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  • Mapping Maritime Power and Control:A Study of the Late Eighteenth Century Qisheng Yanhai Tu (A Coastal Map of the Seven Provinces)
  • Ronald C. Po

Introduction

The term “sea power” usually conjures images of western sea power – past and present.1 Yet, in the eighteenth century, the Qing Empire also projected state power over the oceans off China’s coast. The fact that the Qing was founded and administered by the Jürchen peoples of northeast Asia, who were renowned for their land-based military campaigns, does not necessarily mean that they failed to exert their influence along the maritime frontier (haijiang).2 With the annexation of Taiwan by the Kangxi emperor in 1683, the Qing gained control of the littoral stretching from the Bohai Sea to the Guangdong coast. Throughout the long eighteenth century (1683–1839), the Qing exercised sovereignty over the [End Page 93] sea by deploying a navy,3 establishing a maritime customs system,4 and facilitating a series of mapping and information-gathering initiatives.5 This paper will focus on one of these very significant developments: the charting of the Qing naval frontier in a coastal map (hai tu), entitled The Coastal Map of the Seven Provinces (Qisheng yanhai tu; hereafter the yanhai tu).6 The yanhai tu is one of the few pictorial maps that depicted the contours of the coastal regions and the immediate sea space under the control of the Qing Empire before the First Opium War (1839–42). It includes detailed paratextual information that touches upon various issues, such as the importance of coastal defense, the significance of the Bohai Sea (a maritime territory that has long been overlooked by eighteenth-century historians), the logic defining inner and outer sea spaces, as well as the topographies of strategic islands off the China coast. These paratextual details provide evidence of the deliberate manner in which the Qing court conceptualized the maritime frontier. Careful analysis of this map challenges the conventional image of the Qing Empire as a land-based power that cared little about the ocean before the arrival of western imperialism in the mid-nineteenth century.7 This paper does not argue for equivalency between Qing and European engagement with the sea, but rather seeks to show that the Qing dynasty was more involved in maritime management than has previously been acknowledged. [End Page 94]

Territoriality and Cartography

In 2000, Charles Maier’s conceptualization of territoriality “reconfigured the periodization of modern world history.”8 He noted that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, new dynasties or “more cohesively organized territorial states” began to “fortif[y] their frontiers and redefin[e] sovereignty to give themselves unrestricted authority within their own domains.”9 For Maier, the early modern period comprised “the great epoch of enclosure: both the enclosure of common lands within the villages of Britain and Western Europe and the enclosure of state borders.”10 In order to secure their territorial and social boundaries, states had to fight against external incursion and invasion. Maier rightly points out that this process was not limited to Western Europe. China, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire also developed more precise definitions of the space under the state’s control at that time. For instance, by signing the Nerchinsk and Kiakhta Treaties with the Qing in 1689 and 1727, respectively, Russia defined its borders in the east, fixing what is now the border of Mongolia west of the Argun River and opening up the caravan trade. After eliminating the Zunghar Empire in the early eighteenth century, the Qing also reconfigured the boundary of its northwestern frontier.11 Maier’s concept of territoriality, although principally based on land, enables us to periodize developments in the early modern period in Asia as well as Europe. Taking China as an example, through mapping, information-gathering, and history-writing projects during the long eighteenth century, Qing rulers and scholars strove to project the all-encompassing gaze of the empire onto the maritime world. They also worked to define maritime territories by setting up administrative boundaries on the sea so that bureaucrats could carry out maritime affairs (haiyang zhishi) using direct, uniform rules. Two Chinese terms that recur frequently in Qing imperial edicts...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3257
Print ISSN
0884-3236
Pages
pp. 93-136
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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