Archive for the 'Maps of Central Asia' Category

The four khanates

December 13 2014

Four Mongol khanates

The four khanates into which the Mongol Empire split after the death of Genghis Khan. Karakorum is the original Mongol capital. Shangdu is Xanadu. Dadu or Khanbaliq is Beijing. The Khanate of Persia is the Ilkhanate.

Persian capitals before Islam

December 13 2014

Elamites. Susa.

Medes. Ecbatana.

Achaemenids. Their real capital was Susa, their ceremonial capital Persepolis, their summer capital Ecbatana (the old Median capital).

Seleucids. The first Seleucid Greek capital was Seleucia-on-Tigris. It was superseded by Antioch.

Parthians. The joint capitals were Ctesiphon-on-Tigris and Susa. Seleucia and Ctesiphon are now in Iraq, south of Baghdad on opposite sides of the Tigris. Susa was briefly taken by Trajan and was the easternmost point reached by the Romans.

Sasanians. Ctesiphon was also the Sasanian capital. It fell to the Arabs.

The ruins of Ctesiphon were the site of a major battle in 1915 between the British and Ottoman empires. The ruins of Persepolis were the site of the monstrous celebration of 2,500 years of Iran’s monarchy staged by the Shah in 1971.

The five cities are all on this map of the Parthian Empire (Encyclopaedia Britannica, low resolution):

Parthia map

Ctesiphon ruin, 1864

Remains of the Sasanian White Palace, Ctesiphon, 1864

Post on Dura-Europos on the Euphrates.

The Pamirs

June 23 2012

Click. (Strange spelling of Uzbekistan.) The Hindu Kush is a western extension of the Pamirs. On Aksai Chin, see this post.

Both images Wikimedia Commons.

The Silk Road

June 22 2012

Maps of the Silk Road differ and are often approximate if not inaccurate. Nor is there one Silk Road. I’ll take this one, which appears to be in the public domain, as a simple reference. It shows the main route from Chang’an, now Xi’an, in Shaanxi province, going north and south of the Taklamakan desert or Tarim Basin. The westernmost city in modern China here is Kashgar or Kashi. From there the road passes through Tajikistan (and perhaps Kyrgyzstan) into Uzbekistan – in other words, through Sogdiana – and from there into Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.

This does not show an alternative southern route which began near Kashgar and passed through Bactria, north of the Hindu Kush, before rejoining the main route north of Merv.

Another road left China to cross the Karakoram into what is now Pakistan.

The Silk Road is not a steppe route. It runs south of the steppe. It is a mountain and desert route.

On the other hand, from Transoxiana, traders could pass north of the Aral and Caspian seas in order to reach the Black Sea ports via the steppe.

Buddhism entered China on the Silk Road via the Kushan Empire in the first century of the Christian era.

The salt lake at the eastern edge of the Taklamakan is Lop Nur.

The Dzungarian Gap is the approach, between the Altai to the north and the Tien Shan to the south, across the now-Chinese Gobi, to the Great Wall and China proper.

China’s artificial northern frontier was the Wall. Its natural northern frontier was the Gobi.

Princess Coocoola

December 19 2008

… of Sikkim. A life between Gangtok and Lhasa.

Tibetan rivers

October 13 2008

The Tibet “Autonomous Region” of China borders, clockwise, Nepal, Uttarakhand state, Himachal Pradesh state, Indian Jammu and Kashmir, Aksai Chin (an almost uninhabited area in northern Kashmir claimed by both India and China: see this post), the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, Qinghai province, Sichuan province, Yunnan province, Burma, Arunachal Pradesh state, Bhutan, and Sikkim state.

Aksai Chin is shown in pale green here, but so is the other area China disputes with India, northern Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet.

The Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Yellow River, Yangtze, Mekong and Salween have their sources on the Tibetan plateau.

The Brahmaputra, also called Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, begins its journey in southwestern Tibet as the Yarlung Zangbo, and flows across southern Tibet, breaking through the Himalayas in great gorges and into Arunachal Pradesh, where it is called Dihang. It flows southwest through the Assam Valley as the Brahmaputra and south through Bangladesh as the Jamuna. There it merges with the Ganges at the head of the world’s largest delta, the Sunderbans. Calcutta is on a tributary of this system, the Hooghly, and part of the Sundarbans is in India.

The Ganges rises in Uttarakhand, not technically in Tibet, flows southeast through India, and joins the Brahmaputra in Bangladesh. Its major tributary, the Jumna or Yamuna (not to be confused with Jamuna), also rises in Uttarakhand, west of the Ganges, and joins the Ganges at Allahabad.

The Indus rises in Tibet, south of Aksai Chin, and flows into Indian Kashmir, and thence into Pakistan.

The Yellow River (Huang He) rises in Qinghai, not technically in Tibet, and flows east through China, emptying into the Bohai Sea.

The Yangtze rises in Qinghai, enters China in Sichuan, flows into Yunnan, and continues east until it reaches the East China Sea at Shanghai.

The Mekong rises in Tibet and flows through Yunnan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The Salween rises in Tibet, and flows south into Yunnan and then into Burma (with a short passage in Thailand), where it enters the Andaman Sea.

The Ayeyarwady or Irrawaddy, not shown on the map below, flows entirely within Burma, and west of the Salween. Its source, in Kachin state, is close to Tibet.

Map above Wikimedia Commons; below from



July 2 2008

Some cities founded or renamed by Alexander, or renamed soon after his death:

Alexandria Cebrene, a name for Cebrene, an ancient city in the Troad in northwest Anatolia. Has also been called Antiochia in Troad.

Alexandria Troas, on the north Aegean coast of Anatolia, in the modern province of Çanakkale.

Alexandria on the Latmos, referring to the Latmos mountain ridge, may have been a name for the ancient Alinda, in Caria in Anatolia.

Alexandria, Egypt. It had previously been a small town, Rhakotis.

Iskandariya, Iraq. On the Euphrates, about 25 miles south of Baghdad (which is on the Tigris).

Alexandria Asiana, Iran (where?)

Alexandria in Ariana, Afghanistan. Modern Herat, northwestern Afghanistan. Ariana was the name of a satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire.

Alexandria in Arachosia, Afghanistan. Now Kandahar/Qandahar (a contraction of Iskandahar). Ancient Arachosia corresponds to south-eastern Afghanistan, as well as parts of Pakistan and India. The Helmand River runs through it, towards Iran, and provides the most fertile lands in southern Afghanistan. Kandahar is the largest city. Arachosia was directly to the south of Bactria, but separated from it by the Hindu Kush. It was bound on the south by Gedrosia (now Baluchistan), on the west by Drangiana (now Seistan) and on the east by the Indus river. An ancient Indo-Iranic tribe inhabiting northwest Arachosia, the Pactyans (or Pakthas of the Rig Veda), were probably the ancestors of the modern Pathans or Pakhtuns.

Alexandria of the Caucasus, Afghanistan, in the Hindu Kush. Modern Begrám in Parwan province: see last post. In the country known to the Greeks as the Paropanisadae.

Alexandria on the Oxus, Afghanistan. Modern Ai-Khanoum in Kunduz province, northeastern Afghanistan.

Alexandria Eschate, “the Farthest”, Tajikistan. Modern Khujand. In the southwestern part of the Fergana Valley, on the southern bank of the Jaxartes.

Alexandria Bucephalous, Punjab, Pakistan, on the Jhelum River, which was known to the Greeks as the Hydaspes. Named after Alexander’s horse Bucephalus, who died there after the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC. Nearby was another Alexandrian foundation, Nicea.

Alexandria on the Indus, Pakistan. Modern Uch. At the junction of the Indus and Acesines (modern Chenab).

Here is another map (from, which refers to places mentioned in this post and in others since June 26. Punjab means Five Rivers, and you can clearly see the five tributaries and sub-tributaries of the Indus; from west to east: Jhelum (Hydaspes), Chenab (Acesines), Ravi (Hydraotes), Beas (Hyphasis) and Sutlej (Hesidros). The Beas, the shortest, is a tributary of the Sutlej.

Transoxiana and Bactria

June 28 2008

It’s impossible to get a grasp of Central Asian history without understanding the geography – which is hard to understand because there are no convenient shorelines and, most of the time, no neat cultural or political or ethnic borders to break it all down. I’m moving slowly. I have created a sub-Category here called Maps of Central Asia: link on the left. (I’m a fan of simple maps. Several of them are relevant in understanding this post. See also this post, called Indic and Hindu.)

What are Transoxiana and Bactria?

Transoxiana (sometimes called Transoxania) corresponds with modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and south Kazakhstan east of the Aral Sea and is the land between the Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya (Jaxartes) rivers. Toynbee calls it the Oxus-Jaxartes basin. The Persians called it, or part of it, Sogdiana. I’ll use the Greek names for the rivers. Here’s a map: rather small, but at least simple.

The Oxus, the longest river in Central Asia, rises in the Pamir mountains in the Wakhan Corridor, northeastern Afghanistan, and flows into the Aral Sea. The Naryn, the main headwater of the Jaxartes, rises in the Tien Shan mountains, and joins the Kara Darya in Fergana in eastern Uzbekistan, to form the Jaxartes, which then flows into the Aral Sea. I showed a map of those mountain systems here. The map above shows the shores of the Aral Sea c 1960. The sea is disappearing.

Sogdiana was a province of the Achaemenid Empire. Alexander the Great extended Greek culture into the region. Transoxiana was the northeastern point of the Hellenistic culture, and kept a hybrid Greek-Persian-Chinese-Buddhist culture until the Islamic invasion.

The Chinese explorer Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria and Parthia along with Transoxiana in 126 BC, made the first known Chinese report on this region.

Transoxiana flourished under the Sasanids (226-651), helped by wealth derived from the Northern Silk Road. Many Persian nobles and landlords escaped there after the Muslim invasion. (Pre-Islamic Persian empires: Elamite, Median, Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, Sasanid.)

The major cities are Samarkand and Bukhara. They remained centres of Persian culture and civilization after the Islamic conquest of Iran. Tashkent is more modern. All three are in Uzbekistan (one of the most appealing countries I’ve ever been to, though not politically: a wonderful cultural and physical mixture of Russian and oriental).

The region was conquered by Qutaybah ibn-Muslim between 706 and 715, loosely held by the Umayyads from 715 to 738, reconquered by Nasr ibn-Sayyar between 738 and 740. It was under the Umayyads from 740 to 748 and under the Abbasids after 748.

As Abbasid power weakened, Samarkand and Bukhara played a role in a revival of Persian civilisation under the native Persian Samanid dynasty (Sunni, ruled Persia 819-999).

Genghis Khan invaded Transoxiana in 1219. Before his death in 1227, he assigned the lands of Western Central Asia to his second son Chagatai, and this region became known as the Chagatai Khanate. In 1369 Timur, of the Barlas tribe, became the effective ruler while continuing the ceremonial authority of Chagatai Khan’s dynasty, and made Samarkand the capital of his future empire. In the map of Uzbekistan, below, you can see Farghana, the home of Babur, which was mentioned in an earlier post.

Bactria is further south. Its centre is the land between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus. Its historic capital was Balkh or Bactra, in northern Afghanistan. The Bactrian language is Indo-European. The people are Tajiks. In the period of the Kushan Empire (60 BC-AD 375), the area to the east of the Hindu Kush – in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan – is called Gandhara. Gandhara’s cities were Purushapura or Peshawar and Takshashila or Taxila.

It isn’t known whether Bactria formed part of the Median Empire, but it was subjugated by Cyrus, and from then formed one of the satrapies of the Persian empire. Alexander conquered Sogdiana (Transoxiana) and Iran without much difficulty; he met more resistance in Bactria. He defeated Darius III. Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, murdered Darius in the ensuing chaos and tried to organise a national resistance based on his satrapy. Bactria became a province of the Macedonian empire, but Alexander never successfully subdued the people. After Alexander’s death, the empire was divided up between his generals. Bactria and Transoxiana became part of the Seleucid empire. Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I founded many Greek towns in eastern Iran.

The difficulties which the Seleucid kings had to face, and the attacks of Ptolemy II of Egypt, gave Diodotus, satrap of Bactria, the opportunity to declare independence (about 255 BC) and conquer Sogdiana/Transoxiana. He was the founder of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom. Diodotus and his successors were able to maintain themselves against the attacks of the Seleucids – particularly Antiochus III, the Great, who was ultimately defeated by the Romans (190 BC).

The Greeks were pushed out of Bactria by migrating Sakas and Yuezhi (both Indo-European-speaking) c 125 BC, but continued to rule south of the Hindu Kush for another fifty years.

The so-called Indo-Greek kingdom, an extension of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom, was founded when the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded India early in the second century BC. Alexander had reached India, but the Greek presence there had not lasted. Demetrius was more successful. The Indo-Greek king Menander I (known as Milinda in India, ruled 155-130 BC) was converted to Buddhism. His successors managed to cling to power, but by c AD 10 the Greeks were gone, though Greek influence remained. They in turn were overthrown by Sakas and then Yuezhi. The Yuezhi eventually established the Kushan Empire. The Kushans were supplanted in India by the first great Hindu power, the Gupta Empire.

The Arabs conquered Bactria – which they called Tokharistan – before they crossed the Oxus to subdue Transoxiana.


Afghanistan 2

June 27 2008


Wikimedia Commons. Showing the Hindu Kush – the western extension of the Pamirs – in the northeast.

The Helmand river stretches for 1,150 km. It rises in the Hindu Kush, about 80 km west of Kabul, crosses southwest through the desert of Dashti Margo, to the Seistan marshes and the Hamun-i-Helmand lake region around Zabol at the Afghan-Iranian border.


June 26 2008

I’ve added a Category here called Maps. Most of the maps were chosen because they were simple.

Here are are some of Afghanistan.

Ethnolinguistic map from the MIT Center for International Studies site


Map of the provinces from

Another map of the provinces, from the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office, Joint Reserve Intelligence Center site; Merv was an important neighbouring centre in Turkmenistan


Very simple map of the country

The Eurasian steppe

June 1 2008

See also Tien Shan to Himalaya

Manchuria – Mongolia – Kazakhstan – southern Russia – Ukraine – Moldova – Romania south of the Carpathians – Hungary. Moderately helpful (to me) map of the steppe. Click to view.

Lost opportunities of the Osmanlis

February 25 2008

The ʿOsmanlis’ acquisition of Algeria in A.D. 1512-19 came just too late, and fell just too far short, to enable them to cut off, at its base, the Oceanic enterprise of the Castilians and the Portuguese. If Ottoman sea-power had been able to make itself felt at the western end of the Mediterranean some thirty years earlier, it might have come to the rescue of the last Moorish enclave in the Iberian Peninsula and have compelled the Castilians to fight for the retention of Andalusia at the moment when Ferdinand and Isabella were actually rounding off their Peninsular dominions by the conquest of Granada. In that event, the Spanish sovereigns might have lacked the leisure and the means for patronizing Christopher Columbus; and Columbus himself might have found it impossible, in A.D. 1492, to set sail across the Atlantic from Palos. (The ʿOsmanlis did take sufficient interest in the discovery of the New World to execute a careful copy of a very early map of the Americas which they found on board a Spanish prize that was captured by an Ottoman squadron in the Western Mediterranean.) [Footnote: See Kahle, P.: Die verschollene Columbus-Karte von 1498 in einer türkischen Weltkarte von 1513 (Berlin and Leipzig 1933, de Gruyter).] Again, if the ʿOsmanlis had followed up their acquisition of Algeria by making themselves also masters of Morocco, they might have brought Henry the Navigator’s work to naught by closing the Portuguese route round Africa to India and the Far East. The Portuguese circumnavigators of Africa who were scarcely hampered in their enterprise by the activities of the Moorish pirates of Salee [modern Salé, the twin city of Rabat] might have found themselves paralysed if the Atlantic coast of Morocco had given harbour to Ottoman fleets with the whole power of the Ottoman Empire behind them.

Similarly, the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in A.D. 1517 and of ʿIrāq in A.D. 1534 came just too late to forestall the arrival of the Portuguese mariners in the Indian Ocean; and although the acquisition of seaboards on the Red Sea and on the Persian Gulf, in addition to their seaboard on the Mediterranean, gave the ʿOsmanlis the great strategic advantage of holding the interior lines, this geographical asset did not make up for lost time. When an Ottoman naval squadron attacked the Portuguese at Diu in A.D. 1538, and Ottoman matchlockmen fought Portuguese matchlockmen in Abyssinia in A.D. 1542-3, these Ottoman operations were unsuccessful and they were never followed up.

Again, after the Ottoman victory over the Turkmen prince Uzun Hasan at Baiburt [north-eastern Turkey] in A.D. 1473, there was nothing at the moment to stop the expansion of the Ottoman Empire overland into the central and eastern sections of the domain of the Iranic Civilization; and the ʿOsmanlis would assuredly have been called in to the rescue by the Transoxanians and the Khurāsānīs at the beginning of the sixteenth century of the Christian Era, when the Eurasian frontier of the Iranic World was attacked by a new Nomadic invader in the shape of the Uzbegs [who pushed the Timurid prince Babur into Afghanistan, from where he invaded India to found the Mughal Empire], if this avenue for Ottoman expansion had not been closed, at that very moment, by the meteoric rise of Ismāʿīl Shāh Safawī [the founder of the Safavid dynasty of Persia, which survived into the eighteenth century].

Finally, we may note that the Grand Vizir Mehmed Sököllü’s project of cutting a canal from the Don to the Volga, and so securing for the Ottoman Empire the command of the great Eurasian network of waterways, miscarried when it was actually attempted, in A.D. 1568-70, because the Muscovites had just anticipated the ʿOsmanlis in securing command of the Volga by taking Qazan in A.D. 1552 and Astrakhan in A.D. 1554. This Ottoman project might well have succeeded if it had been put in hand in or immediately after A.D. 1475: the year in which the necessary base of operations had actually been secured by the conquest of Caffa [modern Feodosiya, Crimea] and Tana [modern Azov] and by the establishment of Ottoman suzerainty over the Crimean Tatars. In A.D. 1475 Muscovy had not yet doubled her power by the annexation of Novgorod, nor the Cossacks strengthened their hold on the Steppes by advancing from the line of the Dniepr to the lines of the Don and the Yaik [Ural].

Dniepr, Don, Volga, Ural, showing the Don-Volga canal


A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

Tien Shan to Himalaya

January 18 2008

Via Pamirs, Hindu Kush, Karakoram. From Jagged Globe. Click to enlarge.


Tien Shan: China and Kyrgyzstan.

Pamirs: Tajikistan (and Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan).

Hindu Kush, the western extension of the Pamirs: Afghanistan (and Pakistan).

Karakoram: Pakistan, China and India.

The large river skirting the Takla Makan to the north is the Tarim.

The Kunlun: China (Tibet), at the southern fringe of the Takla Makan, are not named. The Altai are off the map’s area, running northwest from China across eastern Kazakhstan and western Mongolia into Russia, starting east of the Tien Shan. Tajikistan, south of Kyrgyzstan, is not named. The map is useful anyway. I’ll deal with the Kashmir dispute later, but see this post.

Is China expansionist?

January 19 2007

Early Chinese history was about the expansion southward of the dominant Chinese ethnic group, the Han, from its original home in the Yellow River basin. See this post on the Shang dynasty and the beginning of civilisation in China.

As well as occupying the space we now call China, sometimes as a minority, the Han Chinese spread into Southeast Asia in a diaspora. Migration on a large scale began in the nineteenth century. At various times, the Chinese state also controlled or claimed suzerainty over parts of Southeast Asia politically.

But since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the state has not shown a strong desire for territorial expansion. Was that only because of its weakness? Will China become expansionist in the future? Recent rows with Japan show that Chinese nationalism is alive.

Toynbee in reply to Daisaku Ikeda:

I agree that since 1839 [the first Opium War], the Chinese have fought only in self-defense.

They were involved, Ikeda had said, in three major wars which they did not start: the Opium War (there were actually two wars), the Sino-Japanese War, and the Korean War.

[But] I think they interpret self-defense as including the recovery of the frontiers that the Chinese Empire had attained when the Qing dynasty [or Ch’ing or Manchu dynasty, China’s last, 1644-1911] was at its zenith, during the latter part of the reign of Ch’ien Lung.

He reigned from 1735 until 1796. His regnal name is the Qianlong Emperor. We have met him already, impersonating Alec Guinness in a post called Anglo-Saxon attitudes.

Ch’ien Lung incorporated what we think of as Chinese Turkestan into the Qing dynasty’s rule. This is now the huge Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It used to be known as Sinkiang in the West. Some Uyghurs, who are mainly Moslem, now have aspirations to independence.

Ch’ien Lung also took control of Tibet. China lost Tibet after the empire fell in 1911, but took it back immediately after the revolution of 1949.

So he was a kind of Trajan. But he was not successful in Southeast Asia.

This accounts both for China’s reconquest of Tibet – from the Tibetans’ point of view an act of aggressive colonialism – and for China’s otherwise inexplicable breach with India, which had previously been China’s best friend.

The breach with India happened in 1962.

China broke with India over some strips of territory in the high Himalayas that, although worthless in themselves and strategically superfluous for China, had, I guess, symbolic importance, because India claimed a frontier line imposed by the British when China was too weak to object.

In 1914 the McMahon line had advanced the border of India into Tibet. The line runs between Bhutan and Burma and divides India and Tibet/China. So the present Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is called South Tibet by China.

Wikipedia suggests that China did have a strategic concern, but a defensive one, namely to protect the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, which ran near the Indian border and was the primary route for supplying the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Tibet before the opening of Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006, which now runs from Xining in Qinghai province to Lhasa (map below).

The war was fought in “AP”, but also at the other end of Tibet, in the China-administered region of Aksai Chin, an almost uninhabited area in northern Kashmir at the junction of Pakistan, India, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Aksai Chin is a separate dispute. It was part of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh until Ladakh was annexed by Kashmir in the nineteenth century. It was thus absorbed into British India. The Republic of India claims it, but a Chinese highway runs through it connecting Tibet with Xinjiang. China therefore has a strategic interest in it and considers itself the heir to this part of Ladakh.

Neither dispute has been resolved.

The Sino-Indian war was one of the largest ever fought at such an altitude. (Cf the Kargil War, fought between India and Pakistan in the mountains of Kashmir in 1999.) It coincided with the Cuban missile crisis, so it was seen in the Western media as another act of aggression by a Communist state. It is not clear to me which side started it. Perhaps China.

I see no indication that China intends to expand beyond [my italics] her frontiers of the year 1796, the year of Ch’ien Lung’s death.

The editor didn’t pick up on Toynbee’s slip when transcribing this conversation or he made his own: it was Ch’ien Lung’s reign that ended in 1796. He died in 1799, and retained influence during the final years.

Toynbee then turns towards China’s northeast.

Indeed, though recently the Chinese have clashed with the Russians along the Amur River, they do not seem to be seriously intending to try to recover the vast territories beyond the left bank of the Amur and the right bank of the Ussuri that China was compelled to cede to Russia in 1858-61. The Chinese element in the population of these territories was, and is, very small.

The Amur rises in China and now forms most of the border between Russia and China, before it turns north at the Russian city of Khabarovsk. Its mouth is in the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, opposite the northern end of Sakhalin.

The Ussuri rises in Russia, flows north, joins the Amur at Khabarovsk, and forms part of the eastern border between Russia and China.

The right bank of the Amur is the northernmost part of China, hundreds of miles north of Beijing, and the northern edge of Manchuria: ie of the territory between Mongolia and China’s eastern border. The Russian side is sometimes called Outer, or Russian, Manchuria.

The Qing or Manchu dynasty hailed from Manchuria, so their claims beyond the Amur were ancestral. They were ceded without a war, like so many other concessions to foreign powers by the Qing in the nineteenth century.

Toynbee could have added, in support of his argument that China does not even wish to return to all of its borders of 1796, that it has no declared wish to reconquer Mongolia.

Mongolia (that is, the country called Mongolia, aka Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia being a Chinese province) was ruled by the Qing from the end of the seventeenth century until the end of the Chinese empire in 1911, when it declared its independence.

Toynbee made these points in response to these remarks by Daisaku Ikeda:

“I do not think that the Chinese are a people with aggressive ambitions. On the contrary, I regard them as essentially pacifists seeking peace and security for their own country. […] It seems to me that the Chinese participate in hostilities only when it is necessary to defend themselves. In my opinion, the Chinese people developed a nationalistic inclination as a natural reaction against the successive invasions by foreign countries – including Japan – that have occurred since the Opium War.”

China’s natural attitude, according to that view, is not an aggressive nationalism so much as a calm Chinese ethnocentrism.

None of this has touched on China’s overseas claims. The biggest of these is, of course, Taiwan. But this is seen as already Chinese. China could invade. Reclaiming it would satisfy Toynbee’s 1796 test.

Not that Taiwan is an ancient Chinese possession. It wasn’t settled by the Chinese until 1662, when Koxinga, a former pirate and a Ming loyalist in opposition to the Ch’ing, landed there and expelled the Dutch. He established the Kingdom of Tungning, which ended in 1683, when his grandson was defeated by a Qing armada and Koxinga’s followers were expatriated to the furthest reaches of the empire, leaving approximately 7,000 Chinese on Taiwan. So Taiwan began as a centre of Ming resistance, just as it is now the centre of Republican resistance.

There are some uninhabited islands near Taiwan which the Japanese (who had Taiwan between 1895 and 1945) administer and China claims: the Senkaku Islands in Japanese, Diaoyutai or Tiaoyutai Islands in Chinese, Pinnacle Islands in English.

Then there are the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and gas and oil deposits, whose true extent is unknown and disputed. The PRC, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the entire group of islands, while Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines each claim various parts. Several of the nations involved have soldiers stationed there and control various installations on different islands and reefs. Taiwan occupies one of the largest, Taiping (Itu Aba Island). The disputes remain a plausible scenario for a major east Asian war involving the PRC, or a smaller war between other claimants, a scenario depicted by Tom Clancy in his novel SSN.

The Paracel Islands are disputed for the same reasons. They have been controlled and administered by China since 1974, but other countries lay claim to them.

More on Chinese rivers here.

Below this post, five maps. Of, from left to right:

  • China’s administrative divisions and territorial disputes
  • the new Qinghai-Tibet railway
  • Aksai Chin
  • Manchuria (where you can see the very short border between Russia and North Korea)
  • Indian states and Union Territories, showing the Indian version of the borders of Arunachal Pradesh, which China disputes, and of Kashmir, which Pakistan and China dispute

The first three from Wikipedia and stated to be public domain, the fourth distributed freely with the online version of the 2004 edition of the CIA World Factbook, the last from I have requested permission.

china-administrative.png  qinghai-tibet-railway.png

aksai-chin.jpg  manchuria.jpg


With Daisaku Ikeda; Richard L Gage, editor; Choose Life, A Dialogue, OUP, 1976, posthumous

From the Japanese English-language edition, The Toynbee-Ikeda Dialogue: Man Himself Must Choose, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, Kodansha International, 1976