Blank Map Tiles Point to Locations of Xinjiang Detention Centres

As part of their investigation into China’s practice of detaining Uighur and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, Buzzfeed News journalists compared blanked-out areas in Baidu Maps with uncensored imagery from Google Earth and satellite data providers, and, after sorting through some 50,000 possible locations using custom web tools, built a database of some “428 locations in Xinjiang bearing the hallmarks of prisons and detention centers.” This article explains the methodology.

Blurring or removing map data to prevent people from seeing something important or sensitive is a pretty loud signal that there’s something important or sensitive to see there. Some five million Baidu Maps tiles were masked in Xinjiang alone—there’s a lot the Chinese government considers sensitive—which made the unmasking considerably harder. But not impossible.

Emissions Drop Due to Coronavirus Outbreak

Map of mean tropospheric NO2 density over China, January-February 2020
NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens

As you may have seen elsewhere, the coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on air pollution, as countries shut down human and economic activity in an attempt to deal with the outbreak. Take nitrogen dioxide. Tropospheric NO2 density decreased significantly over China between January and February, and the same seems to be happening in northern Italy, which normally has some of the most severe air pollution in Europe. See the ESA’s animation:

More broadly, try this online map, which compares NO2 emissions before and after 20 February 2020 anywhere on the planet. [Maps Mania]

Previously: Mapping Nitrogen Dioxide Pollution.

New Interactive Coronavirus Map from the University of Washington

Screenshot from Novel Coronavirus Infection Map

Another interactive map tracking novel coronavirus infections, this one from University of Washington geographer Bo Zhao. Like the Johns Hopkins map (previously), it compiles information from multiple sources.

The country-level data is collected from WHO, while the data of each province in China is collected from multiple sources such as China’s NHC, Mapmiao and Baidu. Notably, we also refer to CDC to verify the virus spreading status in the U.S. To make a timely data and map updates, we collect the data every 4 hours, and verify the data quality per day. In addition, we plan to provide finer-scale data from China (the county level), U.S. (the state level) and Canada (the province level) in the next version.

More at UW News. [Geography Realm]

Previously: Tracking the Wuhan Coronavirus; The Washington Post Maps the Spread of the New Coronavirus.

Tracking the Wuhan Coronavirus

Johns Hopkins CSSE (screenshot)

Johns Hopkins University’s CSSE has created an interactive map and online dashboard to track the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. Details at their blog post:

The case data visualized is collected from various sources, including WHO, U.S. CDC, ECDC, China CDC (CCDC), NHC and DXY. DXY is a Chinese website that aggregates NHC and local CCDC situation reports in near real-time, providing more current regional case estimates than the national level reporting organizations are capable of, and is thus used for all the mainland China cases reported in our dashboard (confirmed, suspected, recovered, deaths). U.S. cases (confirmed, suspected, recovered, deaths) are taken from the U.S. CDC, and all other country (suspected and confirmed) case data is taken from the corresponding regional health departments. The dashboard is intended to provide the public with an understanding of the outbreak situation as it unfolds, with transparent data sources.

The data is also downloadable. [Geography Realm/Maps Mania]

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has created a series of maps showing where the outbreak started and the nearby areas at risk.

Previously: The Washington Post Maps the Spread of the New Coronavirus.

Update, 31 Jan: Maps from the New York Times.

Beidou, China’s Satellite Navigation System, to Be Complete by June

Beidou logoChina’s Beidou satellite navigation system—a competitor to GPS like Russia’s GLONASS and Europe’s Galileo—will be complete by June 2020, when the constellation’s final two satellites are launched, the Associated Press reports. Twenty-four satellites have already been orbited. Whereas the first two iterations of Beidou offered regional coverage, this third iteration will cover the globe when complete. [Engadget, TechCrunch]

A GPS Spoofing Mystery in Shanghai

Someone is spoofing GPS signals in Shanghai, and we’re not entirely sure why they’re doing it, or how. One ostensibly bizarre theory: sand thieves trying to obfuscate illegal dredging by zonking out the GPS received by other ships’ AIS transponders. But how they’re redesignating ship (and bicycle) GPS locations into riverside circles, rather than, say, shifting everyone’s position a few kilometres away, has not yet been figured out. [MetaFilter]

Previously: The Russians Are Spoofing! The Russians Are Spoofing!

China Restricts Foreign Firms from Mapping Roads for Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars require insanely detailed maps in order to function. But, as The Drive’s Stephen Edelstein writes, “The Chinese government is blocking foreign companies from mapping its roads in great detail, according to a Financial Times report. The restrictions, which reportedly do not apply to Chinese firms, are being instituted in the name of national security. China is concerned about spying.” Mapping, geotagging, geographic surveys—all of these have been subject to Chinese government restrictions for many years (recall the trouble Google Maps has had operating in China), so this is more of an additional data point than an actual surprise. [Boing Boing/PC Mag]

Previously: The Business of Making Maps for Self-Driving Cars.

Ming-Era Silk Road Map Donated to Palace Museum in Beijing

“A huge colored map of the Silk Road from a royal court of the mid-Ming Dynasty was officially welcomed home at the Forbidden City in Beijing on Thursday,” China Daily reports. “The 30-meter-long by 59-centimeter-wide scroll, named the Landscape Map of the Silk Road, is painted on silk. It depicts trade routes starting at Jiayuguan—at the western end of the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)—through Central and West Asia to the Middle East.” The map had been purchased by a Japanese collector in the 1930s; it passed through several Chinese collectors’ hands in the 2000s until Hong Kong real estate magnate Hui Wing Mau paid $20 million for it earlier this year before donating it to the Palace Museum. [Tony Campbell]

Historian Searching for Maps to Support Vietnam’s Claims to the Paracel Islands

Philippe Vandermaelen, “Partie de la Cochinchine,” Atlas universel de geographie physique, politique, statistique et mineralogique, 1827. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Using old maps as “proof” of one side’s claim over disputed territory, or a disputed place name, is something we’ve seen many times before. It’s happening with the Paracel Islands as well. They’re claimed (and occupied) by China as part of their claim on the South China Sea (the Nine-Dash Line); Vietnam considers the islands as part of Đà Nẵng province. While the central Vietnamese government has been somewhat careful regarding its boundary dispute with China, the same cannot be said for Đà Nẵng’s government, which has asked a local historian, Tran Duc Anh Son, to collect old maps and documents supporting Vietnam’s claims to the islands (which it calls the Hoàng Sa Archipelago). The New York Times has the story. [WMS]

Previously: Vietnam Objects to Map World’s Boundaries.

Two Asian Map Exhibitions in the Netherlands

Two related map exhibitions are taking place right now in the Netherlands. Mapping Japan runs until 26 November at the Japan Museum SieboldHuis in Leiden. Its focus is on 18th- and 19th-century Japanese maps from the Leiden University Libraries’ collections. “The impressive scroll painting of the Japanese coast and the personal maps belonging to Philipp Franz van Siebold (on display for the first time) are unquestionably the highlights of this exhibition.” (Possessing those maps got Siebold in considerable trouble in Japan.) Also in Leiden, Mapping Asia runs until 14 January 2018 at the Museum Volkenkunde. Its focus is on the objectivity (or lack thereof) in cartography, and features maps of both European and Asian origin. One highlight is a digitally reconstructed map of the Chinese Empire. [WMS/WMS]

The Origins of the Selden Map

The Selden Map is a map of Chinese origin bequeathed by John Selden to the Bodleian Library in 1659. The precise origins of the map have hitherto been unknown, but scientists at Nottingham Trent University are trying to do something about that. Using a series of non-invasive techniques to examine the map’s material composition, they conclude that the map was created in stages, and probably comes from Aceh, Sumatra. Their findings were published last year in Heritage Science. [Caitlin Dempsey/WMS]

Previously: The Selden Map.

Ricci Map Derivative Found in a Garage Sells for $24,000

Two dark, torn illustrations found in the garage of a Palm Springs home and listed for sale as “two 19th century hand colored prints of the world” turned out to be something quite possibly a bit more significant. First identified as two panels (of six) from a 1708 Korean map, Kim Jin-yeo’s Gonyeomangukjeondo (곤여만국전도), which is a derivative of Matteo Ricci’s famous Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (aka the “Impossible Black Tulip”), the panels ended up selling earlier this month for $24,000; the buyer, map dealer Barry Ruderman, is restoring the map for sale and suspects that it may in fact be a 17th-century Chinese copy rather than a Korean map. Daily MailFine Books Magazine. [WMS]

Previously: China at the Center.

Has the Ricci Map Been Altered?


This Taipei Times article suggests that some copies of the Ricci map—Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map of the world produced for the Chinese emperor—have been altered, possibly to support (or at least not contradict) the present-day Chinese territorial claim to the Spratly Islands (and the nine-dash line). In particular, the article claims, the James Ford Bell Trust’s copy of the map has been altered:

Part of the legend reading “between the 15th and 42nd parallels” had been erased, with ocean patterns painted over the erasure. […] Whether this is a recent defacement done to obliterate evidence that China’s historical primacy in the South China Sea is a modern fiction, or an ancient one done to eliminate an error, is a subject for further research. […] Nonetheless, several other 16th century copies of the Ricci-Li map exist in Europe, South Korea and Japan, and all display the legend intact.

To be honest, the article isn’t so much making a case as it is casting some aspersions. It has an agenda: to shoot down the argument that China’s claims to the Spratly Islands are supported by the historical record. The Ricci map—like so many other maps caught up in territorial disputes and conspiracy theories—is simply a means to an end. [WMS/Leventhal Map Center]