One of my favourite websites at the moment is Strange Maps, a blog featuring various unusual and interesting maps and considering how they affect our view of the world. I came across it via a link to its post of a map showing where (and how) evolution is taught in the US (one word: yikes), but it won my heart by printing Spitting Image’s Tory Atlas of the World, which I recall enjoying in my own youth (the reproduction of that map isn’t great, but you’ll get the general idea).
The two maps illustrating this post are a particularly good example of how maps both reflect and shape how we view the world, and the political impact that they can have. They are both taken from 1950s editions of Time magazine, and show the view from the USSR towards, respectively, western Europe and south-east Asia. Click each map to go to the corresponding Strange Maps post, with full-size version of the map.
Notice the way in which, in each map, the USSR’s red colouring appears to leach into its neighbours, vividly illustrating western fears of the spread of communism and the threat to the “uncontaminated” parts of the map. This seems a more accurate depiction of the post-war takeover of eastern Europe by the USSR than it does of the rise of Chinese Communism, which surely cannot be reduced simply to the results of Stalinist expansionism.
(As it happens, even in the case of eastern Europe I think the Soviet takeover, terrible as it was, is explicable more in terms of Russia’s historic strategic aims – namely, having a safe buffer against invasion from the west, and breaking the power of Germany – than in terms of specifically Communist ambition.)
One detail on the Asia map is that Manchuria and Sinkiang appear to be shown as separate territories from (or perhaps within) China itself; as is Tibet, for more obvious reasons. Perhaps someone (CPA???) could enlighten me as to why those territories might have been depicted separately. Looking at the boundary lines, they don’t appear to be shown as international boundaries (compare the border with “outer” Mongolia), so perhaps it was just to make the map clearer for US readers. Or perhaps it just reinforces (in a slightly misleading way) the depiction of a gradual, seemingly-inexorable spread from country to country.
Update: CPA has now provided an explanation for this in the comments. It’s seriously fascinating stuff.