Maps are enjoying a renaissance these days, with many websites and news outlets turning maps into wonderful graphical tools for showing data and seeing new patterns. There are now lots of good free tools for putting these kind of infrographics together, but a lot of what is available is rather US-centric. So I am very pleased to have recently stumbled across a couple of pretty wonderful free tools for making informative maps of China. The first and most amazing one is the ChinaMap project hosted over at Harvard, which allows you to plot a huge variety of social and economic data in map form.
Here’s a fun one: the language regions of China. Other cool ones for history buffs include the locations of Ming dynasty garrisons, the concentration of Qing dynasty entry exams–and, you guessed it, locust attacks during the Yuan dynasty. There’s also more practical and recent stuff like the routes of natural gas pipelines, air pollution, GDP per capita and similar economic indicators. The depth and variety of what’s available is stunning. I could play with this for hours (and in fact I have…)
The other new entrant in the cool China map sweepstakes is the PUMA project just launched by the World Bank, an open platform that pulls together an enormous amount of information about urban boundaries gathered from satellite photography (it includes China rather than being specifically for China). The level of detail here is amazing: check out for instance this illustration of the urban expansion of Beijing. The in-browser software seems quite sophisticated and has lots of useful features, though it’s less of a general-purpose mapping tool than one for tracking urbanization specifically. Still, pretty nifty.