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Images of All Under Heaven
The earliest extant "world-maps" in China date from the Song dynasty (960-1279). One example is the Gujin Huayi quyu zongyao tu (General Map of Chinese and Barbarian Territories, Past and Present), which dates from about 1100. Another closely related and far more famous example is the Huayi tu (Map of China and the Barbarians; 1136). This latter work, about three-foot square and carved in stone, supplies approximately 500 place names and identifies a dozen or so rivers and tributaries in China. A few foreign lands are represented visually in the map--notably, Korea and India--but more than a hundred different groups of "barbarian" peoples are indicated only by written notes on the margins of the maNear the top, on the northwestern side we learn, for instance, that the area of the formerly enfeoffed Qidan people "is now called 'the Great Liao Country." Several such notes refer specifically to tributary relationships, past and present.
Not all Song dynasty renderings of space arose from the same source, however. Indeed, inscribed on the reverse side of the Huayi tu is an astonishingly "modern" looking version of an ancient work called the Yuji tu (Map of the Tracks of Yu, 1136), probably created about 1080. It marks the earliest extant example of the so-called "latticework" cartographic grid in China. Each side of each square represents 100 li (c. 33 miles), yielding a scale of about 1:1,500,000. The outstanding feature of this map, in addition to the near total absence of written commentary, is its extremely "accurate" depiction of major landforms. The representation of China's coastline, for instance, looks remarkably like modern twentieth century renderings.
The grid system of the Yuji tu apparently provided the model for Zhu Siben's influential Yutu (Terrestrial Map; c. 1320). The only extant version of this work is Luo Hongxian's Guang Yutu (Enlargement of the Terrestrial Map), first published in 1579. Luo's production takes the form of an atlas, with more than forty separate maps--including a "General Map [of China]" (Yudi zongtu) and a "General Map of China and the Barbarians" (Huayi zongtu). Like the Yutu, the Guang Yutu employs a grid system, but unlike Zhu's map, Luo includes a number of cartographic legends--twenty-four in all--for mountains, rivers, boundaries, roads, and other landmarks.
Luo's atlas obviously reflects, not least in its abundant written texts, the expansion of Chinese knowledge about the rest of the world gained in the course of the eunuch-admiral Zheng He's extensive naval expeditions during the early fifteenth century--voyages which took him as far west as the shores of east Africa. As one measure of its comprehensive scope, the Guang Yutu includes an elaborate chart that distinguishes the residents of over 120 foreign countries by area: Eastern Barbarians (Koreans and Japanese), Southeastern Barbarians (Liuqiu Islanders), Southern Barbarians (Southeast Asians), Southwestern Barbarians (Filipinos, Indians, Westerners, etc.), Barbarians of the "Western Regions" (including various Turkic peoples) and Northwestern Barbarians (Mongols and other such tribes). Many of these peoples are designated "tributaries," not only in the chart but also on some of the maps themselves.
Luo's work spawned a number of imitations, including the Da Ming guangyu kao (An Examination of the Enlarged Terrestrial [Map] of the Great Ming Dynasty; 1610) and Chen Zushou's Huang Ming zhifang ditu (An Administrative Map of the Ming Dynasty; 1636), banned during the Qing period. It is important to remember, however, that most large-scale Chinese maps of the late imperial era continued to conform to the gridless Huayi tu cartographic model. (478) The most striking and expansive example from the early Ming period is the magnificent, multicolored Da Ming hunyi tu (Amalgamated map of the great Ming empire; c. 1390). Drawn on a horizontal scale of 1:820,000 and a vertical scale of 1:1,060,000, it covers an area extending all the way from Japan to the Atlantic Ocean (including both Europe and Africa), and from Mongolia to Java. Although the section on China seems to be derived primarily from Zhu Siben's Yutu, the renderings of Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia appear to have been based at least in part on Li Zemin's Shengjiao guangbei tu (Map of the Vast Reach of [China's Moral] Teaching; c. 1330), no longer extant."
Subsequent maps based on the Da Ming hunyi tu model tended to be somewhat more restricted in geographical scope, but still impressive in their coverage. The best sixteenth century example is Yu Shi's Gujin xingsheng zhi tu (Map of Advantageous Terrain, Past and Present; 1555). This beautifully colored and heavily annotated work--representing an expanse of territory stretching from Samarkand, India and Arabia in the west to Japan in the east, and from present-day Mongolia in the north to Java and Sumatra in the south--lacks any sort of grid. It elongates Korea, treats the Shandong penninsula as if it were an island, and, like the Huang Ming yitong dili zhi tu, refers to the existence of several mythical places derived from the ancient Shanhai jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas). This work--the earliest Chinese illustrated account of "barbarians"--describes a great number of foreign lands with all sorts of exotic inhabitants: societies consisting of women, or giants, or dwarfs; people with multiple heads or bodies; creatures with the heads of humans and the bodies of snakes; and so forth.
A horizontally oriented version of Yu's map, titled Gujin tianxia xingsheng zhi tu (Map of the Advantageous Terrain under Heaven, Past and Present; n.d.). appears in Zhang Huang's Tushu bian (Compilation of Illustrations and Writings; 1613). Like Yu's production, it is full of historical references, including information on the activities of China's "barbarian" neighbors, the development of the Chinese tributary system, and various administrative changes within the Chinese empire. To an even greater extent than Yu's map, the Gujin tianxia xingsheng zhi tu identifies the homes and/or exploits of China's great culture heros, ranging from Confucius and his followers, to the Tang poet, Li Bai, to the founding emperors of the Tang, Song and Ming dynasties. It also refers to the activities of several prominent Chinese loyalists, including Zhuge Liang of the Three Kingdoms period and both Yue Fei and Wen Tianxiang of the Song.
Joseph Needham argues that there was a general "advance" in Chinese mathematical cartography from the Song period into the seventeenth century. In fact, however, the evolution of map-making in China cannot be characterized as simply a linear process of "progressive" improvement. Rather, Chinese cartographers continued to produce two distinctly different types of maps--one based on relatively precise mathematical measurements, and one based primarily on cultural data--without explicitly recognizing the existence of two competing traditions. If a characterization is required, it would have to be that maps of the latter sort greatly outnumbered those based on more mathematical models--not only up to the seventeenth century but well beyond. On the other hand, as we shall see, a number of cartographic documents of the late Ming and Qing periods placed the two types of maps together, in the spirit, one suspects, of the complementary maps engraved on the two sides of the Song stele of 1136.
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