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Guangyutu 廣輿圖

Aug 15, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Guangyutu 廣輿圖 is China's earliest printed provincial atlas. It consists of 2 juan and was produced on the base of the late Song-period 宋 (960-1279) map Yuditu 輿地圖 that had been created by Zhu Siben 朱思本 (1273-1337).

Zhu Siben 朱思本, courtesy name Benchu 本初, style Zhenyi 貞一, hailed from Linchuan 臨川 (today's Fuzhou 撫州, Jiangxi). As a practicing Daoist, Zhu was very interested in rivers and mountains (places to achieve 'immortality'), and decided to create a kind of atlas. The result was, in 1320, a collection of 24 maps with explanations, with a book length of 2 juan. Maps were drawn by a grid pattern allowing to assess exact distances (ji li huafang 計里畫方). It was published in manuscript version and also cut on a stele in the Sanhua Court 三華院 of a Shangqing Monastery 上清. Any copies of this original as well as the stele are lost, but has survived in a enlarged version produced by the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Luo Hongxian 羅洪先 (1504-1564), courtesy name Dafu 達夫,style Nian'an 念庵, from Jishui 吉水 (in today's Jiangxi).

Luo's atlas was finished in 1541 and shows maps in grid pattern indicating absolute distances. It includes a general map, 15 maps of provinces (the two metropolitan regions of the Ming, and 13 "administrative commissions", buzhengsi 布政司), 11 maps of border regions, five maps of selected areas in the west, 3 maps of the Yellow River, 3 maps on the Grand Canal, 2 maps on sea transport, as well as 9 (new) maps of the foreign countries Korea, the Gobi desert (Shuomo 朔漠), , the Western Territories, and various islands in the East China and South China seas, making a total of 44 maps.

According to Luo's preface, the original scale of Zhu's maps was downsized, and place names were changed to the then-valid names. His atlas was first printed in 1555, and in 1578 again as part of He Tang's 何鏜 collecton Xiurang tongkao 修攘通考.

In a revised edition published by Hu Song 胡松 in 1561 Japan and the Liuqiu/Ryūkyū Islands were added. The maps are designed according to a fix scale that differs from map to map. The proportions of the geographical regions shown in the particular maps are therefore very reliable. Mountain ranges are indicated by shading, rivers are drawn as parallel lines, and lakes are designed with a wave pattern. Cities and spots are indicated by different symbols, either circles, squares of rhombs, depending on the administrative hierarchy. There are in total 24 different symbols used in the atlas. Maps are accompanied by legends.

In 1566 Han Jun'en 韓君恩 published two older books useable as supplements to the atlas, namely Gui E's 桂萼 (d. 1531) Yutuji xu 輿圖記敘, and Xu Lun's 許論 (1487-1559) Jiubian tushuo 九邊圖說. Notable are Qian Dai's 錢岱 print from 1579, and a facsimile of the original version printed in 1799 by Zhang Xuelian 章學濂.

The Guangyutu is a well-structured complete atlas of Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) China and its surroundings.

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