Political organization has been as important in creating a common culture. No empire or state can exist without both cooperation and means of enforcing order among disparate geographic areas and peoples. This was the primary achievement of Qin Shihuangdi. This first emperor defined the empire's borders within central Asia and established common laws for everyone within every geographic sector of the country. In modern times the reunification of China's geographic regions (often historically independent kingdoms or "states") under a common Communist ideology was a major achievement of the Chinese Communists and the People's Liberation Army.
Political organization in China has been successful in part because it recognizes the distinctiveness of various geographic areas. Large cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Chongqing, and Hong Kong, have special political status. Likewise, key economic cities have been created and accorded such status to provide controlled access to minor economics and world trade. Finally geographic areas dominated by non-Han cultures and peoples, such as Xinjiang, Ningxia, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Guangxi, have been declared (at least on paper) "Autonomous Regions." Even at the local level, special status is commonly given to cities or even geographic areas that require it to maintain political peace and order-a type of geopolitical "gerrymandering."
Given that the Chinese have long recognized their geographic distinctions, it seems only reasonable that we should teach about China with the same awareness and sensitivity to diversity.
Selected sources and suggested further readings:
Buxton, Leonard H. China: The Land and the People. New York: Gallery Books, W.H. Smith, Pub., 1988. (Note: A great collection of photographs and short descriptions of people and places.)
Hsieh Chiao-min and Jean Kan Hsieh. China: A Provincial Atlas. New York: Macmillan Publishing, U.S.A., 1995.
Knapp, Ronald G. China's Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.
---. The Chinese Houses. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1990.
---, ed. "Chinese Landscapes." The Village as Place. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.
McColl, Robert W. "House and Field in the Karakorams." FOCUS, 37, no. 4 (1989).
---. "By Their Dwellings Shall We Know Them-An Analysis of Housing Form and Function Among Inner Asians." FOCUS, 39, no. 4 (1989).
---. "China's Modern Silk Road." FOCUS, 44, no. 2 (1991).
Sivin, Nathan, ed. The Contemporary Atlas of China. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988. (Note: Contains excellent regional maps showing topography and cities; lots of photographs define each region and provide a sense of place.)
Whitehouse, Patrick, and Maggy Whitehouse. China by Rail. New York: Vendome Press, 1989.
Zhao, Songqiao. Geography of China: Environment, Resources, Population, and Development. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994.
Author: Robert W. McColl.