On China's Cartographic Embrace: A View from Its Northern Rim

Franck Billé, University of California, Berkeley
Detail of stamp celebrating the “Treaty for Relinquishment of Extraterritorial Rights in China,” 1943.
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Abstract

Although relations between China and Mongolia are good, with no outstanding territorial disputes, Mongolia continues to view its southern neighbor with considerable anxiety. Numerous paranoid narratives circulate, hinting at China’s alleged malevolent intentions, and many Mongols are convinced that China is intent on a takeover. This article argues that this anxiety is located in two particular cartographic gaps. The first is the misalignment between People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of China (ROC) maps, namely the fact that Taiwanese maps include Mongolia within the boundaries of China. For the majority of Mongolian viewers who do not read Chinese, this constitutes a clear case of cartographic aggression. The second gap is found in cultural-historical maps of China that portray large swaths of northern Asia as regions formerly inhabited by Chinese. While neither map constitutes a political claim, the Chinese cultural imaginary each portrays posits Mongolia as “not quite foreign.” Rather than “cartographic aggression,” the term “cartographic embrace” may be a better designation here. Even if Chinese cartographic practices do not index intent, for countries like Mongolia—whose political existence is founded on separation from China—cultural “embrace” can be even more threatening.

Keywords: Mongolia, cartography, anxiety, Sinophobia, mapping, individuation, paranoia, territorial disputes