Distorted maps on the Hong Kong – China border

In the course of researching topics for this blog I’ve ended up on many unexpected tangents, and today I’m writing about one of them – missing roads along the Hong Kong – Mainland China border.

Google Maps - missing roads on the Hong Kong - China border

I first discovered the issue when researching the Man Kam To Control Point – a border crossing used by road traffic travelling between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Satellite imagery of the area on Google Maps is not distorted – the Sham Chun River that forms the natural border between Hong Kong and Mainland China is easily visible, as is the sprawling city of Shenzhen on the northern side, and the green fields of the Frontier Closed Area on the south side.

Satellite imagery - Chuanbu Road in Shenzhen

But when I switched over to the map layer in Google it was a different story – main roads on the Chinese side of the border terminate in the middle of nowhere, and the cross-border road link at Man Kam To Control Point is nowhere to be seen.

Google Maps - Chuanbu Road in Shenzhen

The reason for this border misalignment is thanks to the Chinese Government – for national security reasons every map of China must be intentionally distorted. In 2008 a Shanghai blogger by the name of Jian Shuo Wang was one of the first to notice the issue, when Google first offered their hybrid of map and satellite images in China. Their conclusion:

Look at a Chinese map, the real location may be 0 – 500 meters north, south, west, or east (randomly) of what the real location is. You have no idea about where the real location is because the transform is random.

Travel + Leisure magazine gives some more background on this requirement:

It is illegal for foreign individuals or organizations to make maps in China without official permission.

As stated in the “Surveying and Mapping Law of the People’s Republic of China,” for example, mapping—even casually documenting “the shapes, sizes, space positions, attributes, etc. of man-made surface installations”—is considered a protected activity for reasons of national defense and “progress of the society.”

Those who do receive permission must introduce a geographic offset into their products, a kind of preordained cartographic drift. An entire world of spatial glitches is thus deliberately introduced into the resulting map.

For someone wanting to view an accurate map of China, there is one option – Baidu Maps, a product of Chinese internet giant Baidu.

Baidu Maps - Hong Kong - China border

Their map of the Hong Kong – China border (above) has none of the missing roads and other artefacts that Google Maps (below) features.

Google Maps - missing roads on the Hong Kong - China border

More examples of the difference between mapping providers can be found elsewhere along the border – such as the sweeping road network at the Lok Ma Chau Control Point, as viewed in Google Map’s satellite imagery.

Satellite imagery - Huanggang Port on the Hong Kong - China border

Baidu Maps displays an accurate rendition of the roads crossing the border border.

Baidu Maps - Huanggang Port on the Hong Kong - China border

But Google Maps displays a mess of disjointed roads that never meet.

Google Maps - Huanggang Port on the Hong Kong - China border

You can explore the mess for yourself here.

The Cold War may have ended decades ago, but for the Chinese Government nothing has changed.


I ran into similar issues with skewed maps when geotagging photos that I took on my 2013 trip through China – when viewed on Google’s satellite view they were correctly located, but as soon as I switched to map view, the tagged photos would be nowhere near the location where they were taken.

Further reading

You can find out more about the subject of restrictions on geographic data in China at Wikipedia.

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Smoko time for Chinese train passengers

As the world’s largest consumer and producer of tobacco, China is a country where smoking is still prevalent and enforcement of smoking bans is almost non existent. You’ll find Chinese people smoking anywhere and everywhere – even sneaking in a 30 second cigarette breaks when travelling by train.

CRH380B high-speed trains at Beijing South station

At every station, smokers pile out of the train.

Smokers take a quick cigarette break during a short stop at Jinan West station

Light up.

Smokers pile out of the train at Handan East for a quick smoke

And take a quick puff.

Smokers have a quick puff during the station stop at Handan East

When departure time arrives, train staff shoo them back onto the train.

Smokers inhale their last puff at Xinxiang East Railway Station

Station staff blow their whistle, and the train departs.

CRH staff await departure time from Luoyang Longmen Railway Station

Leaving cigarette packets behind on the platform.

Abandoned cigarette packet following a quick station stop at Xinxiang East

Along with half smoked cigarettes.

Abandoned cigarettes following a quick station stop at Xinxiang East

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KCRC television commercial stylising track maintenance

Continuing my theme of railway related Hong Kong television commercials found on YouTube, here is a Kowloon–Canton Railway Corporation commercial from 1989 that stylises track maintenance.

The use of a dark backdrop, dramatic lighting, and a synthesiser soundtrack was a popular look for television commercials during the 1980s.

This Australian television commercial for the State Rail Authority of New South Wales is another example from the same period.

Similar stylistic cues can also been seen in this advertisement from another Australian rail operator – V/Line.

This advertisement for Queensland Rail.

As can the 1988 British television commercial “Britain’s Railway”.


Much has been written about the “Britain’s Railway” commercial – the following is from Wikipedia:

In 1988 Hugh Hudson directed a 2½-minute advert for British Rail, a parody of the Post Office Film Unit’s 25-minute documentary, Night Mail, made in 1936. Poet W. H. Auden had written verse specifically to fit the original 1936 film’s footage, which showed the enormous scale of BR’s daily operation and the structure of the ‘sectorised’ business. The opening sequence of Hudson’s British Rail advert features the northbound Travelling Post Office with Auden’s original verse, narrated by Sir Tom Courtenay.

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All aboard the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Walt Disney was known for his love of trains, which resulted in the ‘Disneyland Railroad’ being a feature of many Disney theme parks around the world – and Hong Kong Disneyland isn’t any different.

A sea of black hair approaching Hong Kong Disneyland

The park is encircled by the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad, with the round trip taking around 20 minutes, with two stations along the way – Main Street, U.S.A. and Fantasyland.

Locomotive #1 'Walter E. Disney' on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Three locomotives are available for service on the railroad.

  • #1 Walter E. Disney. Named after Walt Disney, President from 1923 to 1966.
  • #2 Roy O. Disney. Named after Roy O. Disney, President from 1966 to 1971.
  • #3 Frank G. Wells. Named after Frank Wells, President from 1984 to 1994.

Locomotive #1 'Walter E. Disney' on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Each locomotive was built by the British firm of Severn Lamb, and are actually diesel hydraulic units – the propulsion unit lives in the tender, with a steam generator and sound recordings providing the look and feel of a real steam locomotive.

Locomotive #1 'Walter E. Disney' on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Two five car trains are available for service on the railroad – one called ‘Walt’ and the other named ‘Disney’.

Loading the carriages at Main Street station on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

To provide a better view of the Disneyland park and hide the less scenic ‘backlot’ areas, the seats inside each carriage face sideways.

Departing Main Street station on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

At the rear of the train, a cast member stands guard.

Train departs Main Street station on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

The track is 3 ft (914 mm) gauge, and has steel rail on timber sleepers.

Timber sleepered track on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Rail joints use traditional fishplates, giving the classic ‘clicky clack’ rhythm as the train heads down the track.

Timber sleepered track on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Trains are kept separated by an automatic block signaling system, with colour light signals dividing the track up into a number of sections, each of which can only be occupied by one train at a time.

Colour light signals on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Due to the railroad forming a loop around the park, a number of bridges allow park guests to pass beneath the tracks.

Entrance to It's a Small World, the Disneyland Railroad crosses the bridge in the foreground

But there is one level crossing on the route, fitted with flashing lights and boom barriers.

Railroad level crossing on the Hong Kong Disneyland backlot

Linking Main Street to the Disneyland backlot, the crossing is only open to cast members and allows tall parade floats to make their way into the park.

Staff only level crossing on the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad

Also located backstage is the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad depot – it consists of a two road concrete block engine shed, linked to the main track loop by a trailing set of points.

Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad depot and stub siding

This track layout requires trains to reverse back into the depot at the end of each running day.


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Kai Tak Airport arrival in 1998

My first visit to Hong Kong was in February 1998 – I missed out on seeing the territory while it was still a British colony, but I was luck enough to fly into the soon to be closed Kai Tai Airport. Here is a YouTube video showing the hair raising approach to the airport.

Kai Tak Airport closed in July 1998, replaced by the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok – a far less exciting final approach.

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