Full The Picture
Professor Wang Maps Out China’s Coastal Defense Past
“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
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.