Minh Mang King and Great Spratly (Van Ly Hoang Sa)

Posted at: FRIday - 23/05/2014 16:48 - post name: Nguyễn Thị Thùy

Minh Mang King and Great Spratly (Van Ly Hoang Sa)

Minh Mang King had commanded his naval force to manage and claim sovereignty clearly over islands especially Greate Spratly.

 From ancient times, Vietnam had discovered Paracel and Spratly archipelagos, established sovereignty, managed and exploited there.

Our nation had been a so prosperous in Minh Mang’s reign that neighboring countries had respected and western countries had asked for establishing diplomatic relations. With that power and position, Minh Mang King had command his naval force to manage and affirm sovereignty clearly over islands especially over Great Spratly areas (previously common and popular name of Paracel and Spratly archipelagos)

Minh Mang was the King conducting the biggest reform in Nguyen’s dynasty. His reform was carried out in various fields including innovating building ship techniques for fishermen. Besides that the King focused on increasing not only the quantity, but also the types of boat. According to Khâm Định Đại Nam Hội Điển Sự Lệ published in Year of Mouse (1982) the King set quota for number of built ships in locals.

Minh Mang’s mind toward innovation had been recorded in books of history, for examples, in Quốc sử di biên in April, Year of the Tiger (1830) “The King heard that there were trains, boats, and strange things in foreign countries, he appointed (Dang) Khai to go to La Tong and Western countries to buy”

Minh Mang King also improved naval regulations. He set size and shapes for each type of boats, which were unified, in the whole country for the boatyard building ship according to these standards. Especially, the King had order to build a copper boat in French form. He bought a French copper boat named Dien Duong and placed in Hue in the Year of Horse (1822) to model for boatyard in capital analyzing and deploying to build ship.

According to “Khâm định Đại Nam thực lục” book, the King “ordered Marshal Admiral Phan Van Truong to supervise building Western style ships”. The first copper boat was named “Thuy Long” after that many copper ones had been built which was mainly warship and some of ship used for business trip abroad.

Copper boats had been classified into 4 type very big size, big size, normal size, and small size. Besides of copper boats, Minh Mang King had bought a French old steam boat in the year of Dog (1838) to disassemble, analyze and, build sample ship.

By the next April, our first steam boat had been finished and successfully operated. In the October of the same year, the second steam boat had been finished, too. Since then, the King promulgated building ship standards in the year of Rat (1840) “3m in wide, 16m in long but the body is not too deep, about 4m to move easily in rivers and sea”. (According to Khâm định Đại Nam hội điển sự lệ)

Minh Mang’s special interest with boat building works served not only purposes of economy, trade, technical development, but also building powerful naval force with great strength and capability in establishing and protecting sovereignty over islands and waters. The King ordered to consult Western material to compile books on naval battle and naval maps for soldiers maneuvering and training.

The King also ordered to minister of war Truong Dang Que that “I want you to plan carefully, complete the naval book and give to soldiers studying days and nights to prepare before anything could happen”.

The King also said that: “Our nation has a long coastline. Appointing army to go on a patrol in the sea if there are many small streets, they must leave ships to fight on ground or leave place to fight in water. Therefore, the infantry must know how to fight in water and navy must know how to fight on ground. Ordering commanders in capital to make soldiers perform maneuvers till professionals for a strong army” (According to Minh Mang main and most important stories)

The first maneuver with putative targets was conducted in the year of Rat (1840). According to historical records of Nguyen’s dynasty, the King has allowed aquatic performance as a shooting practice on sea with the happenings as following: “a floating raft pretended as a boat with 12m in long, 4m in wide and having a neohouzeaua slabs supposed to be a sail. Placing the raft far away from the shore with anchors, all of attending boats place around the raft about 200m and wait for orders.

The maneuver started after Tran Hai citadel hung a red flag. All of the boats weight anchors and ran to the raft. At the medium range between the boat and the raft, they would shoot the floating raft 3 times by cardinal guns then pass the raft about 2000m and turn back.

Continuously, till to the first boat came back to the raft, fired as beginning, and turned to the first position. After 3 stage the flag on Tran Hai citadel would be lowered and the boats would withdraw, roll sails, and anchor.

In the year of Horse (1834) the King had ordered to build fortress defense on some of important islands as well as local officials at inhabited islands and beaches using public money to build ships and supply swords and guns for people to take precautions against pirates. 2 years later, in the year of Monkey (1836) Minh Mang King promulgated weekly sea patrol to expel pirates and foreign crew intending to violate national islands.

According to “Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien”, in order to understand more about islands of Bai Cat Vang (Paracels and Spratlys), the King had command to Truong Phuc Si - Captain of Paracel team taking 20 sailors to size, draw maps, and measure islands’ depths and terrains. Since then, the King had repeatedly conducting these works. People did not complete these would be sanctioned severely such as Rampart supervisor - Truong Viet Soai who had been imprisoned and then behead because of not having map to submit in the year of Dog (1836) etc.

Besides exploiting and sea patrol, Minh Mang King also ordered to construct worship places (temples and shrines), plant trees, build columns, sovereignty steles in some islands in the year of Rat (1833), the year of Goat (1835) the year of Monkey (1836) etc. Such as in the year of Monkey (1836) officials of Ministry of Works submitted petition to the king “Paracels at our maritime boundary are very important and very difficult of access. We should delegate people examining to understand sea routes. From this year onwards, last ten days of January, delegating naval, infantry, and Rampart supervisor using a boat to Quang Ngai in the first ten day of February then require Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh provinces hiring 4 boats and heading to Paracels. Measuring the length, width, height, perimeter and the depth of surrounding water, checking if there is any underwater rock or terrain is full of obstacles and difficult of access or not in every island, sand to draw maps. 

Back to e the day of departure; go out to the sea from what estuary, what direction, based on ship’s speed to count the distant. Based on the current location looking to the continent to identify the opposite province, what the direction is, the oblique province, what the oblique direction is, and how many miles from this to the mainland. Writing down clearly then bring back to present and submit” (Dai Nam Thuc Luc Chinh Bien)

Minh Mang had confirmed immediately and recommended that “writing clearly in map to submit. From this year onwards, each of the first ten days of January, according to this regulation to do” (Kham dinh Dai Nam hoi dien su le).

Therefore, boats going patrol and measuring at Great Paracels would start every spring. According to different materials, this activity had been operated within 6 months. Although there were some years having big storms, ships had to postpone departure days but their tasks were not changed.

The military garrison, taxing, and protecting fishermen had been made. An English man named Gutzlaff in article published in “Asia Social” magazine in London in 1849: “these islands will not so worthy if the fishery is not so prosperity and made up for all danger of advantures.

But more than ten parts of boats sank but the number of fishes catched was so great that it can not only make up for the disadvantages but also bring back a great benefit. Annam government set up tax revenue with collecting boat and a small barrack to tax foreign people and sponsor to national fishermen”.

Besides protecting sovereignty and exploiting sea resources, Minh Mang King had order navy to do rescues and helping boats having trouble, no matter which country was. Such as in the year of Monkey (1836) they had rescued English merchant ship suffered storm near Paracels with more than 90 people. These people had been brought to Binh Dinh where they were provided food and medications and sent back to homeland etc.

These showed that Minh Mang King did not only heritage but also develop islands and sea strategies to a new level, corfirm national power in the East Sea, enhance position and sovereignty over islands in general and Paracels in particular. These show that the sacred territory on the East Sea is belonging to Vietnam eternally.

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