The Voice of Vietnam just published an article (here) by PGS.TS. Phạm Thị Thùy Vinh in which she introduces a nineteenth century text that she claims contains a map which was used to teach children about, among other things, the Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa.
The text she introduces is called the Khải đồng thuyết ước 啟童說約 and it was printed numerous times in the mid-nineteenth century. It was a “textbook” for children, and it was intended to teach them basic information about astronomy, geography, etc.
The Khải đồng thuyết ước contains a map of the kingdom (bản quốc địa đồ 本國地圖). A version of this text from the National Library of Vietnam has been digitized, and the map in that version (R. 562) can be seen below.
In the map on the left, the circle in the ocean has “Hoàng Sa chử” 黃沙渚 (Hoàng Sa shoal) written in it, and it is off the coast of Quảng Bình and Quảng Trị.
In the map on the right, the circle in the ocean has “Hồng Đàm” 洪潭 (lit., “vast reservoir”) written in it, and I have no idea what that is referring to (and I have not heard any claims of sovereignty over it. . .).
In her article, PGS.TS. Phạm Thị Thùy Vinh introduces a hand-copied version of this text from Thanh Hóa, which contains the above information, but it also has the Trường Sa. What is more, there are some little circles around the big circle in which “Trường Sa” is written, and next to all of this are the two characters “quốc nội,” meaning literally “internal to the kingdom” or more loosely, “belonging to the kingdom.”
This can be seen in the image above near the person’s left-hand thumb.
PGS.TS. Phạm Thị Thùy Vinh goes on to conclude (without providing a single piece of evidence to support her conclusion) that this is a hand-written copy of the earliest version of the Khải đồng thuyết ước and that the sovereignty of these islands was made clearly manifest from the time of Emperor Tự Đức.
1) It is obvious from this picture that the big circle with Trường Sa in it, the surrounding circles, and the two characters “quốc nội” have been added to this map. Stylistically it does not fit with the other versions of this text, nor does it fit with other nineteenth century maps. (And just by looking at the picture of this map it is obvious as well!!!)
2) Even if that information was on an earlier version of a map, it does not demonstrate a claim to sovereignty because this map does not clearly delineate national territory. It has places like “Ai Lao” and “Vạn Tượng” in it, and similar to Hoàng Sa, they are surrounded by circles, not the rectangles that surround the names of the provinces in the area of what is today Vietnam.
So what was the meaning of these different symbols? And since there are no border lines, what was this map saying about “Ai Lao” and “Vạn Tượng”? Were they “internal to the kingdom” (quốc nội)? Or were those places and the Hoàng Sa put there for reference so that children could get a general sense of where their kingdom was located in the larger world?
None of this is clear by looking at this map.
The only thing that is clear is that this “Thanh Hóa map” is a forgery, and a pretty pathetic one at that.