China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
What is Zhongguo (commonly rendered in English as “China”)? Where is it? Who are Zhongguo ren (“Chinese”)? How did these identities evolve throughout history? These are some questions that scholars have been enthusiastically discussed and debated over in recent decades. Nevertheless, while the “China question” has been examined in all Chinese history, the scholarly focus has been placed on the periods when “non-Chinese” regimes played more influential roles, such as the Liao-Jin-Xia, the Yuan, and the Qing. A common assumption for most other periods—the Ming included—is that although “Zhongguo” changed in meanings and territorial scope over time, it would be concomitant with the Chinese empire, such as the Ming. Primarily drawing on Ming cartographic practices, this paper challenges such a proposition and argues for a different and separate identities between Zhongguo and the Ming. It explores both government and private maps on the world, the Ming realm, and local communities, and contends that the Ming used cartographical technology to draw cultural as well as political boundaries between Zhongguo and the “barbarian” domains within the Ming. “Zhongguo,” therefore, constituted only part of the Ming empire, which could provide interesting insights on comparative studies between the Ming and Yuan/Qing historical experience.