Maps and Chinese

I like maps. When I was younger, I especially liked looking at maps of imagined fantasy worlds. I drew quite a few myself (although I was never quite nerdy enough to actually use them to play D&D or anything like that).

In high school, fantasy writer Piers Anthony‘s map of Xanth caught my attention because the geography was clearly (mostly) Florida’s, and yet so much was not the same. I think it’s a similar charm which results in my fascination with Chinese maps of the world.

As long as I’ve studied Chinese, I often still experience a kind of initial “orthographic shock.” There’s just something about picking up a newspaper completely covered in Chinese that my brain still rebels against every now and then. Even if I can read every word in the newspaper, my brain will still pull a “Whoa, that is so not English!” thing from time to time. It probably happens more often with books. And it happens with maps. But somehow with maps the “shock” seems to translate into that fascination with unfamiliar maps, resulting in attraction rather than aversion.

So I was happy to discover an index of Chinese maps of the world on A lot of the maps seem a bit old, but they’ve got a lot of them, and they’re quite large. They’ve got a huge map of China (11935*8554 image size, 21.5MB), and lots of individual maps for different provinces and cities (which may or may not be outdated).

To me, the really interesting part is the maps of the world. The site has two world maps: small (2194 X 1374 image size, 537k) and large (5182 X 3887 image size, 11.7MB). In addition, it has maps of other places around the world:

Asia: Japan
(Tokyo), North and South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan
The Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey
Europe: the UK (London), France (Paris), Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Russia (Moscow)
Africa: Egypt, North Africa
North America: USA (Washington, DC, New York City), Canada, Mexico, Cuba
South America: Brazil, Argentina
Oceania: Australia, New Zealand

I find it interesting and amusing that Tampa is listed on both the world map (pictured below) and the North America map, but Orlando isn’t. (Take that, John B!)


Finally, as long as I’m on the subject of maps, I should plug Wang Jiangshuo’s Shanghai Map 2.0. It’s much better than his first one (it now has click and drag functionality!), which I wrote about a while back.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I find it satisfying and sensible that Chinese maps of the world place Australia in the centre (Take that, John & John!).

  2. Do the Chinese maps show the location of Disney World in China — or where it’s going to be? Did they build that yet? Have they started it?

  3. I’ll bet that a lot more Chinese have heard of Orlando (thanks to the NBA) than Tampa (if I meet a Chinese Devil Rays fan, I’ll eat a shoe), though.

    Besides, you’re from Brandon and I’m from Winter Springs 🙂

  4. And Orlando is totally on this map!! 🙂

  5. John B,

    Evidently the cartographers aren’t NBA fans.

    And yes, I know Orlando is on the USA map, but it’s not on the big ones.

  6. Tim P,

    There is only one Disney World, and it is in Orlando. You should know that. In fact, China is in Disney World (in EPCOT, to be exact), not vice versa.

    Hong Kong Disney Land already opened. I don’t think the mainland Disney Land is working out… but that’s pretty off topic anyway.

  7. This is great! What a novel resource. I also have a fondness for maps, and crossing the langauge boundary makes them way more interesting.

  8. It’s odd sometimes what gets included and ignored on Chinese maps. A while ago I saw a map of the world which in Scotland included Aberdeen and Glasgow but not Edinburgh. Apparently this is because Aberdeen and Glasgow are covered in Chinese geography classes, which focus on industry, for their importance in oil and (once upon a time) ship-building respectively. Meanwhile Edinburgh which isn’t much of an industrial center, despite being of much more cultural and political importance than Aberdeen, gets left off.

    The map of Europe linked above does this, although it bizarrely includes Inverness, which is of little cultural, political or industrial significance at all. Apologies to those in Inverness, but it’s true.

    Wales suffers a similar fate, with Cardiff being discarded in favour of Milford Haven.

  9. Maps are one of the ways I’ve actually been able to tolerate learning Chinese characters. It’s kinda easy to start with maps since so many Chinese place names are repetative and use really basic roots.

    I’m sure many of you out there know this, especially John, but Tampa’s on there and Orlando isn’t cause before the 70’s Orlando was famous for… nothing.

  10. Luo Dawei Says: October 6, 2005 at 4:14 am

    John, you nailed it. Orthographic shock. What a great word! I too have this from time to time, even though I have studied Chinese for a while also (since 1988 actually), I still sometimes get this overwhelming sense that I don’t get it when I look at a bunch of Chinese characters. Kind of like, “eh, where do I start?” Then I can switch gears and start in then it makes sense.

    Must be because my brain was hardwired for English at a young age so learing Chinese later on, my brain had to use a bunch of new resources to make new pathways to learn Chinese. Kind of like a language firewall in my brain.

    I wonder if kids who are immersed in English and Chinese from a young age don’t have this “Orthographic Shock”.

  11. Da Xiangchang Says: October 6, 2005 at 6:17 am

    Well, having different words for the same location ain’t too weird. Having a totally imaginary country is–like Anthony’s Xanth. (Doesn’t Piers Anthony live in Florida? I remember reading his Incarnations of Immortality series waayyyyy back.) The guy who most completely remade the world was probably Orwell. I always wonder what his 1984 maps would look like, the supercountries Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. England was a province of Oceania called Airstrip One. Now, those would be fascinating maps! (The novel Fatherland has an interesting map too–1964 Europe after the Nazis won World War II.) These alternate realities are the best.

  12. i love my nerdy little brother!

  13. Map of Orwell’s world? Here you go.

  14. BAKER WANG Says: November 22, 2005 at 6:17 pm


  15. why is chinese geography so important??

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