Full The Pic­ture

Pro­fes­sor Wang Maps Out China’s Coastal De­fense Past

That's China - - The Innovators - Text by / Serene Li

“From sun­rise to sun­set hu­mans sowed seeds, wa­tered plants, plucked weeds from the ground and led sheep to prime pas­tures. It was a rev­o­lu­tion in the way hu­mans lived the Agri­cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion,” Pro­fes­sor Yu­val Noah Harari wrote in his Sapi­ens: A

Brief His­tory of Hu­mankind. “Even­tu­ally, peo­ple were so smart that they were able to de­ci­pher na­ture's se­crets, en­abling them to tame sheep and cul­ti­vate wheat. As soon as this hap­pened, they cheer­fully aban­doned the gru­el­ing, dan­ger­ous, and of­ten spar­tan life of hunter-gath­er­ers, set­tling down to en­joy the pleas­ant, sa­ti­ated life of farm­ers.”

From an an­thro­po­log­i­cal point of view, the his­tory of hu­mankind changed again ir­re­versibly when the first boat was re­leased into the sea. Whether it was hu­mans who tamed the ocean or the other way round, it is an in­dis­putable fact that it is the sea that turned hu­mans back into hunter-gath­er­ers and sent them on to a ‘road of no re­turn’.

About 2,000 years ago, the Qing Dy­nasty em­peror saw the sea and ex­claimed to have “seen the end of the world”. The first map that de­picts the con­tours of the sea, how­ever, did not emerge un­til the Song times of China. And it was not un­til the Ming Dy­nasty when Western­ers first brought map­ping and sur­vey­ing tech­nol­ogy into China, that the coun­try had its first ter­ri­to­rial sea map in the real sense of the

word.

Ever since the day “the sea” be­gan to oc­cupy the minds of hu­mankind, it has been an im­por­tant part of im­pe­rial vi­sions and a big se­cret to suc­cess for any am­bi­tious na­tion. His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, it was the mind­set that was too firmly en­trenched in the “land” that brought China from its im­pe­rial peak down into the abyss of a semi-colony; and in this sense, the coun­try’s great “ma­rine re­nais­sance” strat­egy in­ter­act­ing with the epoch-mak­ing ‘belt and road’ ini­tia­tive marks a fun­da­men­tal step for China to demon­strate its role in to­day’s more and more ocean­bound global network.

In Sapi­ens: A Brief His­tory of Hu­mankind, the au­thor cites Jared Di­a­mond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) as one of the great­est in­spi­ra­tions for the book by show­ing that it was pos­si­ble to "ask very big ques­tions and an­swer them sci­en­tif­i­cally". Ding­hai-based Pro­fes­sor Wang Ying is one of the many try­ing to ex­plain the cor­re­la­tion be­tween the “sea” and the ups and downs of the “Mid­dle King­dom”, and is the first one to give us “a full pic­ture” – by pack­ing the his­tory of China’s ter­ri­to­rial water map­ping into seven vol­umes il­lus­trated by as many as 450 schematic maps of mar­itime zones drawn in the past dy­nas­ties.

Cur­rently di­rec­tor of the China Ma­rine Cul­ture Re­search Cen­ter of Zhe­jiang Ocean Uni­ver­sity, Wang Ying is a lead­ing fig­ure in his­tor­i­cal stud­ies of the East China Sea and a ma­rine cul­ture scholar of in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence. The idea of putting to­gether a book de­voted to the evo­lu­tion of China’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters took shape af­ter the East China Sea In­ter­na­tional Fo­rum held in Zhoushan back in 2013. The col­lec­tion of maps, from all ma­jor ar­chives in China and some of the world’s most pres­ti­gious mu­se­ums and li­braries such as the Li­brary of Congress and the Bri­tish Mu­seum, to­gether with the com­pi­la­tion and ex­pert re­views, took about more than four years to com­plete.

Pub­lished ear­lier this year, An Anal­y­sis of China’s

Coastal Ter­ri­to­ries frames its ac­count of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters map­ping his­tory within a ge­o­graph­i­cal frame­work. The au­thor di­vides the his­tory into four ma­jor parts: The Maps, The Yel­low Sea and The Bo­hai Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea. The sub­ject mat­ter may be so tech­ni­cal as to be be­yond the ken of the av­er­age lay­man, but pa­tient read­ers can gain a new­found un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­est­ing facts in China’s ma­rine ad­ven­ture by sur­vey­ing the fol­low­ing four maps:

His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, it was the mind­set that was too firmly en­trenched in the “land” that brought China from its im­pe­rial peak down into the abyss of semi-colony; and in this sense, the coun­try’s great “ma­rine re­nais­sance” strat­egy in­ter­act­ing with the epoch-mak­ing ‘belt and road’ ini­tia­tive marks a fun­da­men­tal step al­ready taken for China to demon­strate its role in to­day’s more and more ocean-bound global network.

Wang Ying: Cur­rently di­rec­tor of the China Ma­rine Cul­ture Re­search Cen­ter of Zhe­jiang Ocean Uni­ver­sity, Wang Ying is a lead­ing fig­ure in the his­tor­i­cal stud­ies of the East China Sea and a ma­rine cul­ture scholar of in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence.

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