- China first discovered and named the reefs, islets and the surrounding waters of the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands, and has exercised sovereignty control continuously over the area.
- In A.D.110, the government of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C.- A.D.220) set up a government agency on Hainan Island, which marks the beginning of central governance over Hainan Island and the islands in the South China Sea. At that time, Chinese people often navigated on the South China Sea and lived and fished around the Xisha Islands and the Nansha Islands.
- In A.D.971, the navy of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) cruised the Xisha Islands. This was the earliest record of China's naval patrol in the area.
- In the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1369), Emperor Kubla Khan sent astronomer Guo Shoujing to conduct astronomical observations in the Zhongsha Islands, which evidenced the government's sovereignty over the area.
- In 1911, the Guangdong Provincial Government of the Republic of China proclaimed that the Xisha Islands were put under the jurisdiction of Hainan's Yaxian County (currently known as Sanya City).
- After the end of the World War II, according to the Postdam Declaration issued in July 1945 and the Cairo Declaration issued in 1947, the Republic of China sent high commissioners to the Xisha Islands from 1946 to 1948 to take over the archipelago. A takeover ceremony was held on the islands, and a monument was put up to assert China's sovereignty. The government also stationed army and set up a service station for fishermen on Taiping Island, the largest of its kind in the Nansha Islands.
- In March 1959, the Central Government of the People's Republic of China set up the administrative office for the Xisha, Nansha and Zhongsha islands, which was governed by Guangdong Province.
- In October 1984, Hainan Administrative Region was set up, which took over the administrative office.
- In April 1988, Hainan Province was set up and the administrative office was put under the province.
- In June 2012, the State Council approved the establishment of Sansha City, which governs the Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha islands and their surrounding waters. Meanwhile the administrative office for the area was abolished.