ArticleIn the late eighteenth century, an encounter between European and Chinese cartography left clues about the diffusion of geographic knowledge
In 1794 the Chinese scholar Zhuang Tingfu (莊廷尃, 1728–1800) produced a large manuscript map of the world with the long title The Great Qing Dynasty world map of tribute bearing countries with spherical coordinates, past and present (大清統職貢萬國經緯地球式方輿古今圖 or Daqing tong zhigong wanguo jingwei diqiushi fangyu gujin tu). This map is now in the collections of the Library of Congress. As we shall see, this manuscript map was created after an encounter with Europeans, and, six years later, it was copied in an abridged manuscript edition. The creation of that later edition, now in the MacLean Collection, led to additional encounters, and the printing of these cartographic echoes continued for decades into the middle nineteenth century.
From the second paragraph of the lengthy lower inscription of Zhuang’s 1794 map, we learn that a British envoy had arrived in Beijing in 1793 to pay tribute to the Chinese emperor. Britain had sent George Macartney (1737–1806) to establish the first British embassy in Beijing, part of a mission sponsored by the British crown and the East India Company. Over three months of encounters, we know several of the Macartney Mission’s 92 members presented maps and globes to their Chinese counterparts as part of official and unofficial exchange. No doubt these included one of the world maps recently produced in Britain that included the circumnavigations of Commodore John Byron (1765), Captain Samuel Wallis (1767), Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1768) and in particular Captain James Cook’s three well-known voyages (1768-71, 1772-75, and 1776-79), amongst others.
One possible map candidate exchanged was Robert Sayer’s (ca. 1724-94) A General Map of the World or Terraqueous Globe from 1787, like this one from the MacLean Collection.
Sayer’s map presents a double-hemisphere globular projection of the world. It included many dotted and sometimes interesecting lines which showed labeled historic circumnavigation routes around the world. Amongst the routes shown on Sayer’s map are the multiple routes of Bougainville and Cook through the Society, Friendly, and Marquesas Islands of the South Pacific.
Surrounding the maps themselves are insets, typical of European maps of the period. These insets cover a wide range of geological topics and celestial mechanics like the phases of the earth as it circles the sun, here beautifully depicted like a blooming flower, with a face on the sun.
This diagram, entitled the “The Vicissitude of Seasons Explained,” illustrates and describes the relative light and darkness according to the earth’s position with respect to the sun at the beginning of each of the twelve zodiac signs over the course of a year.
In 1800 in China, Zhuang abridged his original map and produced a copy using the same title: The Great Qing Dynasty world map of tribute bearing countries with spherical coordinates, past and present. This newly revised copy of the map included the lower double-hemisphere globular projection maps and the lengthy lower inscription, here presented with the inscription above the maps. This manuscript map, currently in the MacLean Collection, is now mounted as a hanging scroll drawn in ink and color on paper.
The map was dated and signed, “Jiajing (reign) fifth year (1800), the gengshen (year), last month of summer (August). Maps and descriptions planned and edited by Zhuang Tingfu from Jinling.”
According to the closing inscription, the map was created in 1800 as part of an imperial edition of 31 records prepared exclusively to be placed in the Imperial Archives Library in Beijing. The MacLean Collection’s map, which formed a part of this group of maps and documents, was produced in celebration of important documents originally produced during Emperor Qianlong’s lengthy reign from 1736-95; the year 1800 marked the one-year anniversary of Qianlong’s death. Examining the South Pacific shows a detail similar to the one shown on Sayer’s European map. Zhuang’s maps also shows hash-marked routes with toponyms such a Dog Island (quandao) and Saint Bernanado (shengbaiernaduo) in the Society Islands.
These islands had become part of European geographic knowledge after Byron’s journey, and this depicted route may be his voyage of 1765. Another hash-marked route through the Marquesas Islands (mengduose) likely shows the trace of Cook’s passage in 1774. Although Zhuang does not label these hash-marked routes, they seem likely to have been faithfully copied from a British original, such as the Sayer map—possibly without full understanding of their meaning.
The relatively recent rediscovery of Zhuang’s 1800 map has shed light on other related encounters and subsequent cartographic productions. There is textual and visual evidence that Korean envoys and scholars were able to view Zhuang’s 1800 map. In Korea in 1834, Zhuang’s 1800 map was rendered into a pair of woodblock-printed maps produced through the collaboration of Kim Jeongho (金正浩, 1804–66?) and Choe Hangi (崔漢綺, 1803–77).
Kim and Choe produced a set of four maps consisting of a pair of terrestrial maps and a pair of celestial maps. These were entitled Maps of the Front and Back [hemispheres] of the Globe (地球前後圖 or Jigu jeonhudo) and the Maps of the Fixed Stars of the Northern and Southern Yellow Road (黃道北南恆星圖 or Huangdo boknamhang seongdo). Kim Jeongho, perhaps Korea’s best-known geographer and cartographer, was known for his massive Territorial Map of the Great East (Daedong yeojido) of 1861. Choe Hangi was a polymath, bibliophile and a prolific writer.
The 1834 maps present a to-scale pair of terrestrial maps in the same double-hemisphere globular format as Zhuang’s 1800 map. The most obvious difference is the total lack of an inscription on the Korean maps of 1834. These maps do, however, include all the toponyms and other details of the 1800 map, including the hash-marked maritime voyages of European explorers.
That Zhuang’s 1800 map was known in Korea can also be confirmed in an encyclopedia created by Yi Gyugyeong (李圭景, 1788–1856) titled Oju’s Scattered Manuscripts of Glosses and Comments (五洲衍文長箋散稿 or Oju yeonmun jangjeon sango). This encyclopedia was compiled in the 1840s, some ten years after Kim and Choe’s map. It has an entry with the map’s description, the entire inscription from Zhuang’s 1800 map and a description of the 1834 world maps created by Kim and Choe. This confirms not only an encounter but the importance of the Zhuang 1800 map and the Maps of the Front and Back [hemispheres] of the Globe at the time; two decades later, in 1857, Choe included them in his Essential Geography of the World (地球典要). Yi, Kim, and Choe all had access to some version of the Zhuang 1800 map. How and why this came to pass is still unknown, but all three felt it should play an active part in an emerging Korean world geography.
Zhuang’s 1800 map was printed as well as updated and enhanced in China well into the middle of the nineteenth century. At some point an undated printed version was produced; the MacLean Collection also has a copy of this later version. The maps and texts are faithfully copied, including the hash-marked routes, on the printed version, although the overall scale is increased slightly.
There is an informative hand-written annotation in English on this map confirming a European missionary’s encounter with Zhuang’s 1800 original. Robert Morrison (1782–1834), a Scottish Protestant missionary, arrived in China in 1807 and spent the following twenty-seven years based in Macao. In 1817 he published his book A View of China, for Philological Purposes; Containing a Sketch of Chinese Chronology, Geography. Government, Religion and Customs. On page 6 of that work, Morrison cites having seen Zhuang’s 1800 map of the world. And the anonymous hand-written annotation on the top right of the printed Zhuang copy in the MacLean Collection quotes and cites Morrison’s encounter with Zhuang’s 1800 map.
The MacLean Collection has another Zhuang Tingfu inspired map: the printed Map of the World (萬國輿圖) dated to 1858.
There are numerous similarities and differences both visually and textually between Zhuang’s 1800 map and this 1858 map. Visually, the presentation of a lengthy horizontal inscription above the double hemisphere globular map is similar, although the main text is abridged in the 1858 map. The first difference is the scale of the overall presentation of the maps proper, with the 1858 map thrice the size of the 1800 map. Another difference is that the hemispheres in the 1858 map are reversed.
It’s important to note that a conscious decision has been made to re-orient the two hemispheres. The typical European orientation places the Americas on the left, as seen on Zhuang’s 1800 map, which was likely based on a European map. The 1858 map orientation places the Americas to the right, positioning China in the center of the world visually between the two hemispheres.
Another difference is the hash-marked lines of the various European’s circumnavigations are absent. The 1858 map also includes information of geographic features that only became known to European and Chinese geographers later than 1800, such as Lake Chad discovered in the 1820s in Central Africa, the separation of Mexico and Texas in the 1820s, the Great Salt Lake discovered in the 1830s, and Sabrina Land, south of Australia, discovered by Europeans in the 1840s.
The 1858 map also has differences that enhance the overall presentation. The large separated characters of the title itself are each a pastiche of floral and abstract design elements with shading added to imply three-dimensionality.
This kind of stylized decorative font can be found on other contemporaneous maps of East Asia, in a manner similarly found on American commercial wall maps for example published in the nineteenth century where the use of highly stylized titles and decorative borders were ubiquitous.
The 1858 map, like the Sayer map, is surrounded by insets of geological topics, here depicting the world’s highest mountains and volcanoes in the bottom corners, and the more familiar insets related to celestial mechanics, including the same diagram of sunlight over the course of a year. Similar to the Sayer map’s “Vicissitude of Seasons,” the figure here is named “Diagram of the Topography of the twenty-four fortnightly Periods over One Year” (zhounian jieqi dixing tu).
Boldly colored, also resembling a blooming flower, here the sun is red with a gold-leaf character for “sun” in the center while the outer ring depicts the earth over twelve months and the relative positions of light and darkness according to the time of year.
We have briefly considered the life of a historical map made in China and related questions. Like what happened after it was made? Where was it viewed and by whom? Zhuang’s 1800 manuscript map was the source for an astonishing number of encounters and echoes during the nineteenth century—and questions persist.
What was it about this map that made it so popular? And how did so many people from so many different countries get access to it in Beijing? Its rediscovery in the MacLean Collection has not only brought together related materials in the collection but also pointed to numerous interesting encounters and links connecting the past with the present.
Hevia, James L. Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793, Duke University Press, 1995.
Morrison, Robert. A View of China, for Philological Purposes; Containing a Sketch of Chinese Chronology, Geography. Government, Religion and Customs, East India Company: Macao, 1817.
Smith, Richard J. Chinese Maps: Images of ‘All Under Heaven.'" New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Yi Gyugyeong. Oju’s Scattered Manuscripts of Glosses and Comments (Oju yeonmun jangjeon sango). Seoul: Dongguk munhwasa, reprint, 1959
Pegg, Richard A. “Jesuit Maps in China and Korea: Connecting the Past to the Present,” in Time in Space: Representing the Past in Maps, David Rumsey Center, Stanford University, University of Chicago Press, 2020, ch. 3, 63-76
“A Chinese Map of the World from 1858,” Mapline, Newberry Library, Autumn 2016, 1-11.
Cartographic Traditions in East Asian Maps, University of Hawaii Press, 2014
“World Views: Late 18th Century Approaches to Mapmaking in China and Britain,” Orientations, Vol. 44, no. 3, April 2013, 84-89.
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