Tag Archives: geography

The internet entrepôts of China: back to the 19th century?

For centuries, and especially since the mid-19th century, entrepôts have been important sites of communication—both information and goods—between China and the outside world. Now, many of the same cities are sites of the grand digital switches that connect China to the global internet.

I’ve noted before the interesting work of TeleGeography, a firm that produces maps and other information on telecommunications infrastructure. This year, their world undersea cables map has been released as a huge JPEG image, and it shows us something about China’s communications with the outside world.

Clipped from TeleGeography. Click for their map.

Shanghai, Hong Kong, Qingdao and Shantou. And soon, Fuzhou. These are the connection points for the People’s Republic of China, and they were all treaty ports, where foreign areas of control existed and international trade grew.

The analogy to the treaty ports has been suggested by several writers. One, Han-Teng Liao, noted Aihwa Ong’s notion of variegated sovereignty and proposes the idea of “special speech zones.” These “SSZs” are cites of informational interchange. The difference is that the SSZs are not geographically bounded; rather, they reside in online spaces where relatively free speech is possible.

As Ella Chou recently noted (in her very interesting contribution on cybersecurity), China only has a few ports between China and the outside internet—nine at last report in 2008, she writes. These choke points, one speculates, could allow for a government-directed shut-down of most international online communication.

This leverage points out a key difference with the entrepôts and treaty ports of the 19th century: Back then, the foreign influence was inscribed in physical space, with exclusive areas of control and entrenched foreign populations. Sure, expatriates are numerous in many Chinese cities today, but they do not live in autonomous zones. The potential for increased control in a crisis seems clear here.

That’s all from me. But look at that map.

Pollution from space, and human geography

A remarkable photograph published by NASA shows, as Angel Hsu notes, the pollution in the air during the climate talks in Tianjin earlier this month. The high-resolution image is striking, and will live on the desktop of my external monitor for some time.

NASA notes that this image captures an event that resulted from increased emissions and stagnant air due to weather systems. But it also captures, in my amateur opinion, the population centers of China. The first thing I noticed after my habitual task of locating Beijing and drawing some borders in my head (as the political geographer must) was the lonely cloud and its vivid shadow, in the orange-cream yoghurt desert which I’m pretty sure is in Inner Mongolia, next to Gansu. The air, it appears, is glorious when you get far, far from population centers.

As we glance eastward into the eastern Ordos region, across the north-south section of the Yellow River, and into the heavily populated coastal and central plains provinces, we see air thick with particulates and fog. According to NASA, regular clouds look like the brilliant white at right and left.

Mapping China's international internet business

At Mobinode, Piet Walraven has published the results of some research into Chinese internet companies forming partnerships with overseas entities, and there’s a map.

chinese_internet_globalizingWalraven describes the map:

It is a summary of all overseas operations organized in two categories: ‘partnerships, licensing, and co-production’ and ‘self operated or wholly owned overseas initiatives’. Through these two distinctions we can see that the dashed lines that each represent an action in the ‘self operated foreign initiatives’ category, have a relatively low representation which indicates that not many Chinese Internet companies are enrolled in true wholly-owned international operations yet.

Full-size PDF here.

The results represent a first round of work, and give an interesting view of a geography of business collaboration.

The Lost Island 'Atlantis' as a Reference to Japan?

Strange Maps, the source of much cartographic delight, features an overlay of the real “new world” and what Columbian era transatlantic explorers expected to see on their way to Cipangu, which is what the Portuguese were calling Japan at the time.

Among the many “phantom islands” that turned out not to exist is Antilla. Here, Strange Maps notes that the very name Atlantis may be a contraction of a phrase that would mean essentially “Island on the way to [Japan].”

The muddled legends of Antillia have been around since at least Plutarch’s time (ca. 74 AD). Its name might be a corruption of Atlantis; or a derivation of anterioris insula, Latin for an island located ‘before’ Cipangu; or a transformation of Jazeerat at-Tennyn, Arabic for ‘Island of the Dragon’. Toscanelli on his map uses Antillia as the main marker for measuring distance between Portugal and Cipangu.

This all sounds like wild speculation, but that can be fun when talking about imagined geographies.

Also from Strange Maps: Someone’s argument that China should be considered an island, despite the fact that it shares with Russia the record for number of other countries bordered.