As readers of this blog will know, I’m not very interested in the big fight over the North Borneo Sea (or the Austronesian Sea, as I’ve called it here). However, I’m happy to share “evidence” when I come across any.

A while ago I came across a Ming-era book called the Illustrated Treatise on An Nam (Annan tuzhi 安南圖誌).

cover

It contains a map of the entire area of An Nam during the Ming period. This is a valuable map as it is one of the earliest maps of that part of the world.

In any case, what people today will be perhaps more interested in seeing is that at the bottom of the map on the left-hand side (of the two-page map), out in the sea, are two circles that say: Tiểu Trường Sa Hải Khẩu (Lesser Trường Sa Estuary) and Đại Trường Sa Hải Khẩu (Greater Trường Sa Estuary).

detail

In searching for these terms on the Internet, it looks like people are aware of this text and the terms that it contains, so I don’t think that I’m providing any “evidence” that will resolve the conflict over “historical sovereignty.”

That said, this is also the case because this map doesn’t “prove” anything. In fact, it is extremely ambiguous. It lists the greater and lesser Trường Sa “estuaries” (hải khẩu) rather than islands. So what exactly does that mean?

map

Does it mean that the estuary is part of the territory and not the Trường Sa islands? If so, then who had jurisdiction over the islands? And where is the evidence for that?

Or is the fact that those two terms (Tiểu Trường Sa Hải Khẩu and Đại Trường Sa Hải Khẩu) are written in squares placed off-shore in the water meant to indicate that the estuaries also include islands?

I think the one thing that maps like this show is that people at that time were not concerned with the idea of “sovereignty” like we are now. Sovereignty is a modern (Western) concept. We can’t find it on old maps.

But old maps do look pretty cool, don’t you think?