China is warning people in the country not to use “wrong” maps. The “proper” maps in China are those that best reflect the country’s perceived “sovereignty, safety and interests”. In other words, if you’re going to use a map in China, it had better reflect the way that China views the world.
China is undertaking a major effort to boost the country’s mapmaking industry, while also putting a stop to maps that disagree with the government’s stance on controversial territorial issues. Earlier this year, the country announced new regulations governing the creation, distribution and publication of all maps, both in print and online.
The Chinese government will be on the hunt for map violations such as “errors in compilation” and “leaks of secret geographic information and personal information”. Some prominent “errors” would include identifying Taiwan as a standalone country or incorrectly identifying the country that governs over the South China Sea.
The new regulations also update certain outdated mapping laws to better regulate the online mapping industry. All online maps that are hosted by servers inside of China, as well as all Chinese GPS providers, will be required to obtain a cartography certificate prior to posting any content.
The fines for violating these mapping laws can range up to $31,000. Additionally, businesses producing “fraudulent” maps can have their licenses revoked by the state. And in serious cases, criminal charges and even prison can occur.
Such policies in China are nothing new. Chinese customs officials at airports regularly go through belongings, hunting for anything that goes against the official political stances of China. In the past, people have had to abandon maps, globes and books for minor offenses, like rendering Taiwan in a different color than China.
In China, maps are more than just a mere navigational tool; they are seen as symbol that is increasingly important as tensions rise between China and its neighbors. The country has said that maps are politically, scientifically and legally important. According to China, they directly reflect national sovereignty and political views.
So yes, China takes maps very seriously. And if one is planning to use a map in China anytime soon, they had better make sure that it is approved by authorities.