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
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.