History teacher and educationalist Tran Van Vang lectures on the Paracel and Spratly Islands to students at Duc Chanh Secondary School.
At secondary schools in Mo Duc District in the coastal province of Quang Ngai, teachers lecture every year about Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago.
Few people know that the contents of these lectures were compiled by 54-year-old teacher Tran Van Vang, who has taught history for 32 years at Duc Chanh secondary school.
In 2007, Mo Duc District’s Education and Training Department assigned him to compile lectures on the subject for grades six through nine. This was a major challenge: there were few documents on the topic, and reliable information sources were few and far between. One topic he found particularly difficult was a lecture for seventh graders on how the Quang Ngai people protected Viet Nam’s sovereignty over the archipelago.
“It was very difficult to compile lectures without documents and field trips. Even when the lectures were finished, how would I know how to answer questions from other teachers?” Vang recalled.
When sources did appear, they were often contradictory. One book wrote that soldiers of Hoang Sa Flotilla came from Son Tinh District’s Tinh Ky Commune, but another author reported that they were from Cu Lao Re Island (known as Ly Son Island) in Ly Son District.
In the summer of 2007, Vang went to Ly Son Island to dig up documents on the first soldiers to mark the Hoang Sa Archipelago as Vietnamese territory. He copied old documents owned by families living for a long time on the island and visited Quang Ngai’s provincial museum.
He also read many books confirming Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa such as Dai Nam Nhat Thong Chi, a geographic book compiled by the national historians’ office under the Nguyen dynasty in the period 1865-1910.
“The more ancient Vietnamese documents we find about Hoang Sa, the easier it will be to teach students about our sovereignty. I always compare Vietnamese translations to the original Han Chinese documents to ensure their reliability,” Vang said.
Although the work of compiling these lectures was assigned to other teachers as well, his colleagues didn’t do much of the work, saddling him with the responsibility of not only doing primary research but also culling ideas from the extensive array of information and rewriting them in a way that was easy to understand.
“It took me a whole year to complete lectures for the four grades; writing the lesson on Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa alone took up six months. After finishing, I read the documents again, then added more information,” he said.
In 2008, his lectures were officially added to the secondary school curriculum.
Vang is very happy that now both students and parents can learn the history of Hoang Sa.
“Through his lectures on the province’s history, especially those that focus on our national sovereignty over the Hoang Sa Islands, we learn more about our hometown and feel very proud of the country,” said Nguyen Thi Vy Thuong, a ninth grader at Duc Chanh school. “We also have more awareness of our responsibilities for preserving and protecting our nation.”
While Vang’s wife worries that he spends too much time finding documents on Hoang Sa and not enough time taking care of himself, the teacher made clear that knowing that future generations will benefit from his research makes all his work worthwhile.
Although his mission is completed, he still continues searching for information about the archipelago.