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Qianlong neifu yutu 乾隆內府輿圖

Sep 14, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

(Qing) Qianlong neifu yutu (清)乾隆內府輿圖 "Imperial atlas of the Imperial Secretariat from the Qianlong Reign" is an official imperial geography from the mid-Qing period 清 (1644-1911). In 1756 the Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1736-1795) ordered drawing maps of the Qing empire in order to actualize the Huangyu quantu 皇輿全圖 atlas from the Kangxi reign-period 康熙 (1662-1722), and that of the Yongzheng reign-period 雍正 (1723-1735).

It was finished in 1772 and is known under the names Qing Qianlong neifu yutu 清乾隆內府輿圖 "Imperial atlas of the imperial secretariat from the Qianlong reign", Qianlong huangyu quantu 乾隆皇輿全圖 "Complete atlas of the empire from the Qianlong reign", Yudi quantu 輿地全圖 "The whole atlas of the empire", Qianlong shisan pai tu 乾隆十三排圖 "The Qianlong map in 13 rows", Huangyu quanlan tu 皇興全覽圖 "Complete atlas of the empire", or Qingdai yitong ditu 清代—統地圖 "Atlas of the whole Qing empire".

The technical difference to the earlier Kangxi atlas is significant, especially in the newly conquered territories in the west (xinjiang 新疆 the "new territories") and in Tibet, which had become a protectorate by the mid-18th century.

After the completion in 1761, the French missionary Michel Benoist (Ch. Jiang Youren 蔣友仁, 1715-1774) was ordered to manufacture a print of the atlas. Benoist was an official in the Directorate of Astronomy (qintianjian 欽天監) and was responsive for the construction of fountains in the Yuanmingyuan Garden 圓明園. In 1755 he was entrusted with the drawing of maps of Xinjiang – the first ones based on surveying, and played the most important part for the edition of the Qianlong atlas. The atlas was printed with copper plates (tongban 銅版, with 5 latitudes per plate row, resulting 13 rows), but only one copy was produced that was from 1773 stored in the Imperial Secretariat. Only the emperor and his highest ministers had access to the map.

The atlas consists of 104 maps. It covers an area from 80° north southwards to the Indian Ocean, and from the Mediterranean to the Pacific. The maps, superposed by a net of latitudes and longitudes (the prime meridian going through Beijing), shows rivers, mountains, administrative units and cities and is much more detailed than maps from the Kangxi reign-period. Sites inside of China proper are written in Chinese characters, all other sites in Manchurian. The coordinate system works with a trapezoidal projection. The scale is 1:1,100,000.

In 1925 the Palace Museum 故宮博物院 discovered the 105 copper plates which made it possible to reprint the atlas in 1932. The name Qing Qianlong neifu yutu was given at that occasion. The atlas itself did not bear a name until that time. Zhang Yunyue 張其昀 (1901-1985) printed the atlas a second time in 1966.

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