Demographies of China

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This week I joined the Department of Asian Studies at Palacký University Olomouc (Czech Republic) as a visiting lecturer by invitation of the CHINET project. In my lecture about New Geographies of China I built on the work I have presented earlier this year at the Conference on the Socio-Economic Transition of China at the same place, teaching the students not only how China’s position is in the global context of demographic, social and economic change, but also how we can visualise this in novel ways. The following three maps are an extract from my presentation that gave an overview of this lecture.
The maps show the distribution of the different age groups in the country divided into children (age 0 to 14), working age (age 15 to 64) and elderly (above age 64) as they are counted in the official Chinese Census released by the National Bureau of Statistics. As the most recent Census figures have not been released at the same level of detail, the following three maps show the state of 2000. Here is an animated version of the three maps showing all three groups one after another (the individual maps are displayed below):

Animation of demographic groups in China projected on a gridded population cartogram
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Inequality and Sustainability

“We should … dethrone the idea that maximising the growth in measured prosperity, GDP per capita, should be an explicit objective of economic and social policy.”
Adair Turner, Chair of the UK Financial Services Authority, 2007

Today I gave a talk at the meeting of the Sustainability Knowledge Alliance and the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) of the UK Parliament at the British Academy in London. The event aimed at discussing the relationship between growing inequality and sustainability. As the meeting’s announcement explains, “in so many ways inequality is a backdrop to many features of modern political, economic and social arrangements where structures of self-reinforcing power and influence combine to buttress non-sustainability. We see this in the lobbying for the perpetuation of a carbon economy, in the promotion of the “war on terror”, and in the huge biases built into the interweaving connections between business, politics, regulation and consumerism.”
In my talk I explained how inequality and a consumption correlate. I looked at the issue mainly from a global perspective, using evidence that Danny Dorling and I compiled to find out to what extent inequality and (un)sustainability correlate. The following series of charts give in insight into how the level of inequality and a range of indicators related to consumerism and consumption compare:

Inequality and the ecological footprint
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China’s gender gap: Man-made problems?

CHINET“In recent decades, the world has witnessed the enormous economic, social, cultural and political development of China. As the most populous country in the world, China’s transition process influences directly one fifth of the world’s population and indirectly almost all the rest of the world. Chinese economic activities cover the whole globe, Chinese living overseas constitute the largest diaspora, and China’s political and economic influence is significant. On the other hand, China and its government face many challenges, as Chinese society as well as the environment are affected by these massive processes.” These challenges were the theme of a Conference on the Socio-Economic Transition of China at Palacký University in Olomouc (Czech Republic) where the opportunities and potential threats for China are discussed from an interdisciplinary perspective organized by the CHINET (Forging a scientific team and international networking in the field of Chinese Studies) project.
Part of that was an invited contribution which I prepared in collaboration with Adam Horálek of Palacký University. Our talk titled ‘Mapping Perspectives of Changing China’ presented a global as well as national context to the topic, framing China’s socio-economic place in the globalised world and highlighting some of the trends that started transforming the Chinese society considerably over the past three decades. While the most recent Census is not yet available in larger detail, we focussed on an analysis of some key aspects of the previous Census in more detail (and also discussed the quality and reliability of data from official statistics there).
The following map showing the gender gap was part of our slides (see below) and stands for one of the demographic challenges and existing tensions in the contemporary society. These are not only characterized by the changing age structures (with very distinct geographic patterns of ageing populations), but also by the considerable imbalance between the male and female population in most parts of the country. According to the most recent 2010 Census, this was at 1.18 males per female, and thus increased to the already high ratio that was stated 10 years before. In some regions, there are now over 130 men for 100 woman, with the fear (and sometimes reality), “that the excess will lead to increased sexual violence, general crime and social instability” (quoted from the Guardian). It is very much a man-made problem as in the early 1980s the ratio was at 108:100 and therefore only slightly above the natural rate, after which the 1979 introduced one child policy started having an effect that we see in its full extent today. This map, showing the sex ratio on an equal population projection (a gridded cartogram transformation where each grid cell is resized according to the total number of people in an area). It reveals, that the surplus of men is common throughout the country, while the opposite (a considerable surplus of women) is true for very few of the populated spaces in China (such as in the Shenzhen area of the Pearl River Delta where female migrants are the majority of workers under precarious employment conditions).
The authorities appear to become aware of the emerging problems, and according to the Guardian article, China’s “new Five Year Plan sets an ambitious target of cutting the ratio to 112 or 113 by 2016″. For the time being, the pattern in this map remains prevalent and puts pressure on a society that is feeling the full impact of China’s transformation to a new global player over the past decades.

Male to Female Sex Ratio in China
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Londonmapper goes #geomob: Visualising London with Cartograms

Today I was invited to give a presentation at the quarterly #geomob meetup for location based service developers which this time took place at the Google Campus in East London. In my talk I gave a short preview of the Londonmapper project that I am working on with my colleagues and the Trust for London. Unfortunately technology played some tricks on us and some of the animated bits and content did not show up during the presentation, so that I promised to put these on my blog alongside the slides of the talk. Here we go…
This first animation was an introduction into showing how cartograms work in general. I used a gridded population cartogram animation for Great Britain which I created years ago, demonstrating the approach of using a gridded cartogram to allow other layers being used in the transformed map. The following map (which is rather drafty as it was only a conceptual exercise) shows Great Britain overlaid with a topographic layer indicating the land elevation, as well as some key rivers and a selection of the motorway network. During the animation this map transforms from a conventional land area map into a gridded population cartogram where each grid cell is resized according to the total number of people living there. While the grid cells change their size, the other geographic layers are changed accordingly, so that the final cartogram shows these layers in relation to the population distribution, i.e. at which elevations do people live and how are people linked to major roads. The animation also demonstrates the magnifying lens effect in the most densely populated areas. Motorways and even the curvy shapes of the river Thames become visible now which at such a scale cannot be seen from a normal map. Gridded cartograms hence help to highlight details in these areas that are most relevant in the transformed space.

Gridded Cartogram Animation of Great Britain
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Into the big wide open: Think (twice) before you map!

A little bit from my archives which I never got around putting online before…here it comes: Last September I was invited to do a keynote at FOSS4G, OSGeo’s Global Conference for Open Source Geospatial Software. The event is the annual gathering of Open Source Geospatial Developers, Users and Leaders and was held at Nottingham’s new East Midlands Conference Centre, 17th to 21st September. The conference motto was ‘Geo for all’ because, as the organisers explain, “many people who work with geo software and maps find themselves becoming passionate advocates for the power of geography to make a difference: in government, business, travel, environment, crime reduction, social justice and communications to name just a few domains. Open Source Geo software makes this possible.
So how does a geographer, working with geospatial software but being less so a developer, address a huge crowd of people who are little reluctant to see themselves as geeks and nerds? Instead of pretending to be as clever as most of the audience I took a slightly different stance, trying to bridge the gap between those on the programming side and those on the applied side – two groups which sadly rarely speak to each other. Traditional cartographers often see their field of work undermined (and threatened) by computerised methods to generate mapping products, while coders very often find the obsession with minute detail and ‘artisan’ cartography annoying. If the two worlds would come a bit closer together, and both sides speak a bit more with each other, the world of cartography and geospatial visualisations could benefit so much more. Addressing a more technical audience, I concluded that we should all think a little bit more before we start mapping, and that we should give a good mapping project a little bit more time than we often do these days – but more importantly of course: We should never stop mapping. These are the slides of my talk, of course including many maps:

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The Human Planet: A modern Mappa Mundi

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A mappa mundi […] is any medieval European map of the world. […] To modern eyes, mappae mundi can look superficially primitive and inaccurate. However, mappae mundi were never meant to be used as navigational charts and they make no pretence of showing the relative areas of land and water. Rather, mappae mundi were schematic and were meant to illustrate different principles. The simplest mappae mundi were diagrams meant to preserve and illustrate classical learning easily. The zonal maps should be viewed as a kind of teaching aid—easily reproduced and designed to reinforce the idea of the Earth’s sphericity and climate zones” (cited from Wikipedia).
What would a mappa mundi of our times look like? A modern equivalent of such a map would have to focus on those spaces of our planet that we have a less vivid imagination of than the physical shape of the world that in medieval times was a much less familiar view than it is today. The following gridded population cartogram generated over the whole surface of Earth could be such a contemporary depiction of the world. It divides the world into equal spaces of population realigning the map view to show the human planet in a similar way as mappae mundi showed the world centuries ago:

Equal population projection map of the Earth's land and water surface
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