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UCLA Graduate Division

Graduate Student Profile - Tom Narins (Geography)
China’s National "Humiliation Maps"

Tom Narins When Tom Narins asked an international conference of geographers whether they knew about China’s national humiliation maps, the response was totally polarized. Most of the Chinese geographers—and hardly any of the Americans—said yes. The Chinese understood that the maps delineating their country’s historical boundaries "are used as tools to remind Chinese citizens of the territory that China has lost over the years, especially when China was invaded by nine different countries in the early 20th century," Narins says. The idea is "to promote Chinese identity" so that schoolchildren will learn "that China once was strong and can be strong again."

Before he gave his 15-minute presentation at the International Conference on China and the Future of Human Geography, Narins contacted a number of prestigious scholars in China "to test whether my presentation would be sensitive enough to get me thrown out of China." They assured him that there was "nothing controversial" in the national humiliation topic, and the conference response confirmed "how open the Chinese were about the maps," Narins says.

Supported by a Graduate Summer Research Mentorship, Narins spent the summer researching the work of William Callahan, a professor of international politics and China Studies at the University of Manchester, who discusses the national humiliation maps as one element of how China shapes national identity by juxtaposing a celebration of ancient civilization with a commemoration of its modern humiliation. A Graduate Division grant also paid for his travel from Shanghai, where he had been studying Chinese, to Guangzhou, the site of the conference.

While discussing the national humiliation maps was "not emotional or sensitive at all," Tom says, "in the same audience, you can’t talk about Taiwan as easily." Official policy continues to hold that Taiwan is part of mainland China, he explains, and there is considerable feeling that the Chinese "would rather go to war than lose one more inch of territory."

Published in Winter 2011, Graduate Quarterly