Locating the Sea
A Visual and Social Analysis of Coastal Gazetteers in Late Imperial China
Keywords:Late Imperial period, local gazetteers, local knowledge, coastal areas
Local gazetteers were important tools for local government in late imperial China as they helped officials familiarize them-selves with their jurisdiction. Local gazetteers are also valuable historical sources for the study of state and society in late impe-rial China, but the reading of local gazetteers as historical sources requires careful examination of the process by which knowledge in local gazetteers was produced. Officials and local literati who collaborated in the compilation of gazetteers nego-tiated between the need for an accurate administrative tool and the desire to represent their locality on a supra-local stage. This negotiation informed decisions around the inclusion or exclusion of content. Agriculture and Confucian education were key aspects of the social order that benefited literati, and were therefore dominant elements in local gazetteers. Along the coasts of late imperial China, however, maritime interests competed with agriculture for influence in local society. This article examines the inclusion or exclusion of local forms of maritime knowledge in gazetteers from coastal counties to gain a better understanding of the process by which knowledge was produced. Moreover, while individual literati showed interest in the maritime world, the question remains to what extent such interests found their way into gazetteers. This article applies collec-tive analysis to visual representations of coastlines to examine their role in the construction of maritime knowledge in the genre of local gazetteers as a whole.
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