Interpreting the Past

East Asia Unit: Creating Annotated Relief Maps of Ancient China

Assignments to hand in: Relief Map of China | Critical Thinking Questions (See below)

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 2: Why do people live and move where they do?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to identify various physiographic features of China, such as elevation, climate, precipitation, etc. You will also be able to describe how they affected settlement in ancient China.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about the physiographic features of China shaped the way people settled years ago.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by creating a physiographic map of China and answering critical thinking questions about how these physiographic features affected human settlement.


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Cartographers (mapmakers) use several types of maps to show the different elevation levels of land. The simplest one is a picture map. On these maps, shadows and realistic drawings are used to show where hills, mountains and valleys are located and what they look like. Cartographers can provide a more accurate depiction of elevation by creating topographical maps. On these maps, elevation is shown by means of contour lines. Contour lines on a topographical map may be thought of as imaginary lines slicing horizontally through layers of the earth at fixed intervals. Increases in elevation are shown by drawing contour lines close together in parallel lines, or in rings around a particular feature, much like concentric circles around a pebble thrown in a pond. Relief maps use color and different levels, instead of contour lines, to show changes in elevation. The number of colors used varies, but those used are usually shown in the map key. On most relief maps, brown shows mountain peaks, lighter shades of brown depict hills, and plains and lowlands are yellow and green. Water is always shown in blue.

Relief Map of China

Step 1: Creating a Relief Map of China - Read the directions carefully and print out the resources needed below to create your map.

Map Materials:
Map Project Directions (Read these carefully)
Relief Map Pieces (4 pieces to be assembled like the example below)
Elevation Pieces (Each piece represents an different range of elevation)
Relief Map Information/Data (Use this chart to fill in the map keys)

Example of a Completed Relief Map:
Relief Map of China Example

Step 2: Critical Thinking Questions About Settlement in Ancient China - Complete the Critical Thinking Questions About Settlement in Ancient China. [Type your answers? - Word Version] Make sure you cite information on your map to back up your answers to each question.

Where did the Chinese people settle?

The North China Plain
(The North China Plain)

Critical Thinking Question A: Most people in ancient China settled on the North China Plain. Explain why this was true by considering the following:
1. What elevation levels might be unsuitable for human settlement?
2. Which locations might be too hot or too cold for farming?
3. Which locations might provide the best sources of water to fulfill human needs?
4. Which locations might provide vegetation for domesticated animals such as cattle and pigs?

Why was China isolated from the rest of the world?

Himalayas - Tibet, China
(Himalayas - Tibet, China)

Critical Thinking Question B: China was isolated from the rest of the world during ancient times. Explain why this was true by considering the following:
1. How might elevation make it difficult to enter and exit China from the west and southwest?
2. What physiographic features might protect China from northern invaders?
3. How might the seas east of China act as barriers to trade and travel?
4. How might vegetation act as an obstacle to invaders trying to attack southern China?

Why did many different cultures develop within ancient China?

The Yi People of China
(The Yi People of China - An Ethnic Minority)

Critical Thinking Question C: A number of different cultures developed within ancient China. Explain why this was true by considering the following:
1. How might the different elevation levels separate people?
2. How might differences in temperature affect the way people dressed?
3. How might differences in precipitation affect the types of housing that people built?
4. How might the different types of vegetation affect people's diets?