Accepted Paper:

Reading examinations on Tibetan maps 1886: cartographic practices and the displacement of ontological world in modernity  


Su Hu

Paper short abstract:

The encounter between the geographic knowledge in imperial China and Western science is more than a transformation towards more rigor or more precision. The encounter underlies a shift between different ontological worlds.

Paper long abstract:

The hybridization of modern geographic signs and traditional visual forms in China dates back to the seventeenth century. Visual forms in an 1886 Chinese geographic publication, Examinations on Tibetan Maps, could be read as continuous with traditional surveying practices, hybridizing different elements and visual forms, or juxtaposing different maps. The modern and the traditional visual forms hold differences, which could be reduced to degrees of precision. But the images could also be scanned as ruptures. The transition into modern geography is not merely approaching to more rigor or more precision, but concerning the displacement of ontological world. The paper investigates Examinations on Tibetan Maps, identifying mismatches, rather than continuities, between traditional and modern visual forms. Different cartographic images elected different data to account for geographic facts, legitimized different surveying methods, and ultimately produced different ontological worlds.

Panel A13
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