Tian Xia

Tian is a freshman at Amherst College and a potential Computer Science/History major. His studies in history have mainly focused on Historical Geography and modern East Asia, particularly the empire-building of Qing China and Meiji Japan. He is also fairly into the military history of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Tian is involved in running “Discover China,” a collaborative historical geography website that aims to visualize history through interactive maps. Coming from a computer science background, he is rather interested in the ways that quantitative analysis speaks to the discipline of history, where data are more often than not faulty and fragmentary. He wants to know if DH tools will be more than a periphery that serves to aid subjective analysis and returns to reaffirm what we already know of history. In his spare time, Tian draws maps, develops strategy games and tinkers with computer hardware.

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Arteries of the Empire:

Relays in the Frontier Region of Qing China

The Manchu rulers of the Qing Empire, China’s last dynasty (1644-1912), incorporated Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang into its imperial sphere and created the territorial foundation for the modern Chinese states. The Qing constructed a large network of postal and military relay stations across the vast empire, connecting these newly conquered, far-flung frontier regions with China Proper. The roads along these relay stations emerged as the conduits along which people, commodities, money, and information flowed between the heart of the empire and its fringes. To a great extent, it was these routes that tied these culturally disparate areas together and integrated them into an inseparable unit, ultimately contributing to the vast territory that China holds today.

The aim of the project to reconstruct the major road system in the Qing Empire by using digital tools of Historical GIS, to create an interactive map, and also to build a corresponding digital database.

This project is informed by the so-called “New Qing History” scholarship that changed scholars’ vision of the Qing from being a mere Chinese dynasty to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic empire. By reconstructing the road system of the vast empire, we can not only better understand the experiences of the various early modern travelers, such as officials, soldiers, merchants, and migrants, all of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but also gain more insights into the historical processes through which the Qing became China today.

Raw data for the project are drawn from various historical geography sources, including official records of the Qing Court, travel Logs of government officials and scholars, reconnaissance reports by foreign travelers and investigators, such as Alekseĭ Matveevich Pozdneev and old maps, most notably the Japanese Gaihozu Maps.

While historical geography is a developed field in Chinese studies, especially in China, the majority of the maps that have been produced in this field in the past are traditional; interactive maps produced through new digital tools are only at the beginning stage. Traditional maps suffer from vastly skewed pictorial reliefs and modern maps that were drawn in the 20th century, cannot capture all of the locations on the same scale. This project aims to provide a better rendition of historical geospatial information.