BRI Mapbox: An Online Map Generating Database

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.

Mapping Routes, Exchange, And Transformation Along The Borderlands Of Laos, China, And Vietnam: The Lanten Case

Political and, often, scholarly, boundaries divide Asia artificially into units, such as Southeast Asia and China. This modern division often contributes to masking ongoing processes of exchange and flow of persons, goods and ideas, and societies inhabiting the borderlands. Such is the case of the Lanten communities (Landian Yao or Yao Mun) who...

Mapping the online discourse on the BRI in social media: general context and religious factors

This data mining project investigates the changing and contested narratives of the BRI in social media, focusing on sentimental and networking characteristics in online communication platforms. In an interim outcome, this work has firstly framed a systematic approach to analyse the discourse on the BRI in social networking platforms; with further...

Paving Portions Of The ‘One Road’ Across The Indian Ocean: China’s Highway And Bridge Projects In The Republic Of The Maldives

Our work examines the work of constructing domestic overland roads and bridges within the Republic of the Maldives. This archipelago of atolls stretches across 90,000 square kilometres, but of that vast territory only less than 300 square kilometres is comprised of dry land. The country includes within its territorial waters two major deep-water...

Muslim Humanitarian Networks and Chinese Infrastructures in Northern Pakistan

This project investigates the intersection of Muslim humanitarian networks and Chinese-built infrastructures in Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The central aim of the project is to examine how at this meeting point of material and social entities that are often seen as disjointed new meanings emerge which alter the use and poetics of...

Global/Local Perspectives on Chinese Muslim Origin Narratives and Guangzhou’s Islamic Heritage Sites

Alongstanding tradition among Hui Muslims attributes the arrival of Islam in China to a mission led by Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ (ca. 595-ca.574), a relative of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Although the historicity of this story has been questioned to the point of incredulity, Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ is associated with two important sites in Guangzhou –...

Inter-Asian Learning And Teaching Across The Belt And Road: In-Between Pakistani Madrasah And Chinese School

Driven by the steady increase of the Muslim population, ethnic Muslims in Hong Kong have been desperately seeking physical space for daily prayer and reciting Qur’an. Out of the strong religious aspiration, many small-scale madrasah (‘housques’) have been flourishing in many parts of Hong Kong in recent years. Based on my ongoing ethnographic...

Buddhism At The Borders Of Trade: Colonial And Post-Colonial Discourses On Trans-Himalayan Economic Networks And Connectivity

The expansion of international trade exerted and continues to exert considerable influence on the negotiation of nation-state borders and on the formation of cultural, social, and religious identities. While the relationship between religion and trade is undeniably complex and multifaceted, it has been suggested that commercial connectivity has...

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Sinophobia And Religious Nationalist Sentiments In Vietnam

President Xi Jinping’s launch of the One Bell One Road Initiative (OBOR or BRI) was met with a negative reaction in the Vietnamese public sphere, although the speedy development of infrastructure connecting Vietnam and China would stimulate a number of trade sectors. The discussion focused on whether part of Vietnamese sovereignty should be given...

Alternative Networks In Southeast Asia: One Sea One Temple, And The City Of A Thousand Temples

In response to the slogan One Belt One Road a small temple in Sibu, Sarawak came up with an alternative slogan – One Sea One Temple. They then built a network of over 100 Dabogong (Tudigong) temples in ports along the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean. This covers much of the same territory as the BRI’s “Maritime Silk Road.” But rather...

Back To Jerusalem: The Missionary Movement Of The Chinese Protestant House Church

Chinese Protestant Christianity has grown exponentially in the last few decades. China has become a missionary-sending country at the same time as its political and economic importance in the world has grown. Many Chinese Christians believe that God has been calling on them to undertake the great mission of converting Muslims to Christianity. The...