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Mapping the Maritime Frontier: A Study on the "Qisheng yanhai tu" in the Late Eighteenth Century

Tue, June 23, 4:05 to 6:00pm, South Building, Floor: 8th Floor, S820


You are invited in this presentation to go through a Chinese coastal diagram (haitu), which is similar to a sea chart in the West, produced under official supervision in the late eighteenth century. Titled "Qisheng yanhai tu" (A coastal diagram of the seven provinces), this coastal diagram was one of the rare pictorial maps contouring the coastal regions and the immediate sea space under the control of the Qing empire before the First Opium War. This coastal map is worth noticing not only because of its rarity, but also because of its salient features. By salient features I refer to the detailed paratextual information printed on the map, which touch upon a variety of issues such as the importance of coastal defense, the significance of the Bohai area, the dividing lines between certain sea spaces, as well as the strategic topographies of a cluster of islands off the China coast. Aligning with the cartographic depiction, these textual materials served as evidence showing the way the Manchu empire conceptualized the maritime frontier in a deliberate and precautionary manner. By closely studying this coastal diagram, we are able to reexamine an overriding, conventional conception that the Qing Empire was simply a land-based, continental power and cared little about the ocean before the arrival of Western gunboats in the mid-nineteenth century.