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  • Introduction
  • Kären Wigen, Guest Editor (bio)

The spatial turn of recent years has brought a number of novel landscapes into focus for scholars of East Asia. One such frontier-located at the intersection of urban development, state power, and territorialization-provides the conceptual ground for the papers guest edited by You-tien Hsing in this issue of Cross-Currents. Another-the domain of imperial cartography-undergirds the present collection of articles.

Old maps have gained new life in the academy. No longer read solely for locational data (or evaluated in terms of scientific accuracy), maps are increasingly seen as cultural artifacts that bear on a wide spectrum of social and political problems. From the worldviews and spatial imaginations of their makers to the economic and ideological projects they advanced, historical maps speak to fundamental issues of both social scientific and humanistic inquiry. Informed by new interpretive questions from cultural geography and visual studies, and armed with new techniques of digital visualization and analysis, curious scholars from across the disciplines are turning their attention to historical maps. In the process, cartographic archives from Siam to Siberia are coming into public view.

One of the latest such archives to make its way into the public domain is the corpus of Japanese military and imperial maps known as gaihōzu (外邦図), or "maps of outer lands." Starting in the early Meiji (1868-1912) era, the Land Survey Department of the General Staff Headquarters (the former Japanese army) was charged with an ambitious mandate: to map select territories [End Page 132] beyond Japan's borders. Beginning with secretive surveys conducted in areas where the government was contemplating military action, this cartographic commission steadily expanded to encompass delineation of inter-imperial boundaries, cadastral surveys of the colonies, and detailed drawings of strategic cities and fortifications. By 1945, the lands that had fallen under the umbrella of the gaihōzu ranged from Alaska and Siberia in the north to Australia in the south, and from Micronesia in the east to India, Pakistan, and even Madagascar in the west. The long-running effort to map this vast territory eventually resulted in a massive, heterogeneous corpus.

It also gave rise to a taxonomic conundrum. The category of gaihō, or "outer lands," was anything but simple. In theory, the distinction between the domestic and the foreign may have been straightforward, but in practice, Japan's boundaries were highly unstable. Both the dramatic expansion of the Japanese empire between 1895 and 1945 and the assimilationist conceit that animated its ideology ensured that the distinction between inner and outer lands was constantly in flux. Consider the case of Korea. Prior to 1910, the peninsula belonged unambiguously to the realm of the outer. But once it was forcibly annexed to Japan, Korea was notionally brought within the compass of the inner. At that point, the status of Japanese surveys on the peninsula-as well as the level of resources they could bring to bear-changed fundamentally, yielding colonial cartography rather than "outer-lands maps" per se. The same was true wherever formal governors-general were established; provisional, small-scale sketch maps hastily produced behind enemy lines were replaced by systematic, large-scale surveys, yielding standardized topographic sheets of a uniform size and scale. Yet, in common parlance, the category of "outer-lands maps" continued to encompass the full range of these productions, embracing materials produced both before and after formal colonization. This disjuncture is one reason the term gaihōzu defies easy translation or characterization.

A second source of gaihōzu diversity, however, springs from the production process itself. Overseas cartography was an opportunistic affair, with frequent recourse to makeshift methods. The earliest Japanese maps of coastal China, for instance, were patched together from widely divergent sources of information. Observations made by Japanese officers on the ground were superimposed on existing Chinese and European maps, which themselves were of incommensurate types and scales. Nor did this patch-work [End Page 133] quality disappear as the empire expanded. On the contrary, wherever Japan's cartographic ambitions ran ahead of its formal empire, the military mapping enterprise continued to make room for eclectic, ad hoc efforts. The resulting archive embraced maps made by disparate...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 132-136
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2020
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