Human Geography of Hainan: Why fewer Wanning people ventured to Nanyang?

By Ye Haisheng Translated by Chen Shumin / This is Hainan / Updated: 2019-06-20,17:43

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“Venturing to Nanyang (Southeast Asia)" was once a unique cultural phenomenon in the eastern part of Hainan Island. It is an epitome of Hainan people who have opened up a new living space, participated in the tide of world economy and culture, and finally returned to their hometown as well reciprocated the hometown. It is also a vivid epitome of the development and changes in modern Hainan, even in China. It has reflected Hainan people’s fighting spirit of continuously venturing to Nanyang and continuously making new achievements in Southeast Asia in the past 100 years, which is full of distinctive island culture features.


First of all, we should have a premise that the number of people venturing to Nanyang (Southeast Asia) is just the objective existence at the specific time in the history.

I do not think that the more or the fewer people in an area ventured to Nanyang, the better. I just want to explore the specific situation for Hainan people to venture to Nanyang at that time. Actually, venturing to Nanyang was not an easy matter. During that time, people venturing to Nanyang would suffer from hunger, bad weather, pirates, loneliness, nostalgia and lack of fresh water, etc.. So no one could make a success without any bitter and painstaking efforts.

Against the historical backdrop, “venturing to Nanyang” not only contained the intrinsic motivation of Hainan people to seek innovation and change, but also presented the large demand of workers in Southeast Asia due to its vigorous development of productivity. Under such circumstances, the customs clearance and port supervision would not be too strict and cumbersome, which provides a prerequisite for many Hainanese to Nanyang.

The waters of Wanning were more dangerous

Laoye Sea in Wanning. (Hainan Daily/Zhang Mao)

Compared with Wenchang and Qionghai, fewer people in Wanning ventured to Nanyang. There are various factors.

In terms of time, Qionghai and Wenchang people ventured to Nanyang earlier than Wanning people. The economic development of Wanning was usually slower than that of Wenchang and Wanning, which directly affected Wanning people's desires to Nanyang. In general, in the trend of venturing to Nanyang, Wanning people were also the active participators, but not as many as those from Wenchang and Qionghai. I think the reason was that the waters of Wanning were relatively more dangerous compared to Wenchang and Qionghai.

Interestingly, maybe it is closer to Qionghai and Wenchang, or because the nearby waters are relatively calm, the overseas Chinese in Longgun town of Wanning are much more than the neighboring Shan’gen Town. Longgun town is also known as the hometown of overseas Chinese in Wanning.

In order to have a more detailed understanding of the situation of Wanning people venturing to Nanyang, I interviewed with Zheng Lijian, a writer from Wanning, who talked about why the overseas Chinese in Wanning were fewer than those from Wenchang and Qionghai.

According to Zheng Lijian, before the Liberation, Wenchang people used to have a much harder life than Wanning people. In the early years, the war and social unrest greatly affected Wenchang people and forced them to find a way out. After Wenchang people to Nanyang had made success, they brought their relatives to Nanyang, then the relatives also brought their friends, thus more and more Wenchang people became overseas Chinese. Influenced by Wenchang people, people in the near Qionghai also began to make a living in Nanyang. And people in Longgun town or other coastal area of Wanning, close to Qionghai, also followed the trend to Nanyang. However, the total amount of Wanning people to Nanyang was relatively smaller.

Wenchang, Qionghai and Wanning all had marine fishing vessels, but Wanning had relatively smaller and fewer ones. Since it was quite convenient to go to Nanyang, people from these three cities making money there would return to the township and build new houses, which was an factor to stimulate the people to venture to Nanyang.

Another possible reason why fewer Wanning people venture to Nanyang was that the people  had more land in Wanning, and some land was more suitable for planting crops. At that time, Wanning people lived a better life than Wenchang people, and many people did not want to leave their homes to take risks.

As far as I am concerned, compared to Qionghai and Wenchang, Wanning has much more surging waves at its sea area, so Wanning people may have more respect for the sea. I have observed the waters of Shan’gen town of Wanning, which seemed no obvious difference from other sea areas. However, the surge underneath was quite violent. The locals warned me not to go to the sea for swimming, for some stubborn persons were drown by the undercurrent. Such surge makes Wanning a good place to go surfing.

The large tracts of the offshore land at Tanmen town in Qionghai and Dongjiao town, Puqian town and Qinglan Port in Wenchang are mostly formed by coral beaches. Due to the sand accumulation, the soil layer is shallow and thin, which is not suitable for farming. However from the Ming and Qing Dynasties to the period of the Republic of China, chemical fertilizers were rare and expensive, which resulted in that the land could not provide adequate supply for the locals. And thanks to that the waters here were particularly suitable for fishing, such as Xinfu waters, Puqian Port and Dongzhai Port, which all are shallow sea with rich fish and shrimp, Wenchang people were happy to go to the sea for fishing. 

Tanmen town had more distinctive conditions. A shallow sea stretches a few kilometers along the seashore, where kilometers of coral reefs are formed, blocking the violent waves. So this relatively calm waters is good for the cultivation of fish and shrimps. After the residents of Tanmen town came here in the early years in Ming Dynasty, they made a living by fishing. The relatively calm shallow sea had trained the Tanmen people to catch fish. It could be inferred that Qionghai people and Wenchang people were much more intimate with the ocean, and might be more willing to venture to Nanyang.

Exploring the sea is a gradual process. With the development of society, people in Qionghai and Wenchang were not satisfied with fishing at the shallow sea, so they attempted to build vessels to further explore the deep sea. In addition, some people chose to venture to Nanyang due to the compelling life, coupled with the demonstration and summoning of their overseas relatives, and they made the decision naturally and resolutely.

The marine operation in Waning was restricted

The seaside in Wanning.

Along with the members of Hainan Literature Institute to do research in rural areas, I took the opportunity to consult and check with Mr. Wang Zhangcan, a senior from Qionghai, about my inference above of Wanning People venturing to Nanyang.

According to Mr. Wang Zhangcan, the reason was mainly related to marine operation. More specifically, unlike the marine conditions in Wenchang and Qionghai, Wanning lacked the calm harbor with deep waters necess1ary for the anchor of the vessels with large toonage, which restricted shipbuilding industry and ocean operation. Since venturing to Nanyang is associated with the ocean operation, the experience and courage of Wanning people to venture Nanyang are affected by their limited experiences ocean fishing. This should be the major reason that fewer Wanning people ventured to Nanyang.

Mr. Wang added, the reason above was also true for the situation of Sanya, where there were also some harbors in good condition. For then, the relatively lower level of the literacy of people, the technique of shipbuilding, and limited marine exploration experience, all contributed to the result that fewer people in Lingshui and Sanya ventured to Nanyang. 



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