BRI Mapbox: An Online Map Generating Database

Post Author(s)

The BRI Mapbox illustrates the spatial configuration between infrastructures and religious factors in the BRI region. This work maps out and correlates routes, borders, railroads, pipelines, ports and free trade zones with demographic, economic and geo-political data in both contemporary and retrospective timeframes. These spatial features form a cornerstone to contextualize the religious factors in the BRI context, and to study transnational religious circulations and influences between China and the rest of Eurasia.

Collection of datasets is based on the review of academic, media and online literature and sources, as well as local information contributed by collaborators’ ongoing field researches and in-depth interviews in West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and China. For a systematic understanding, the overall datasets are categorized into seven dimensions, each of which is configured into a distinct layer that can be combined with other layers to generate maps.


Religious spatial information:

  • Geographical distribution of world religious groups
  • Governmental restrictions on religion by country
  • Religious sites in China of the five major religions (Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, Protestantism)
  • Chinese-focused Muslim missionary centres in the Arabian Peninsula

Routes and Hubs of Silk Road and the BRI:

  • Ancient silk road
  • Urban hubs, nodal places of the BRI
  • Contemporary routes of the economic corridor and maritime silk road

Infrastructures (includes: existing, constructing, and planned):

  • Railways and highways in connection with China and Afro-Eurasia
  • Oil & gas Pipelines, refinery stations
  • Harbour and ports with Chinese engagement in world
  • Border checkpoints in the southeast Asia borderland

Economic zones:

  • Special Economic and Trade Zones endorsed by the Ministry of Commerce of China
  • Free Trade Zones in Southeast Asia and Arabian Peninsula

 Transnational agreements and organizations:

  • The foreign relations of China: officially designated levels of strategic cooperation
  • Countries which have signed mutual agreements under the BRI
  • Strategic partnership (The 17+1 Initiative, Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Forum on China-Africa Cooperation).
  • International political and military organizations
  • Overseas military establishments

Indigenous ethnic groups associated with the BRI:

  • Population and locational data of ethnic minorities communities in China and Southeast Asia, associated with ethnic or minority religions

 Demographic & Topographic Data:

  • World population density data by 1km grid size
  • Waterways
  • Hypsometric maps (includes contour lines and 3D terrain rendering)
  • Land cover maps


One of the aims in this sub-project is to visualize and disseminate the spatial information to the public. Accordingly, geoinformatics toolkits, web design languages, and online-mapping application are applied with four specific components including

(1). Geographical Information System: ArcGIS,

(2). Geo-coding API,

(3). front-end web development languages: mark-up (HTML) styling (CSS), programming (JavaScript), and

(4). Mapbox web application.

In specific, ArcGIS is used for building, storing, analysing, and projection of spatial data; Geo-coding API coverts the locational data with the form of natural language into geographical coordinates; HTML provides the basic structure of website, which is combined with CSS in layout rendering and JavaScript to control the behaviour of web elements; Mapbox provides a locational data platform for hosting and querying spatial information on an online interactive interface.

As a synthesis of the above components, all geographical datasets will be published on a BRINFAITH online mapping website, which will be made public after the data has been completed.  Different themes and layers of data can be visualized by clicking on different options on the left column. This website appends a tutorial section instructing users to manipulate various backgrounds, zoom extents, superimposition of layers, and orientations. Maps that are generated can also be turned into pdf and images files. The data layer on religious populations depicts the geographical distribution of the dominant religion by province throughout the world, and also includes the second-most dominant religions in regions populated by ethnic minorities in China and certain other countries. The religious maps can be filtered to show only one religion at a time, or different combinations of religions. With the ongoing data collection, this sub-project reveals the entanglement between the BRI and religious circulations and populations, and allows to associate macro-level mapping with local case studies.

Cartographic Practices of National Images: Circulation and Reactions to China’s Extending Geo-body in The Belt and Road Initiative

Edward Man, Qian Junxi and David A. Palmer



The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has marked a shift away from China’s hide and bide strategy of the 1990s towards a more pro-active engagement in Afro-Eurasia. While it is popular for scholars to discuss the economic and infrastructure implications of the BRI, little attention has been accorded to questions of how cartography acts as a material agent that not only visualizes but constitutes geographic contestation associated with China. This article examines the dissemination of the BRI’s maps in online media platforms, through computational text mining approaches to analyse how the imagination of the national space — the geo-body — has been discursively shaped and re-shaped in a propagational linkage between ideas, institutions, and individuals. A key area of contention is how the mapping of the BRI brings up the possibility of people constructing a new but yet undefined identity in future, leading to their reflexive thinking on national geo-bodies. Theoretically, we follow the approach of critical cartography to investigate the BRI’s mapping and its influence on the public. This is especially so as the official BRI’s maps are still vague and rarely disclosed by Chinese authorities. This article highlights the ways in which the cartographic practices and national geo-bodies unfold.

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