over Hoang Sa archipelago by the State and at the State level in a peaceful and continuous manner in conformity with international law.

It is established that the Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents are official documents of Nguyen dynasty with strong legal values in proving that Viet Nam’s feudal states did manage and exercise their ownership and sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes in a peaceful and continuous manner in accordance with international law. The fact that UNESCO recognized the Nguyen Dynasty Official Documents as a Memory of the World for Asia - Pacific has added more values to the Official Documents in asserting Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. UNESCO’s recognition indicates the acknowledgement the international community extends to the values of Nguyen dynasty’s historical documents and archives and also to the historical and legal evidence of Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes.