“Merging into the Map: Sources of Imagined Cartographic Efficacy in Medieval China”

For viewers of maps in medieval China, what systems of visual technologies and cultural logic invested these maps with their perceived power and efficacy, and what kinds of relationships did the map imply between its image and the mobility of its beholder? Despite the fact that map artifacts from this period no longer survive for scrutiny as visual images, this article explores the imaginative consequences and extensions of map use as preserved in written accounts from this period. It takes as its point of departure a narrative from the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) in which a beholder of a wall-bound map merges into its fold, and embarks on a cross-country journey, and it investigates the mechanisms through which such merging and travel were thought possible. When the account of this fictive map is contextualized in relation not only to cartography but also to the contiguous genres of painting, miniature sculpture, and travel poetry, it shows that the visual language of Chinese terrestrial maps drew from a broader pictorial culture shaped simultaneously by medieval Buddhist and Daoist beliefs in the instrumental use of efficacious images. The account of map travel thus provides both a panoramic perceptual experience of space and an itinerary-based conception that offers further occasions for narrative.

The abstract above is courtesy of Taylor & Francis.