Rivers of Empire, Trees of Nation: Environment and State in China’s Inner Asian Frontiers
1: Mapping Steppe and Rivers in Qing Mongolia
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Montreal, Canada
This paper argues that the environment of the Khalkha Mongolian steppe shaped the making of local maps in the Qing era. Drawing on the study of a locally produced regional map dated from 1780, I find that the central river of eastern Khalkha Mongolia, the Kerülen river, dictated the orientation of the map while the shape of mountains gave multiple perspectives to the illustration of topography. This map also territorialized the Mongol banners, listed frontier posts, and provided military information to the central state. Rooted in systems of local knowledge, the information included in this map provide insights into how local Mongols interacted with the natural environment. The content of the map as well as its aesthetics reveal notions of space and territory that contrasted with the state prescriptive view on the administrative geography of Mongolia. Local cartography of the frontier, reflecting the perspectives of local Mongol producers of geographical information, thus intersected with the politics of the steppe and the natural environment. Ultimately, regional maps of Qing Mongolia supplied an essential layer of geographical information that remained excluded from imperial atlases.