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Yinghuan zhilüe 瀛寰志略

Sep 15, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Yinghuan zhilüe 瀛寰志略 "Concise records of the world", also written 瀛環志略, is China's earliest descriptive geography of the world. The short text was compiled by Xu Jishe 徐繼畬 (1795-1873), courtesy name Jiannan 健男, style Songkan 松龕 or Shanxi Wutai Ren 山西五臺人). He had been salt commissioner (yanyunshi 鹽運使), surveillance commissioner (anchashi 按察使) and governor of Fujian and Guangdong therefore knew that China would, after the impact of the First Opium War (1838-1842), not be able to withstand foreign intrusion without learning what was happening outside the "Chinese world".

Xu also learnt a lot about foreign countries from foreign missionaries, particularly David Abeel (1804-1846, Chinese name Ya Beili 雅裨理), who presented him with an atlas in Chinese characters. Xu's book of 10 juan was compiled in 1848. It shows and describes the most important countries of the world, with their individual climates, topographic features, history, and the customs, habits and peculiarities of their inhabitants. A world map is shown at the beginning of the book, then continents and individual countries.

The first fascicle gives an overview of the world (Diqiu 地球) and then presents a map of the Qing empire, as a starting point of Asia (Yaxiya 亞細亞). The description of Europe (Ouluoba 歐羅巴) covers fascicles 3 to 7, Africa (Afeilijia 阿非利加) the 8th fascicle. The last two juan describe countries of North and South America (Yamolijia 亞墨利加).

A supplement to the book, entitled Yinghuan zhilüe xubian 瀛環志略續編 or Yinghuan zhilüe xuji 瀛環志略續集, was written by an unknown person during the late 19th century. It is 5-juan long, with an appendix of 1 fascicle. It was printed in 1898 in a joint edition with the Yinghuan zhilüe.

He Qiutao 何秋涛 (1824-1862) wrote a critical commentary to the atlas, called Yinghuan zhilüe bianzheng 瀛環志略辨正 and printed in 1898 in a joint edition with Xu Jishe's book. It focuses on statements on Russia. A further supplement was written by Xue Fucheng 薛福成 (1838-1894), the Xu yinghuan zhilüe chubian 續瀛環志略初編, but this book only includes information on countries in Asia (therefore called chubian "first part/collection").

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