Where the Land Meets the Sea: Mapping Perceptions of the Maritime World of Lingnan in Literary and Historical Discourses from the Song to Qing Dynasties
3: Visualizing the Offshore Islands of Lingnan: Ming-Qing Perceptions of Nan'ao Island
Saturday, March 26, 2022
4:00pm – 5:30pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
State University of New York, Binghamton, United States
In this paper, I focus on Chinese maps and paintings of offshore islands, especially Nan’ao in the near seas off eastern Guangdong, to demonstrate how their growing socioeconomic and strategic importance produced an increase in knowledge about them. With Nan’ao located at the crossroads of intra-Asian sea routes, Ming transformed it from smuggler-pirate den to governed territory in 1575. Prior to this assertion of direct control, coastal charts, like the Chaozhou Prefecture Boundary Chart in Zheng Ruozeng’s Strategic Sea Charts Compendium (1563), regularly portrayed the island as either an isolated mountain in turbulent seas or not at all. As Nan’ao developed, depictions of the island also became more detailed. Over the coming decades, navigational charts used by seaborne traders provided extensive illustrations as well as sailing instructions for approaching the island, while a Kangxi-era twelve-panel coromandel lacquer screen highlighted the complex status of Nan’ao as a site of convergence between the land and the sea, trade and protection, China and the outside world. Concurrently, coastal charts, such as those in Guo Fei’s Yue Grand Record (1593), not only delineated Nan’ao’s prominent geographical features, but they also identified the civil-military facilities and bandit lairs that dotted the island. In the eighteenth century, these developments culminated in the intricate images found in Chaozhou and Nan’ao gazetteers along with maps like the Maritime Frontier Oceanic Boundary Situation Complete Chart (1787). The changing observations reveal a coming together of private ventures, state projects, and burgeoning knowledge about maritime spaces in early-modern China.