Anyone who’s been trawling through the China-related web this week will surely have stumbled across the ‘Nine Nations of China’ map that surfaced on Atlantic Monthly. Patrick Chovanec, from Tsinghua University, posted his map amidst the inescapable excitement of Obama’s visit to China, reminding the US President that China is “a mosaic of several distinct regions, each with its own resources, dynamics, and historical character.”
The regions Chovanec feels China could be divided into:
- The Frontier, made up of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Tibet represented the mysterious desert-filled and mountainous bulk China’s land, inhabited by only 6% of its population.
- South of that lies the Shangri-La region of Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, a so-called paradise on earth consisting of kaleidoscopic forests, diverse ethnicities and, sadly, a front-door for illicit drugs, as it borders Burma’s Golden Triangle.
- China’s Back Door, meanwhile, holds on to Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong, and Hainan for its lush jungles and economic successes
- … whilst the neatly tucked-away Refuge on Sichuan, Chongqing remains an area with little investment but substantial brain drain.
- The Crossroads, covering Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan, remain China’s transport and communications hub, neighbored by
- The Straits of Fujian and Taiwan.
- Up along the eastern coast is the likely Metropolis of Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, followed by…
- The Yellow Land, or China’s political heart (Beijing, Tianjin, Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, Shaanxi),
- And finally, the elusive northeastern wilderness of Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang. A.k.a. The Rust Belt.
As blogger Jeremiah Jenne pointed out, the idea is hardly earth shattering; not only due to the wonderful Wikipedia age of enlightenment, but also thanks to the efforts of an anthropologist by the name of Skinner, who produced a similar map in 1977, and whom Chovanec failed to cite.
Jenne shows here just how similar the ‘Nine Nations’ and ‘Nine Subregions’ of China are. Danwei’s Jeremy Goldkorn and Shanghai Scrap’s Adam Minter also responded with a gentle reminder that Chovanec could have cited his predecessor. Chovanec responded later to note that the regional descriptions were his own and that he had cited Skinner, but the citations were edited out by The Atlantic under space considerations.
Attribution/citation grappling aside, both Chovanec and Jenne’s (and even Skinner’s) basic argument is that we still tend to view China as one giant power, irrespective of the obvious diversities within its borders. However, Dan of China Law Blog, took a slightly different view:
“My problem I see with this map is that it is exactly that. A map. And as a map, it distinguishes among regions geographically and that is not how I view many aspects of China. Just by way of an example, I see Beijing having commonalities with Shanghai just because they are two powerful and relatively sophisticated big cities.”
Which leads us to an interesting question – this One China can definitely be carved up into various divisions in order to understand it better, but what divisions could or should be in the final map?