China on the Horizon

Art, Science, and Cartographies of Empire

Mimi Cheng


This project examines the connections between imperialism, visuality, and technical knowledge in nineteenth-century Sino-western relations. It centers the creation, transmission, and reception of spatial images— territorial surveys, topographical maps, atlases, nautical charts, and landscape photography—in the Qing, German, and British empires. These materials are analyzed in relation to the concept of visuality, understood as the social and cultural dimensions of vision. Rather than a rhetorical device developed by modern European powers and circulating as a political document for the purposes of control, surveillance, and exploitation, this project considers modern cartography as a process of aesthetic experimentation, in which the boundaries between empiricism and phenomenology, objectivity and subjectivity were far from guaranteed. In other words, instead of considering the modern map as a purely functional document upon which scientific knowledge is transcribed and imperial power is legitimated, this book explores how methods of representing the external world were as much aesthetic processes as they were technical and political ones. This research is situated in an era in which notions of space, time, and territorial sovereignty were being radically reconfigured. “China on the Horizon” thus aspires to construct a visual epistemology, one that connects imperial science with artistic production in the global nineteenth-century.