Visualizing Guangdong and the World: Maps in the Comprehensive Gazetteer of Guangdong of Late Ming China

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
Shery Chanis, University of Texas at Austin
This poster presentation draws on the maps from a centuries-old Chinese genre known as local gazetteers to examine the early modern world from the late Ming Chinese perspective. While many historians have fruitfully used local gazetteers to study local histories, I place these local gazetteers in a broader and more global context. In particular, this presentation analyzes the first three editions (1535, 1561, and 1602) of the Comprehensive Gazetteer of Guangdong (Guangdong Tongzhi) to examine local ideas and descriptions of the world through the southernmost maritime province of Guangdong, which was far away from the imperial capital of Beijing. I propose that the Comprehensive Gazetteer of Guangdong was both an administrative space to record the history, landscape, administration, and events, as well as a space in which gazetteer compilers mapped its boundaries that defined Guangdong and the world around it. Although text was the primary form of mapping in local gazetteers, the compilers increasingly presented Guangdong visually to depict both provincial geography and other landscapes. More specifically, despite Beijing’s long-standing policy of maritime prohibition, gazetteer maps showed more details of the waters over time, revealing an increasing concern for the seascape in Maritime East Asia, which was filled with trade activities and plagued by piracy and unrest at the same time. By devoting attention to the sea, these gazetteer compilers redefined the boundaries of Guangdong and their maps magnified the fluidity of imperial boundaries that often characterized the early modern world. The perspective of the southern maritime province showed that late Ming China was far from being a closed empire as it engaged in the global early modern world.
See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions