Mapping the world is becoming an increasingly fraught endeavor, with both cartographers and those who use their products being taken to task for their failure to depict the geopolitical framework in a certain way. I have received threatening email messages, for example, after posting maps of India that did not include areas claimed by that country but controlled by Pakistan and China. More recently and more seriously, Russian MP Oleg Mikheyev has asked prosecutors to “list the Coca-Cola company as an ‘undesirable organization’ due to the fact that the soda giant did not include Crimea on a Russian map in an online ad.”
Those who object to certain ways of depicting the world sometimes respond by defacing maps and globes that they regard as objectionable. Unfortunately, Stanford University has seen several examples of such cartographic vandalism. Interesting, the three cases that I am familiar with are all focused on issues of nationalism in East Asia.
I first became aware of this problem several years several years ago when I was admiring a large and gorgeous glass globe in the Stanford Library. As can be seen in the detail posted to the left, someone—almost certainly a Korean nationalist—had scratched out the word “Japan” in the label “Sea of Japan” and had replaced it with “East Sea.” Stanford librarians are aware of this defacement, but there is little that they can do, as the cost of restoration would be prohibitive.
More recently, wall maps hanging in the Stanford Department of History have been subjected to similar forms of defacement. This issue is somewhat different, however, as the maps in question are historical documents, showing regions as they existed in earlier periods. Evidently, the depiction of such historical reality is unacceptable to some viewers, who are instead determined to change these maps so that they reflect current conditions. The result is a misdemeanor not merely against property but also against history.
The first of these maps depicts southeastern Asia in 1968. As can be seen in the detail posted here, someone has crossed out “U.K.” under “Hong Kong” and added “China,” evidently wanting to wish away the period of British rule in this former colony. Oddly, “Port.” (for “Portugal) under Macao was left alone, as were several other markers of colonial status elsewhere on the map.
The final example comes from an undated map of eastern Asia that must have been made before 1971, when the United States returned Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan. The fact that this archipelago had been controlled by the U.S. for a prolonged period is fascinating and too-little known, but it is evidently disturbing for some, as someone has inked over the red lines indicating what had been the U.S. zone of control. The same person also crossed out the name “Formosa,” as well as that of “Mt. Morrison” (alternatively, “Yushan” or “Jade Mountain”), evidently unwilling to tolerate European terms on historical maps of this corner of the world.
I can only hope that the persons who defaced these maps were not Stanford students. If they were, it certainly reflects poorly on the university.