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Articles | Volume 1
15 Jul 2019
 | 15 Jul 2019

Landscape-style Maps in Traditional Chinese Local Government

Akihiro Osawa

Keywords: Landscape-style maps, Jiangxi yudi tushuo, Annotated maps

Abstract. The various landscape-style maps that we have recently been learning about were originally painted at Local government offices. It is thought that they were not made for printing and publication but were kept as government materials.

This becomes clear by looking at the Daming Yitongzhi 大明一統志 and various regional gazetteers, but the focus of traditional Chinese gazetteers was chronology: which individuals came from that area (like a family’s ancestors), who was appointed to that location, or whether any literary works are associated with the place. In other words, the importance of geographic texts in traditional China lay in exploring a location’s past and recognizing that area and its people.

On the other hand, maps placing importance on practical utility were also drawn to meet actual political and military demands. The annotated maps compiled by government offices in the late Ming recorded the actual state of affairs from the vantage point of administrative needs.

This change, which attached importance to local realities, became quite pronounced from the Wanli 萬暦 era onwards and can be confirmed on the basis of extant atlases and annotated maps from local government offices. An early example indicative of this trend is the Linghai yutu 嶺海輿圖 by Yao Yu 姚虞, which is included in the Siku quanshu 四庫全書 and is judged to be valuable for providing detailed information about contemporary affairs and defences and for having established a different format for local gazetteers. It is said to have been compiled when Yao Yu was regional inspector (xun’an yushi 巡按御史) of Guangdong and to have a preface by Zhan Ruoshui 湛若水 dated Jiajing 嘉靖 21 (1542). One reason that various maps from around the country, including annotated maps, have survived may be that a need for them came to be widely felt in government offices.

It used to be extremely rare to see the originals of maps created by late-Ming regional government offices. Subsequently, photographic reproductions of the Nanjing fuxian ditu ce 南京府縣地圖冊in the Zhenjiang 鎭江 Museum, the Jiangxi quansheng tushuo 江西全省圖説(江西輿地圖説)[Map of Jiangxi Province with Explanations] in the National Library of China, and other provincial maps and explanatory descriptions made using traditional techniques of the Ming and Qing periods have been included in collections like Cao Wanru曹婉如, et al. (eds.), Zhongguo gudai ditu ji: Ming dai 中國古代地圖集:明代 [Collection of Chinese Old Maps: The Ming Period] (Wenwu Press, 1994) and Zhonghua gu ditu zhenpin xuanji 中華古地圖珍品選集 [Collection of Rare Chinese Old Maps] (Ha’erbin ditu Press, 1998).

The reason for the attention paid to this early-Wanli-period Jiangxi yudi tushuo 江西輿地圖説 is partially because it is thought to be one of the earliest paintings by a government office, but it is also because of the existence of Zhao Bingzhong 趙秉忠’s Jiangxi yudi tushuo (Jilu huibian 紀録彙編, fasc. 208) and Wang Shimao王世懋’s Rao Nan Jiu sanfu tushuo饒南九三府圖説 (Jilu huibian, fasc. 209), works from the same period that can be contrasted with this map book.

I have discussed this in detail elsewhere, but we have confirmed, from photographs of picture map and explanatory descriptions of Taihe 泰和 County contained in the Zhonghua gu ditu zhenpin xuanji, that the original early-Wanli-period Jiangxi yudi tushuo is extant in the collection of the National Library of China in Beijing, making it possible to investigate the specifics of government-office illustrations. It also became clear that the textual contents of the Jiangxi yudi tushuo (held by the National Library of China in Beijing) and the Jilu huibian version are nearly identical.

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