Slide #208

TITLE: Sino-Tibetan World Map [Go bu sin kwan]
ca. 733 A.D. [1194]
[Zenkaku, died 1214]
DESCRIPTION: This unique world map, when found, was originally part of a volume of documents in scroll form and in three parts, whose dimensions were respectively: 31.5 x 994 cm, 30.7 x 932 cm, and 29.5 x 217 cm. The first and third parts each contain two modern leaves, those of the first part being the preface by Onson Kosugi, 1834-1910, a well-known classicist and those of the third, a Government certificate. The overall document, therefore, is a scroll about 30 cm high and 18 meters long. The map, itself, takes up only three pages of the volume, each 20.5 x 28 cm (61.5 X 84 cm overall), the remainder of the volume is concerned with Buddhist iconography.

This map, like the imago mundi of the European Middle Ages, is simple but grotesque. A score of rectangles artificially arranged, represent the various countries. The names of 21 countries, written in the rectangles, are in Chinese and Tibetan characters. No one succeeded in deciphering these until Professor Teramoto did so, publishing his findings at the end of 1931 in an article entitled Relations between Japan and Tibet in the history of Japan. M. Teramoto had ten years previously studied a very old copy then in the possession of Professor B. Matumoto, but this was destroyed in the great fire following the September 1923 earthquake at Tokyo. M. Matumoto saved, however, a manuscript facsimile copy made in 1890.

These two facsimile copies, ancient and modern, were formerly in the possession of Zyensuke Nanbu. In a letter quoted by Teramoto, Onson Kosugi gives Nanbu information about the document, telling him that the original was in the Onzyozi Temple, bearing the title Go bu sin kwan, that it was carried from China to Japan by a priest named En-tin (better known by his posthumous title of Ti-syo Daisi, 814-891), and that he, Kosugi, had seen a copy of part of it in the Tozi Temple at Kyoto. In 1893 Nanbu presented the new copy to the Bureau for Enquiry into the National Treasures for examination. This committee gave both dates and names, carefully written by the editors and collators, and these enabled future scholars to trace the source of the map.

According to modern authorities, the map was copied in the Mii Temple (Onzyozi) by Zenkaku (died 1214) between the 1st of January and the 6th of February in the year of the lunar calendar, 1194, from a document borrowed from the Taihoin temple. The copyist, being unable to decipher the "Sanskrit", i.e., Tibetan characters, copied them exactly as they were so that later he might make a more careful study of them. At the same time his master, Sinen (died 1204), 45th chief priest of the Onzyozi Temple, had collated this copy with another preserved in the Zisso-bo convent and also with that of the library of their own temple, but the unfamiliar characters baffled him. After three separate attempts at collating he confesses despairingly that the matter of deciphering and correcting them was beyond him. He therefore left them as they were. In 1200, the 26th of February by the lunar calendar, Zenkaku made a final attempt, using the Taihoin map. Still later En-zyo, 1189-1256, 56th chief priest of Onzyozi, made three attempts at editing the map, the last one being dated February 26th, by the lunar calendar, in 1220.

Thus by the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries several copies of the document were in existence. The original copy at Onzyozi, thought by Teramoto to have been made around 733 A.D., was brought from China in 858 A.D. by En-tin, to Japan. It had been formerly in the possession of the priest Huei-kuo, in the T'sing-loung-tseu [Blue Dragon] Temple at Tch'ang-ngan, then capital of China, and passed to his successor, Tchoan-kiao, who made a present of it to his Japanese disciple En-tin, along with other Buddhist documents.

The map covers almost the whole of Asia, from the extreme east to Persia and the Byzantine Empire in the west, from the countries of the Uigours, the Kirghis and the Turks in the north to the Indies in the south, an area incomparably wider than that covered by such accounts as Hiuen-tchoang's travels. Therefore, according to H. Nakamura, this map proves that maps such as the Go Tenjuku Zu [Map of the Five Indies, Slide #263 ], does not represent the whole of the known world to the Chinese at the time of the T'ang Dynasty (618-907), but that their knowledge extended into the west and north beyond the areas indicated by the Si-yü-ki [a geographical encyclopedia].

The geometrical form of the Sino-Tibetan map is a design that was certainly foreign to China during this time (the T'ang Dynasty), so that it must owe something to possibly a western influence. According to Teramoto's study the original map may represent the earliest example of Arabian maps introduced to China under the T'ang Dynasty through Central Asia. For it is a historical fact that, under the T'angs, the Chinese, having conquered the eastern Turks, annexed an immense territory, stretching from Tarbagatan in the north to the Indus in the south, and their national prestige was then at its zenith. They were constantly in touch with Tibet, Persia, Arabia, India and other countries, both by land and sea, diplomatically and commercially. The names on this map, given the assumed general communication among these countries, seem to be based on Chinese and translated, for political and administrative purposes, merely to make their understanding easier for the Tibetans.

LOCATION: Onzyozi Temple, Japan


*Nakamura, H., "Old Chinese Maps Preserved by Koreans", Imago Mundi, vol. IV, pp. 3-22.
*Nakamura, H., East Asia in Old Maps, p. 8. Figure 1.


Index of Early Medieval Maps