“They’ve seized land the size of Zhejiang Province, you know?”
Of course I know. I know exactly what my Chinese husband has been looking at — the border dispute between China and India, one of many John obsesses over in the hours between his studies and dissertation proposals.
Years ago, I didn’t know much of anything about modern border disputes. Even as I had seen the borders of empires and countries wax and wane throughout history, and in my youth, I still imagined those boundary lines as permanent and fixed as the black ink used to print them in the atlas.
Then I went to China and, as I leafed through my first copy of the Lonely Planet China guide, found this disclaimer in tiny italicized print:
The external boundaries of India on this map have not been authenticated and may not be correct.
Borders not authenticated? Not correct? Suddenly, those perfect border lines in my mind started to run, like water poured over black ink.
But it all got really fuzzy the more time I spent with John — because I soon discovered the depths of China’s border issues. And it wasn’t just that Zhejiang-sized chunk sliced away from China, either. He lamented the loss of Mongolia, recognized as independent after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. He blasted Western media for considering China’s claims in the South China sea as controversial. And, this past September, not a day went by without John seething over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island diplomatic snare, after Japan seized a Chinese fishing boat in the region.
My crash course in China’s uncertain boundaries forced me to draw new lines of understanding when it came to reading maps. The thing is, borders aren’t made by nature — but by humans. In my lifetime, I’ve watched more borders come and go, from a unified Germany to a disbanded Yugoslavia. And as long as there are politics, wars and differences in the world, so there will be, on occasion, maps with curious disclaimers that become history lessons.
For that matter, as long as there are border disputes in China, you can bet I’ll hear about every one of them from my map-loving husband, right down to the exact size. 😉
How have border disputes — in China or elsewhere — changed your map of the world?