Thursday, October 21st, 2021 Towards a Global and Bottom-Up History of the South China Sea Islands Dispute

Thursday, October 21, 20213:30PM - 5:00PMOnline Event, Online Event


Global Taiwan Lecture Series


Both Taiwan and mainland China today claim numerous contested features in the South China Sea as “inherent” Chinese territory “since ancient times” — the Pratas, Paracel, and Spratly Islands, Macclesfield Bank, and Scarborough Shoal. This portrays a static and monolithic Chinese state as having ‘always’ territorially minded or largely neglected the islands, and as having neatly disseminated national narratives of the islands onto its populace. Likewise, non-government peoples who historically interacted with the islands, such as fishers, merchants, and community organizations, are commonly subsumed under the nation-state as markers or demonstrators of national sovereignty claims.

In this talk, Chris P. C. Chung discusses the contours of a global and bottom-up approach that decenters the dispute’s origins from the nation-state. He examines predominantly top-down government archival files on the islands from the bottom-up; traces the global historical connections and developments that vitally fuelled the modern formation of China’s island claims in the early 20th century; and dissects the central roles that non-government peoples with widely diverging interests and worldviews played in Chinese maritime discourse production. This decentering approach yields a more critical and comprehensive history of maritime claims-making — and of national identity formation — in Taiwan and mainland China.

Speaker’s Biography

Chris P.C. Chung is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Toronto. Using the South China Sea islands dispute as a case study, Chung’s research investigates how the global flow of ideas and activities of everyday people vitally informed Chinese state conceptions of space and sovereignty in the maritime frontier since the late 18th century. His recently submitted doctoral dissertation, Fluid Realms: Chinese Visions of Maritime Space in the South China Sea Islands, has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It explores the pivotal roles that non-government actors across the globe played in Qing and Republican Chinese claims-making over the Pratas, Paracel, and Spratly Islands, such as fishers, merchants, and community organizations. It extensively draws from largely unused Qing and Republican archival files that directly detailed official Chinese deliberations on the islands issue and the maritime frontier more generally.


Chris P.C. Chung
Doctoral candidate in History, University of Toronto

Li Chen
Associate Professor of History, Global Asia Studies, Law, and Criminology & Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto

Sida Liu
Acting Director of the Global Taiwan Studies Program, Associate Professor of Sociology and Law, University of Toronto

Main Sponsor

Asian Institute


Global Taiwan Studies Program

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