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A Soldier's Images of the Xisha Islands

Located 330 kilometers southeast of south China’s Hainan Province, the Xisha Islands are one of four big island groups in the South China Sea, together with the Dongsha, Nansha and Zhongsha islands. Xisha’s 45 islets are distributed over an area 250 kilometers long and 150 kilometers wide.


The Xisha Islands are situated south of the Tropic of Cancer with abundant rainfall and small changes in sea temperatures. These favorable natural conditions have formed the unique environment of the islands.


Since Xisha is far offshore and rarely visited, the water around them is very clean, with a visibility of 40 meters. Xisha has a long stretch of continuous coral reefs. Sea plants and fishes of great variety live nearby and numerous sea birds inhabit the islands. In recent years, some tourists have started to discover the islands.


In the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-617), China sent envoys to current-day Malaysia through the South China Sea, stopping at Xisha. The Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) monk Yi Jing also went to India this way. In ancient times, merchant ships carrying porcelain, silk and spices all passed by here, on a route known as the “silk road of the sea.”


An important sea fortress connecting the Indian Ocean with the western Pacific, Xisha also boasts abundant natural resources. Before WWII, some of the islands were occupied by France. After the outbreak of the Pacific War, it was occupied by Japan. After the end of WWII, Xisha and other islands in the South China Sea returned to China.


With beautiful natural scenery and fresh air, Xisha has many coconut trees. The annual average temperature is around 26 degrees Celsius. After the joint efforts of the army and residents, great changes have taken place. The original wild islands have turned into gardens on the sea. The local garrison’s quality of life has been vastly improved.


This photo album was taken by Chen Yan, political commissioner of one of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) units that has long been stationed in Xisha. Born in December 1954, Chen Yan joined the PLA in 1969. He entered the postgraduate institute of China’s National Defense University in 1996, becoming the first PhD student in national defense economics.

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