The historical depth of cartographic ideas and practices in East Asia is unusual in world history and deserves more interdisciplinary scholarly attention than it has received. There are many questions that have not been explored enough: What is the range of materials identifiable as maps in East Asia? What kinds of messages have they conveyed? What are the techniques and circumstances that have shaped them, and how have they intersected with other textual and visual media? What are their cultural contexts in material, political, and social terms? What historical insights emerge when we analyze East Asian maps today? Answering these questions requires a capacious conception of cartography capable of crossing disciplinary, historical, and national boundaries. This special issue of Cross-Currents fosters that capaciousness by considering the meaning and materiality of maps, broadly defined, in a variety of Chinese and Japanese cultural objects made over the course of several hundred years. The goal here is to enliven debate about the forms, messages, and uses of cartography in the East Asian past by grappling with the particular properties of spatial representation in the Sinosphere.
This is an auspicious moment to pursue this goal because of the increasing interest in spatiality as an organizing principle of inquiry among scholars of East Asia in disciplines throughout the humanities and social sciences. In the past two decades, the steady publication of general cartographic histories of individual East Asian countries in English has contributed mightily to an expanded and more inclusive world history of maps. Particularly noteworthy [End Page 325] demonstrations of the diversity and complexity of East Asian maps have been made in Chinese Maps: Images of "All Under Heaven," by Richard Smith (1996); Korea: A Cartographic History, by John Rennie Short (2012); and Cartographic Japan: A History in Maps, edited by Kären Wigen, Sugimoto Fumiko, and Cary Karacas (2016). Each of these seminal studies has also made plain how much more there is to document, analyze, and appreciate in these three traditions and the links among them. Cartographic Traditions in East Asian Maps, by Richard A. Pegg (2014), is an example of a study that puts Chinese, Japanese, and Korean maps into conversation with one another in ways worth emulating. The Internet has, of course, played a major complementary role in conventional academic publishing on geospatial topics in China, Japan, and Korea, in part because so many more maps originating in East Asia can now be seen and analyzed with relative ease, providing inspiration for more scholars and map aficionados to add their voices to the conversation. Recent special issues from Cross-Currents exploring maps at the margins of East Asia have fueled this scholarly momentum. For example, "Mapping Vietnameseness" (June 2014), edited by Hue-Tam Ho Tai, and "Cartographic Anxieties" (December 2016), edited by Franck Billé, have taken critical aim at the role played by maps and cartographic discourse in international territorial disputes, some of which remain contentious. The panel I co-organized with Stanford historian Kären Wigen for the Association of Asian Studies 2016 annual conference, out of which this special issue grew, was itself a multidisciplinary expression of enthusiasm for the irreducible otherness of East Asian maps among an international group of young scholars still in graduate school, or just embarking on their first academic posts.
Channeling this scholarly momentum into an energetic exploration of the alterity of cartographic representation and practice in East Asia is critical for broadening writing on the world history of maps, which has long been Eurocentric in its assumptions. In addition to the recent scholarship already mentioned, surges in theoretical and artistic daring among geographers regardless of national purview suggest that the time is ripe for East Asianists to be assertive in accounting for the full range of objects and practices understandable within a comprehensive and inclusive conception of maps. If Dennis Wood, an enterprising cartographer who taught design at North Carolina State University, can reasonably if impressionistically represent barking dogs in a neighborhood of Raleigh, North Carolina, with nothing [End Page 326] but twenty-one star-like shapes, then who is to say what a map can and cannot be, now or in the past (Wood 2013, 112...