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Zhifang waiji 職方外紀

Sep 23, 2019 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhifang waiji 職方外紀 "Records of the lands beyond the imperial administration" is a geographical book written by the Italian Jesuit Guiglio Aleni (Ch. 艾儒略, 1582-1649), who worked as a missionary in China between 1610 and his death. Apart from this book, he also compiled a handbook on geometry, Jihe yaofa 幾何要法.

His geography is based on an earlier work written by Matteo Ricci (Ch. Li Madou 利瑪竇, 1552-1610) called Kunyu wanguo quantu 坤輿萬國全圖 "Full map of the ten thousand countries". Aleni added some information, and abbreviated other passages.

In comparison to older Chinese works, the books of Ricci and Aleni added substantial information the Chinese did not know until then. While Central Asia and the Indian Ocean were regions with which the Chinese were quite accustomed, they barely knew details of Europe, Africa, not so speak of America.

The book, finished in 1623, begins with a world map, drawn as separate maps of each continent. The part on Asia (Axi'a 亞細亞) covers 14 chapters, with the details of which most Chinese were familiar. The European part (Ouluoba 歐邏巴) includes 12 chapters speaking of Spain, France, Italy, etc. The part on Africa (Liweiya 利未亞洲, i.e. Libya), with 14 chapters, is of course only covered as the Jesuits compilers knew the continent at the time, which means that only North Africa and the coastline is dealt with. The same is true for America (Amolijia 亞墨利加), described in 14 chapters, the greatest part of which was at that time still part of the Hapsburg Empire. The fifth continent, with a short description appended to the fourth part, is the hypothetical southern continent of Magallanica (Mowalanijia 墨瓦蠟尼加, i.e. Terra Australis).

The last chapter is a text describing the "Four Oceans" (Sihai zongshuo 四海總說), with descriptions on geography, waters, islands, animals, shipping, etc.

The descriptive texts, with a length of 5 juan, provide information on geography, politics, religion, local products, customs and habits. Aleni's Zhifang waiji is the oldest world geography written in Chinese language. It is included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書, Mohai jinhu 墨海金壺, Shoushange congshu 守山閣, Huangchao fanshu yudi congshu 皇朝藩屬輿地叢書 and Congshu jicheng chubian 叢書集成初編本.

Figure 1. World map from the Zhifang waiji 職方外紀
World map, from the Shoushange congshu edition. Apart from this map, each continent is presented in more detail. For the standard of 1630, Aleni's maps are fairly crude, particularly with regard to Europe, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the east coast of the Americas. Quality might also have been influenced by the technique of wooden blockprints which allow only moderate fineness compared with copper engraving (invented 15th cent.). Ricci's map, produced as a stand-alone piece without descriptions, is somewhat better, but does not reach contemporary European standards. For exact details, consult the edition of the World Digital Library.
Table 1. Contents of the Zhifang waiji 職方外紀
1 Asia 亞細亞洲: overview of Asia 亞細亞總説, Tartars (Mongols) 韃而靼, Uyghurs 回回, India 印弟亞, (Pakistan) 莫卧爾, Persia 百爾西亞, Turkey 度爾格, Rudeya 如徳亞 (Fulin), Ceylon (Sri Lanka) 則意蘭, Sumatra 蘇門答刺, Java 爪哇, Brunei 渤泥, Luzon (Philippines) 呂宋, Malacca 馬路古, islands of the continent 地中海諸島
2 Europe 歐邏巴洲: overview of Europe 歐邏巴總説, Spain 以西把尼亞, France 拂郎察, Italy 意大理亞, Germany 亞勒瑪尼亞, Flanders 法蘭得斯, Polonia 波羅尼亞, Hungary 翁加里亞, Danmark etc. 大泥亞諸國, Hellas (Greece) 厄勒祭亞, Moscovia 莫斯哥未亞, islands close to the continent 地中海諸島, islands in the northwest of the continent 西北海諸島
3 Libya 利未亞洲: overview of Libya 利未亞總説, Egypt 厄入多, Morocco 馬羅可, Fez? 弗沙, Africa 亞非利加, Numidia 奴米弟亞, Abessinia 亞昆心域, Monomotapa (Zimbabwe) 馬拿莫大巴, Xi'erde (west Africa, Sierra Leone?) 西爾得, Congo 工鄂, Zimbra? 井巴, Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) 福島, São Tomé 聖多默島, St. Helena (聖)意勒納島, São Lorenço (Madagascar) 聖老楞佐島
4 America 亞墨利加洲: overview of America 亞墨利加總説, South America 南亞墨利加: Peru 孛露, Brazil 伯西爾, Chica (Patagonia) 智加, Castilla del Oro (Colombia/Venezuela) 金加西蠟; North America 北亞墨利加: Mexico 墨是可, Tierra de las Flores (Florida) 花地, New France 新拂郎察, New Foundland 拔革老, "Farm Country" (New England) 農地, Quivira (mythical cities of gold) 既未蠟, New Spain 新亞比俺, California 加里伏爾泥亞, wild tribes of the northwest 西北諸蠻方, islands of America 亞墨利加諸島; overview of Magellania (south continent) 墨瓦蠟尼加總説
5 General explanation of the Four Seas 四海總說: names of seas 海名, islands 海島, peoples 海族, products 海產, situation 海狀, navigation 海舶, routes 海道
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