MAPFARE

The Philippines hopes a trove of ancient maps will prove its territorial claims against China

Yesterday, the Philippines opened an exhibit featuring dozens of maps spanning over 1,00o years of history—a collection that the Philippines says disproves China’s claim of sovereignty over a rocky shoal in the South China Sea, which has provoked increasing tensions between the two countries.

The exhibit held by the Institute of Maritime and Ocean Affairs includes maps from as far back as 1136 A.D. that purportedly show China’s southernmost territory has always been the province of Hainan—which would undercut China’s claims to much of the South China Sea, including territory that is claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, among other countries. Ancient maps of the East Indies, of which the Philippines was a part, are shown to include what is today known as the Scarborough Shoal, a small piece of land about the size of three rugby pitches to the west of the Philippines, home to valuable fisheries and potential fossil fuel reserves.

China has held control of the shoal since 2012, leading to clashes between Filipino and Chinese fisherman and an ongoing arbitration case at the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. (Appropriately enough, the shoal is depicted in some of these old maps as “Panacot,” the Tagalog word for “threat or danger.”) Elsewhere in the disputed area, China appears to be building an airbase and a kindergarten, raising the risk of further tensions.

But as the the exhibit says itself in its catalogue, quoting a 1986 judgement by the International Court of Justice, “Maps merely constitute information which varies in accuracy from case to case; of themselves, and by virtue solely of their existence, they cannot constitute a territorial title.”

Here are some of the other maps and their historical claims, according to the Philippines government.

“TIAN DI TU” or the Atlas of Heaven and Earth Published in 1601 by Junheng Zuo during the Ming Dynasty. This map shows Hainan Island as the southernmost territory of China.
Tian Ditu, or “the Atlas of Heaven and Earth,” published in 1601 during the Ming Dynasty shows shows Hainan Island<br /> as China’s southernmost territory. (U.S. Library of Congress)
Published in 1734 in Manila by the Jesuit Pedro Murillo, this is the oldest map that gives a name to “Panacot” shoal. “
Published in 1734 by a Jesuit named Pedro Murillo, this map is one of the first to identify what is today the Scarborough Shoal, then named the “Panacot” shoal. (US Library of Congress)
Kunyu_Wanguo_Quantu_(坤輿萬國全圖)
A world map published by the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci in 1602 at the request of the Ming Dynasty shows the southern boundary of China as Hainan.
Published in Paris in 1650 by the map maker Pierre Mariette. On the western side off the coast of Central Luzon, there is an unnamed shoal below the words “P. de Mandato.” This unnamed shoal would later be called Panacot
Published in Paris in 1650, this map shows an unnamed shoal as part of the East Indies. (Philipinnes Institute for Maritime and Oceanic Affairs)
Published between 1547 and 1559 by the Ming Dynasty. The map shows the then 13 provinces of China during the Jianjing period. Taiwan is not included and Macau is not marked. The map shows Hainan Island as the southernmost territory of China.
A map published sometime between 1547 and 1559 shows the then 13 provinces of China during the Jianjing period, which doesn’t include areas like Taiwan or Macau. The map also shows Hainan Island was the southernmost territory of China. (US Library of Congress)
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