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Thinking Outside the Walls: Illustrations of Cities and Extramural Space in Chinese Gazetteers

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Knorr, Daniel 


Walls have long been understood as a distinguishing feature of premodern Chinese cities. Serving both practical and symbolic purposes, they set off urban space from the surrounding countryside. This article examines illustrations of cities (chengtu) in Qing-era gazetteers to determine to what extent and in what ways our assumptions about the importance of walls correspond to a common genre of visually representing urban space. Some chengtureflect these assumptions very directly, presenting walled cities as islands floating in the blank space of exurban space. However, most chengtucontain some amount of extramural detail, and there is considerable variety in how these illustrations treat the relationship between intramural and extramural space. No single factor, such as geography, the presence of topographical features or religious structures, or the specific title attached to a given chengtu, can explain this variation. Instead, chengtureflect tremendous fluidity in visual discourse around cities in the Qing period beyond what existing scholarship on gazetteers and representations of urban space would lead us to expect.



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Journal of the European Association for Chinese Studies

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This material is based upon research conducted while affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, andsources were made available during this affiliation via Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin’s CrossAsia portal.