Vietnamese emperors claimed sovereignty over Hoang Sa, research shows


Vietnamese kings were once very interested in confirming Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly), especially Emperor Minh Mang.

Researchers of oriental history have reached a common assessment: Minh Mang was the first emperor in the region with a strategic vision of developing the marine economy.

While neighboring countries like China were busy developing the mainland, the Vietnamese emperor issued many policies to reinforce Vietnam’s sovereignty over and exploring aquatic resources from Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. He sent soldiers and residents to Hoang Sa to plant trees, build temples and houses.

Uninterrupted sovereignty



Vietnamese emperors, Nguyen Dynasty, sovereignty over Hoang Sa

An official document on Hoang Sa by the Nguyen Dynasty. 


Two years after the Tay Son uprising, in 1773, the Tay Son occupied the land from Quang Nam to Binh Thuan. The Hoang Sa Flotilla in Vinh An commune of Quang Ngai province was under the control of the Tay Son. The Hoang Sa Flotilla’s activities were still maintained although the Tay Son had to confront the Trinh and the Nguyen dynasties at the same time.

Before leaving the mainland to Hoang Sa Archipelago, Mr. Ha Lieu, an official of Cu Lao Re Ward (Ly Son Island today), submitted an application to the Tay Son government, which said: “Now we restore the two teams of Hoang Sa and Que Huong, employing people out of the ward. We will go to the offshore islands to collect bronze and tin objects, seafood and tortoise-shells to present to the authorities".

On February 14, 1786, the Hoang Sa Flotilla received an instruction from the Tay Son court, asking it to send four ships to Hoang Sa to collect gold, silver, bronze items, weapons, gems and aquatic products for the royal court.

After the collapse of the Tay Son Dynasty, the Nguyen Dynasty strengthened its sovereignty and exploration of Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.

Only a year after coming to the throne, in July 1803, King Gia Long reinforced the Hoang Sa Flotilla. The parts covering the eras of Emperors Gia Long, Minh Mang, and Thieu Tri completed in 1848 in “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien” (The Main Part of The Chronicles of Dai Nam), the historical document collection about the Nguyen emperors, which record the events of: Emperor Gia Long’s possession of the Paracel Islands in 1816 and the temple construction, stele erection, tree planting, measurement and mapping of the islands following Emperor Minh Mang’s order.

Volume 52 of “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien” reads: “In the Binh Ty year, the 15th year of the Gia Long Era (1816) … His Majesty the Emperor commanded the naval forces and Hoang Sa Flotilla to sail to Hoang Sa Islands for sea route survey.”

From 1816, the king also sent naval soldiers to Hoang Sa together with the Hoang Sa Flotilla. The French who worked for Emperor Gia Long wrote about this event. Bishop Taberd wrote: "It was only in 1816 that His Majesty the Emperor (King Gia Long) solemnly hang the Cochin flag there (Hoang Sa)". Records by missionary Gutzlaff also show that Emperor Gia Long set up a small camp to collect taxes and protect Vietnamese fishermen in Hoang Sa.

Building temples, planting trees on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa

Vietnamese kings were very interested in confirming Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys), especially Emperor Minh Mang.

Volume 104 of “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien” reads: “In the eighth month, during the autumn, of the Quy Ty year, the 14th year of the Ming Mang Era (1833) … His Majesty the Emperor told the Ministry of Public Works that: In the territorial waters of the Province of Quang Ngai, there is the Hoang Sa range. The water and the sky in that range cannot be distinguished from afar. Trading boats have recently become victims of its shoal. We shall prepare sampans, waiting until next year to go to the area to construct a temple, erect stele, and plant many trees. Those trees will grow luxuriant in the future, thus serving as recognition marks for people to avoid getting stranded in shoal. That shall benefit everyone forever.”

Volume 154 reads: “In the sixth month, during the summer, of the At Mui year, the 16th year of the Minh Mang Era (1835) … a temple was built on Hoang Sa Island, under the administration of Quang Ngai Province. Hoang Sa, in the territorial waters of Quang Ngai, has a white sand island covered by luxuriant plants with a well in the middle.

“In the southwest of the island is an ancient temple in which there is a stele engraved with four characters “Van Ly Ba Binh” (calm sea for a thousand dặm). Bach Sa Island has a circumference of 1,070 truong; previously referred to as Phan Tu Son, the island is surrounded by a gently-sloping atoll in the east, west, and south. In the north is an atoll named Ban Than Thach, emerging over the water level with a circumference of 340 truong, an elevation of 1.3 truong, as high as the sand island.

“Last year, His Majesty the Emperor had already considered ordering the construction of a temple and a stele on it, but the plan could not be executed due to harsh weather conditions. The construction had to be postponed until this year when the naval captain Pham Van Nguyen and his soldiers, the capital’s patrol commander, and laborers from the Provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh came and carried building materials with them to build the new temple (seven truong away from the ancient temple). A stone stele and a screen were erected on the left hand side and in the front of the temple, respectively. They finished all the works in 10 days and returned to the mainland.”

Volume 165 reads: “On the first of the first month, during the spring, in the Binh Than year, the 17th year of the Ming Mang Era (1836) … The Ministry of Public Works submitted a petition to His Majesty the Emperor, saying that: In the frontier of our country’s territorial waters, Hoang Sa is a critical and hardly accessible area. We have had the map of the area made; however, due to its wide and long topography, the map only covers part of it, and this coverage is not sufficiently detailed. We shall deploy people to the area for detailed sea route survey.

“From now on, in the last 10 days of the first month of every year, we shall implore Your Majesty’s permission to select naval soldiers and the capital’s patrolmen to form a unit on a vessel. This unit shall travel to Quang Ngai within the first 10 days of the second month, requesting the Provinces of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh to employ four civilian boats to travel together to Hoang Sa. For every island, cay, or sandbank that they encounter, they shall measure its length, width, elevation, area, circumference, and the surrounding water’s depth; they shall record the presence of submerged cays and banks, and the topography. Maps shall be drawn from these measurements and records. Also, they shall record the departure date, departure seaports, directions, and estimated distance estimated on the traveling routes. These people shall also look for the shore to determine the provinces, their directions and distances to the surveyed positions. One and all must be recorded clearly and presented once they return.”

“His Majesty the Emperor approved the petition, ordered the naval detachment commander Pham Huu Nhat to command a battleship and bring ten wooden steles to be used as markers in the area. Each wooden stele is five meters long, five decimeters wide, one meter thick, and is engraved with characters meaning: The 17th year of the Minh Menh Era, the Binh Than year, Detachment Commander Pham Huu Nhat of the Navy, complying with the order to go to Hoang Sa for management and survey purposes, arriving here and therefore placing this sign.”

To be continued…

Duy Chien



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