05 March 2007

In stumbling around the Chinese internetz looking for maps, I came across this one China’s borders in 1952, shortly after the establishment of the PRC. Some Chinese bloggers find it interesting to contrast it with current borders, like so:

But that’s not why I liked it. I was interested in the provincial borders of 1952, which were a legacy of the Republic. There’s a slightly better map for seeing the changes in the Wikipedia (or the unblocked Answers.com) entry for the Political Divisions of China. Supposedly it’s translated from a page at the Chinese Wikipedia, but I haven’t found that yet. You kinda have to squint to see the dotted lines of the old borders underneath the superimposed contemporary map.

Hardly a single province seems to have been left unscathed by border adjustments, and in fact, the People’s Daily reported in 2002 that, 60 years later:

The first map in China with provincial boundaries having a legally binding force was completed Tuesday, marking a success in internal boundary demarcation.

On past maps, zig-zag lines marking the country’s provincial borders were not official since there were no legal instruments for cartographers to refer to when such boundaries were being drawn.

As a result, some provinces are placing boundary markers - Jilin was busy placing markers along over 40,000 km of it border in 2004 according the rules. It’s worth noting that China’s internal border are even newer, in some cases, than the national ones. Even more interesting, the article states “disputes stemming from the natural resources in the bordering lands at issue kept popping up. “ This had me fascinated: what happens to those areas where new borders are drawn? What kind of disputes are there?

My girlfriend is from Baarle-Nassau, in the South of the Netherlands, where perhaps the weirdest possible combinations of exclaves and enclaves are found. Unbelievably, you can even find “a Belgian parcel within a Dutch parcel within a Belgian enclave, which in turn is surrounded entirely by Dutch territory…” (Correction: my girlfriend supplies this link, noting the most complicated arrangement is six Dutch exclaves within a Belgian enclave) She once told me that, since Belgian taxes are lower, some people whose homes straddle one of the enclave borders will have their front door moved to another side of the house so as to technically reside in Belgium. I wonder if that happens in China.

All of this led me to a really interesting article on a full-scale armed border war that raged between Jiangsu and Shandong for the past half a century, the translation of which will be the topic of my next post: The Fifty Year War on the Banks of Weishan Lake.

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