The Geographer’s New Map, Part II: China

Loyal tdaxp reader Catholicgauze recently attended a lecture by H. J. de Blij in Washington, DC. Dr. de Blij is the author of Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America: Climate Change, The Rise of China, and Global Terrorism.

This post is the second of a three-part series on Catholicgauze’s reflection on de Blij’s presentation. Part I: Climate Change was published on November 18, and Part III: Global Terrorism on the 28th.

I have only heard three complaints against Dr. de Blij speech. Two of them were from liberals who decried his refusal to solely blame humans for climate change. The other complaint, the one with validity, was that he spent more time on climate change than the other two topics combined. However, in the limited time he had left, Dr. de Blij continued to wow the crowd and myself.

China: “I never lost sleep during the Cold War. While others were going bonkers with M.A.D., the Cuban Missile Crisis, and The Day After; I knew there wasn’t going to be any real war between the Soviet Union and the United States. They liked our music and we liked their ballet. We were from the same cultural realm. We mistrusted each other but we knew each other. Similar history, religion, and the ability to realize the stupidity of total nuclear war was found in both of us.

“With China; however, all this is thrown out of the window. I fear that a grave cultural misunderstanding may lead to a war involving all the powers of South-East and Southern Asia.”

This is how Dr. de Blij began his section on China. The words have been stuck in my mind since he uttered them.

Dr. Blij pointed out how China is already an empire. While the vast majority of Chinese are descendants of Han Chinese, the vast expanses of land to the northeast and west are not “brothers or even cousins” of the Han Chinese. An interesting thing mentioned (which I ask all bloggers to try to find more information on and report back) is that on average there are “thousands of acts of ‘rebellion and insurrection’ against Beijing a year.” Dr. de Blij most of these are incidents are in the minority areas of China like Manchuria, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjian (It would be interesting to read Dr. de Blij book to find out what exactly is an act of “rebellion and insurrection’).

Dr. de Blij went on to show that China is not satisfied with its current empire. To demonstrate this he told us a story about his previous geography book Human Geography: Culture, Society, and Space. This textbook has been sold the world over but the publisher was unable to get an acceptable contract with China. However, one day a package from East China Normal University’s Geography Department came asking for Dr. de Blij to sign the book. Dr. de Blij, “being a good sport,” signed the book without looking it over. Then, he started receiving angry letters from fellow Asian geographers asking why he was so pro-Chinese. He obtained another copy of the Chinese edition and saw something that disturbed him. The book talked about “lost lands” that included, but not limited to, portions of Eastern Russia, all of Mongolia, Taiwan, parts of India, Nepal, Burma, huge swaths of Indochina, both Koreas, and a good deal of Kazakhstan. He showed us a copy of the map that looked a lot like this

Click Image for Full Map

During question-and-answer time Dr. de Blij had to put up with what I call “lack-of-knowledge” or what most would call stupidity. The most LOK question was “Isn’t calling China an empire going to be sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They haven’t been aggressive in the past.” Dr. de Blij responded with a strong “NO.” He pointed out China openly engaged US and UN forces in the past in Korea, openly talks about Nuclear War with its neighbors and the US, massacres its own citizens, and has an educational program which teaches aggressive foreign policy.

The main point of this section was political geographic knowledge. Dr. Blij compared the average Chinese classroom, where knowledge of the world around them is strong and schools teach how to succeed in the world, compared to the average American classroom, which all agree do not have a decent geography program and fail to give many children the skills needed to survive in the global market. Adding on to this point is a recent survey from National Geographic which showed 50% of 18-25 year-olds cannot immediately locate Texas on a map of the United States and 20% cannot locate the Pacific Ocean on a map of the world!

tdaxp’s Comment: As before, thanks to Catholicgauze for his excellent post.

Several posts in the blogosphere help illuminate Catholicgauze’s points. In particular, Curzon remembers Imperial Asia, Tom Barnett’s sanguin, Publius looks at Chinese riots, Bill Rice looks at Chinese expansion into Latin America, John Robb sees China desperate for energy, Mark Safranski worries about Chinese corruption, Simon hopes for a China without Communism and updates on repression in Taishi, and tdaxp got censored.

Update: Coming Anarchy and Sun Bin both look at Chinese “expanionism” through maps. CA’s more hawkish.