On China

Mapping Water: Cartographic Lessons from Ancient China

Mapping. I truly believe that hybrid methods of mapping help to achieve better architecture and ecological design. For nearly a decade I have studied the role of hybrid cartography as a key tool that transforms cities and towns across the world. That is what I call Sustainable Cartography.

Everything is mappable. From cities to the DNA of every species on Earth. To make my life easier, what I map are four elements that flow everyday in human settlements. These are Water, Waste, Food, and Fuels. My interest is how these flows are carried by architectural objects in cities and villages. To do so, I like to learn from historical maps. My experience in China has put me in contact with historical cartographic methods that deal with ecosystem services such as water supply. I have discovered new possibilities of mapping that date back hundreds of years.

In the Chinese historical context, spanning over several ruling dynasties and thousands of cities, the development of a “hydraulic” economy was supported by extensive irrigation projects. These required direction by an agro-managerial elite. The success of this economy depended on the making of accurate calendars to regulate agricultural activities. According to Cordell D. K. Yee, besides the calendar measuring time, one could add the map for measuring and controlling space.[1] Time and space, two properties of Sustainable Cartographies.

Yee mentions that land registrations that survive from the Tang Dynasty (years 618-907) consist entirely of text, but from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) onwards such records were often accompanied by maps. The maps gave a sense of configuration of the fields measured, and the annotation texts provided the measurements and other information.[2] Chinese cartography did not dissociate itself from the visual arts until the nineteenth century, even though Chinese mapping in the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) assimilated techniques imported from Europe and became a “science” in the Western sense of the word. [3] In hydrological treatises from the Qing (1644-1911), quantitative information, as well as historical facts, is found in verbal text, and maps provide a sense of the physical appearance of the area of interest. In some cases, the cartographic image is almost overwhelmed by text.

Mapping water is key in Sustainable Cartographies. What is the lesson of these Chinese traditions of mapping? Where can we apply and reinterpret these mapping techniques in China and in the world today? I have started to connect the possibility of applying these traditions in the mapping process of the peri-urban rivers and water canals of Shanghai.

Shanghai peri urban 2019. Ernesto Valero Thomas
Shanghai peri urban 2019. Ernesto Valero Thomas
Shanghai peri urban 2019. Ernesto Valero Thomas

[1] Cordell D.K. Yee, “Taking the World’s Measure: Chinese Maps between Observation and Text” in the History of Cartography, Volume 2. Book 2, ed.  J. B. Harley and David Woodward The University of Chicago Press Book.

[2] Cordell D.K. Yee, “Taking the World’s Measure: Chinese Maps between Observation and Text” in the History of Cartography, Volume 2. Book 2, ed.  J. B. Harley and David Woodward The University of Chicago Press Book.

[3] Cordell D.K. Yee, “Taking the World’s Measure: Chinese Maps between Observation and Text” in the History of Cartography, Volume 2. Book 2, ed.  J. B. Harley and David Woodward The University of Chicago Press Book.

[4]Cordell D.K. Yee, “Taking the World’s Measure: Chinese Maps between Observation and Text” in the History of Cartography, Volume 2. Book 2, ed.  J. B. Harley and David Woodward The University of Chicago Press Book.

 

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