China Seas, Part 1: East China Sea

The “Four Seas” were four bodies of water that metaphorically made up the boundaries of ancient China, one for each of the cardinal directions:

  • “The East Sea” is known today as the East China Sea
  • “The South Sea” is known today as the South China Sea
  • “The West Sea” is actually Qinghai Lake in western Qinghai Province
  • “The North Sea” is actually Lake Baikal in Russia

Two of the seas were actually symbolic until they were tied to genuine locations during the Han Dynasty’s wars with the Xiongnu. The lands located “within the Four Seas”, once a literary name for China as a whole, were once frequently alluded to in ancient Chinese literature and poetry.

The East China Sea is shared among the three major East Asian countries (namely, China, Japan, and South Korea),  whose  diplomatic and economic interactions are some of the most important international relations in the world. The Sea is actually an arm of the Western Pacific Ocean, located directly offshore from Eastern China, hence the name. It covers an area of some 482,000 square miles and is bounded by mainland China to the west, the Yellow Sea to the northwest, the Korean Peninsula to the north, the Sea of Japan to the northeast, the Japanese island of Kyushu to the east, the Philippine Sea and Ryukyu Islands to the southeast, the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to the south, and Taiwan to the southwest. Most of the East China Sea is shallow, with nearly 3/4 of it being less than 660 feet deep and with an average depth of 1,150 feet. Its maximum depth, reached in the Okinawa Trough, is 8,911 feet.

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