Call for Papers: Conference on ‘Islam in the China Seas’

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Organized by the Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

March 26-27, 2018 (Mon & Tues)
Hong Kong

A vital passage between the Indian and Pacific oceans, the South China Sea, has historically been an arena of competition, as nations and empires have vied for hegemonic control over it for centuries. Tensions in the area have steadily risen in recent years and a maritime military buildup currently demands world attention as a flashpoint of geopolitical jockeying among regional and global powers. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have all staked claims to parts of this strategic and resource-rich basin, while the United States also seeks to protect its far-reaching interests there.

Long before the current geopolitical conflicts, the South China Sea was already a center of international commerce, comparable to the Mediterranean as a conduit of wealth and a melting pot of cultures, where both goods and ideas were exchanged. Commodities and technologies from the Indian and Chinese civilizational spheres were freely transmitted, and transported as far afield as Africa and Japan. Among the cultural cargo, religious teachings were also trafficked along the ancient maritime trade routes. Arab and Iranian merchants from the Persian Gulf had long participated in Indian Ocean trade, and eventually penetrated the Malacca Straits into the South China Sea. Starting in the late 7th century, after the establishment of Islam in Arabia, Muslim seafaring traders continued this tradition.

Thus, Islam spread into the China Seas via the so-called maritime extension of the Silk Road, and from there it reached the southeast coast of the Chinese mainland, as well as the peninsulas and archipelagos of Southeast Asia, and beyond. This conference aims to explore the historical, geographic, economic, social, political, cultural and religious contexts of the introduction and development of Islam in the greater China Seas region, from a multidisciplinary perspective.

Topics of research will include: trade and religious dissemination; Muslim settlement in the China Seas region; the introduction and spread of Islam in South China; Islamisation, assimilation and indigenization; and Muslims’ role in the spread of Chinese regional influence, among others. Such research represents an important component of the international and intercultural understanding underlying the “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Dates: March 26-27, 2018 (Mon and Tues)

Submission of Abstracts:

An abstract of not more than 350 words should be submitted, with a short CV, to before Friday, 1 December 2017. Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by Friday, 29 December 2017.

Language: English and Chinese

Contact information: For enquiries about the conference and submission of abstracts, please contact Ms Asiah Yang at

Hosting Institution: Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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Contact Info:

For enquiries about the conference and submission of abstracts, please contact Ms Asiah Yang at
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The race to save up to 50 shipwrecks from looters in Southeast Asia


via The Conversation, 16 November 2017:

More than 48 shipwrecks have been illicitly salvaged – and the figure may be much higher. Museums can play a key role in the protection of these wrecks, alongside strategic recovery and legislative steps.

Source: The race to save up to 50 shipwrecks from looters in Southeast Asia

China’s archaeology ship seeks buried sovereignty

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China’s archaeology research vessel, the Kaogu-01, comes with all the bells and whistles, but its deployment in the South China Sea is a source of concern to the maritime nations of Southeast Asia as it is being used to enforce China’s territorial claims far beyond its shores.

Update: A reader pointed out that the link was missing. They are up now!

Archaeology and the South China Sea
The Diplomat, 20 July 2015

In 2013, China enforced those claims on an unsuspecting French archaeologist and his team investigating the wreck of a Chinese junk off the Philippine coast. According to one report, a Chinese twin-prop plane flew overhead. Then a Chinese marine-surveillance vessel approached the Philippines-registered ship, issuing instructions in English to turn around and head back. While it is difficult to say where exactly this incident actually happened, it does go to show that China is both willing and able to use force to enforce its sovereignty claims over shipwrecks and other relics in disputed waters.

China has also turned to the use of passive technology to protect its cultural relics. According to Yu Xingguang, Director of the State Oceanic Administrations Number 3 Research Facility, China has finished developing the technology for monitoring buoys, which employ acoustics technology to survey underwater wrecks and monitor their condition, while also simultaneously using China’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) to identify and monitor ships entering and exiting the area of wrecks in real time.

Enforcing its sovereignty claims off the Philippines is one obvious way that China is using maritime archaeology to assert and protect its sovereignty. Another method apparently used is much more subtle. It involves the use of China’s new ship, Kaogu-01, in disputed areas to assert its control over them, as well as the gradual buildup of work stations and bases in the area, such as the one planned for Yongxing Island.

Full story here.

Vietnamese navy receive series of old sea maps

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Ancient sea map of Vietnam. Source: Viet Nam News 20150626

The Vietnamese navy is handed a collection of old maps that note its sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea for hundreds of years.

Ancient sea map of Vietnam. Source: Viet Nam News 20150626

Ancient sea map of Vietnam. Source: Viet Nam News 20150626

Navy receives maps of Hoang Sa, Truong Sa
Viet Nam News, 26 April 2015

The Ministry of Information and Communication has delivered a documentation collection, ‘Map Exhibition of Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) of Viet Nam – Historical and Legal Evidence,’ to the navy force.

The collection, which was handed over to the Command of Navy Zone 3, includes 132 maps and documents, of which 60 maps of Viet Nam, China, and some western countries published from the 16th century confirm Viet Nam’s sovereignty on the two archipelagos.

It also comprises 20 records of the royal Nguyen dynasty (1802-45); six written in Han (Chinese script) and 14 documents from the French colonial period, stating that Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) belong to Viet Nam.

Full story here.

Vietnamese scholar donates imperial records

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Ho Tan Phan, Vietnamese scholar who donated his collection of Vietnamese records. Source: Viet Nam News 20150615

Similar to the previous story, a Vietnamese scholar donated his collection of royal chronicles in the hope they will shed light to Vietnamese claims over the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

Ho Tan Phan, Vietnamese scholar who donated his collection of Vietnamese records. Source: Viet Nam News 20150615

Ho Tan Phan, Vietnamese scholar who donated his collection of Vietnamese records. Source: Viet Nam News 20150615

Scholar gives rare East Sea records to State
Viet Nam News, 15 June 2015

Researcher Ho Tan Phan has presented copies of rare Vietnamese royal chronicles to the National Boundary Committee under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Phan believes the books could serve as evidence of Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa (Spratly) and Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelagoes.

The Hue-based researcher said Dai Nam Thuc Luc (Great South Real Record) was a trusted collection of documents that justified Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the two archipelagoes.

Full story here.

18th century Philippine map shows disputed territories in country’s domain

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The 1734 Murillo Velarde map. Source: The Inquirer 20150615

As China continues to claim parts of the South China Sea for itself, affected countries like Philippines and Vietnam are more and more appealing to evidence from ancient maps to show histories of territoriality. This latest example from the Philippines is from the 18th century.

The 1734 Murillo Velarde map. Source: The Inquirer 20150615

The 1734 Murillo Velarde map. Source: The Inquirer 20150615

‘Mother of Philippine maps’ settles sea dispute with China
Inquirer, 15 June 2015

“Panacot” or “Scarborough Shoal” does not appear in any of the ancient Chinese maps.

The 1734, 1744 and 1760 Murillo Velarde maps clearly show Panacot, the island disputed by China, even before it became known as “Scarborough Shoal.”

In fact, as Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio wrote in his monograph “Historical Facts, Historical Lies and Historical Rights in the West Philippine Sea” and has repeatedly stressed in his lectures on the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China, Panacot has been “consistently depicted in ancient Philippine maps from 1636 to 1940.”

Only after Sept. 12, 1784, when an East India Co. tea-clipper was wrecked on one of its rocks did the shoal become “Scarborough Shoal.” For Carpio Panacot or Scarborough Shoal “does not appear in any of the ancient Chinese maps.”

Full story here.

Chinese histories refute China’s claim to the seas

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Recent Chinese expansionism into the South China Sea has been worrying many Southeast Asian countries, and archaeology and history have been used to refute such claims.

China’s South China Sea claims are not supported by its own historical records
South China Morning Post, 30 May 2015

Yes, this was a long time ago, but Chinese claims today are best refuted by China’s own written records, be they of Buddhist monks or in dynastic annals reporting trade missions and accounts of travellers to the southern lands. Chinese documents are the single most important source for the early history of maritime Southeast Asia and conform to evidence in more fragmentary Tamil, Javanese, Malay and Arab records.

Even though Chinese merchants and settlers in the region’s ports came to play a major role in commerce, they always shared these roles, whether with the Arabs, the Muslim sultanates and later the Europeans. China only twice briefly attempted to use force to impose its will on the maritime region, during the Mongol period when an invasion of Java failed, and briefly during the Zheng He voyages of the early Ming.

Communist party governments everywhere, not just in China, are notorious for rewriting history. But if Beijing wants to know why it feels surrounded by enemies, it should ask itself the reason: riding roughshod over the interests and identities of its neighbours, raising issues of “unequal treaty” borders and engaging in colonialism in Xinjiang and Tibet, by fostering Han settlement to undermine the ethnic identity of those once-independent nations.

Full story here.

Lecture: Shipwreck Finds in the Spratlys and The Implications on Territorial Claims

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Dr Michael Flecker will be speaking at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre later this month on the shipwrecks and territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Shipwreck Finds in the Spratlys: The Implications on Territorial Claims
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore
Date: 28 April 2015
Time: 3 – 4.30pm

Way back in 1993, the speaker had the good fortune to investigate some of the Vietnamese-occupied reefs in the Spratly Archipelago, the Dangerous Ground marked on maritime charts. The aim was to discover Chinese, Southeast Asian and European shipwrecks that struck the western-most reefs while sailing downwind on the northeast monsoon. Plenty of shipwrecks were found, but none contained the dreamt of piles of glistening celadon or blue-and-white porcelain.

New evidence of ancient maritime trade was anticipated. Unfortunately, the late 19th century does not qualify as ancient. Fortunately, a lack of discoveries can be as important as an abundance. Such is the case in the Spratly ‘Archipelago’, a group of reefs and islets in the middle of the South China Sea, claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. Many islets and reefs are occupied, and several are now being reclaimed. The quest for oil and fish may have been the driving force in the past, but the current push is strategic.

China has been more forceful than most. Their nine-dashed line encompasses pretty much all of the South China Sea down to Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. While words have been ambiguous, actions have not. It would seem that virtually the entire sea and seabed are being claimed, along with the reefs and rocks. And this claim is ‘indisputable’, largely on historical grounds. What other grounds could there be when the closest reef lies nearly 500 nautical miles from Hainan?

This lecture delves into the archaeological evidence that may support, or counter, a historical claim. Texts are subject to interpretation and can take us only so far. Shipwreck hulls and cargoes can be definitively identified. They can be reasonably accurately dated. They can tell us who was there, and often why they were there. As far as voyaging throughout the South China Sea is concerned, the Southeast Asians, and later the Arabs, were active well before the Chinese ventured beyond their southern shores in the 11th or 12th century. Having achieved a degree of maritime prowess, did the Chinese have any reason to risk the Dangerous Ground in the distant past? Let’s see.

Registration required, information here.

China’s maritime silk road World Heritage Site proposal includes disputed areas

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China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea has been worrying for Southeast Asia and underwater archaeology has played a role in strengthening China’s claim over the sea, over equally legitimate claims by countries like Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China’s is aiming to list the maritime silk road as a World Heritage Site and one could interpret the inclusion of disputed sites as a way to strengthen her claim on territories. Something to keep an eye on in the future – since the maritime silk route was not exclusively used by China and was a truly international trade route that would make better sense with many countries sharing the site listing together.

China looks for UNESCO approval in disputed S China Sea waters
Xinhua, 13 July 2014
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Exhibition showcases Vietnam's role in the maritime silk route

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A new exhibition opening in May at the National Museum of History in Hanoi will highlight Vietnam’s role over maritime trade over the east sea, or the South China Sea.

Thanh Nien News, 20120308

Thanh Nien News, 20120308

Hanoi museum to host Silk Road on East Sea exhibition
Thanh Nien News, 08 March 2012
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