If you have never seen the David Rumsey Map Collection, then take a look around, it is absolutely glorious.
When it comes to geography, there are of course some issues that are on people’s minds in Southeast Asia, and they turn to maps for “proof.”
However, as I’ve said on this blog before, the concept of “sovereignty” is a modern/Western one, so it’s very difficult to find evidence of it on maps that predate the adoption of that concept in Asia in the 20th century.
Westerners had this concept prior to the 20th century, but when they made maps of Asia, they don’t seem to have had a sense that “those rocks in the sea” belonged to anyone.
Take a look at a map like this one from 1780 (Les Isles Phiilippines, Celle de Formose. . .).
It’s got the Paracels, and they have a line around them, but what does that mean? Does it mean that they belong to Cochinchine? How do we know? Or does it just mean that they are a group of islands?
There is also a line around la Basse d’Argent. What does that mean?
Then you have this one from 1864 (Map of Burma, Siam, Cochin-China and Malaya). It has darkened the areas where water is shallow, and that is around the Paracels, Hainan, and along the coast, but who has “sovereignty” over the Paracels?
Finally, there is this one from 1806 (The Islands of the East Indies with the Channels between India, China & New Holland). Here we see that “China” is green, “Vietnam” is pink, and the Paracels. . . are neither (the map above is the same).
I think it’s time to form the PLF – Paracel Liberation Front. Those islands belong to the sea creatures, birds and insects that have lived there since time immemorial. All human beings should stay away!