Slide #218

The Sian-or-Southern Sung Maps: the Hua I T'u
1137 A.D.
Although these two maps were made about 1,000 years after the date in the 3rd century B.C., at which the physical record, both literary and cartographic, documents the earliest mapmaking activity in China to have survived, they each illustrate the clear links that continued to exist with the very earliest traditions and themes of both Chinese geography and cartography. The two maps, the Hua I T'u [Map of China and the Barbarian Countries] and the Yü-Chi T'u [Map of the Tracks of Yü (the Great)], were engraved on stone tablets, each about three feet square, and within six months of one another by an unknown artist in 1137 A.D. during the Sung Dynasty, 960-1280 A.D. They are now housed among a very large collection of engraved stones in the Pei Lin [the Forest of Steles or Tablets] in the Shensi Provincial Museum at Sian.
A brief history of the Chinese cartographic tradition will serve to reference the sources upon which these two maps have drawn, and demonstrate the remarkable antiquity and show the continuity that prevailed in Chinese cartography.

According to Leo Bagrow, Chinese tradition places the earliest reference to a cartographic display at about 2,000 B.C., when nine copper or bronze vases on tripods are said to have been made, bearing representations of nine provinces of the then current Hsia Dynasty and showing mountains, rivers and local products. These vases are thought to have lasted until the end of the Chou Dynasty (ca. 300 B.C.) and were destroyed. Most of the other authorities associated with this subject, however, hesitate to go beyond references to maps of the Chou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.), specifically those of the third century.
Referring again to Mr. Bagrow, by 1125 B.C. the Chinese had produced a map of their entire kingdom, which must have been the result of many years' work. It seems to have been compiled by Wen-Wang and was certainly based upon geographical material in the official description of China, the Yü-Kung.

Highly significant as a primary source for any cartographic effort during this and subsequent periods, was the famous Yü-Kung [Tribute of Yü] which also can only be dated with certainty at least as early as the Chou Dynasty. A copy is presently found as a chapter of the Shu Ching [Historic Classic], one possibly prepared by an early disciple of Confucius and ascribed to the 5th century B.C., making it nearly contemporaneous with the earliest Greek map making endeavors of Anaximander (Slide #106). This text of the Yü Kung recounts the labors of the culture-hero, the Great Yü, as he mastered the primeval flood and laid down the mountains and rivers of the ancient Chinese landscape. Shorn of its mythical context, it may be seen simply as a primitive economic geography of the nine natural regions into which China could be divided. Yü himself became the patron of hydraulic engineers, and of all those concerned with irrigation and water conservation. The Yü Kung became and has remained a source of challenge and inspiration to all later generations of geographers and cartographers.

It can be assumed that maps, charts and plans accompanied even very early examples of these geographical works. Besides the example sited above, another specific reference in Chinese literature alludes to a map painted on silk in the 3rd century B.C., the weft and woof of the material may, in fact, have suggested a map grid. We also learn of various rulers, generals and scholars during the Han Dynasty (207 B.C.-220 A.D.) having a high regard for maps and using them for administrative and military purposes. The many maps that are recorded from this dynasty were executed on a variety of different materials - wood, silk, stone and paper, the latter of which was an invention by Ts'ai Lun in 105 A.D. In fact the oldest extant maps from China, dated ca.168 B.C. were a group painted on silk and unearthed in 1973 at Mawangtui, near Changsha in Hunan province in a Han Dynasty tomb.

Apparently the rectangular grid (a coordinate system consisting of lines intersecting at equal intervals to form squares which were intended to facilitate the measurement of distance, in li), which was basic to much scientific cartography in China, was formally introduced in the first century A.D. by the astronomer Chang Hêng (78-139 A.D., a contemporary of Claudius Ptolemy). The grid subdivided a plane or flat surface; this figure was assumed for purposes of mapmaking but it must not be supposed that all scholars in China believed that this was the shape of the earth. Indeed, we know that the Chinese used the gnomon and were aware of the continual variation in the length of its shadow in the long north-south extent of their own country, knowledge that presumably suggested to them a curving surface, if not a globe.

During the Chin Dynasty, P'ei Hsiu (224-271 A.D.), who was Minister of Works in an empire only just reunited after the divisions of the Three Kingdoms period, found that the maps available to assist him in his work were incomplete and inaccurate. Considering that his office was concerned with the land and the earth; and finding that the names of mountains, rivers and places, as given in the Yü Kung, had suffered numerous changes since ancient times, so that those who discussed their identifications had often proposed rather forced ideas, with the result that obscurity had gradually prevailed. Therefore P'ei Hsiu undertook a rigorous reconstruction in the light of knowledge then available, he rejected what was dubious, and classified whenever he could, the ancient names which had disappeared; finally composing, among other items, a geographical map of the Tribute of Yü in 18 sheets, with the title Yü Kung Ti Yü T'u. He presented it to the emperor, Wu Ti, who kept it in the secret archives. It is reported to be a map of China on a scale of 500 li to an inch. While the map has not survived, his text is now preserved in the Chin Dynasty history. In his preface, P'ei, now known as the 'father of scientific cartography in China', clearly outlined the principles of official mapmaking which included: the rectangular grid for scale and locational reference; orientation; triangulation; and altitude measurement (a complete translation of this preface is attached at the end of the monograph).

P'ei's methods are comparable to the contributions made in this regard by Ptolemy in the west (Slide #119); but whereas Ptolemy's methods passed to the Arabs and were not known again in Europe until the Renaissance, China's tradition of scientific cartography, and in particular that of the use of the rectangular grid, is unbroken from P'ei Hsiu's time to the present.

As the Imperial territories of China increased through the intervening centuries, maps of various scales were made of part or all of the expanding realm. P'ei was followed by a number of cartographers, whose work is recorded in the dynastic histories, but of of which no example survives. The best known of his successors is undoubtedly Chia Tan, 730-805 A.D., of the T'ang Dynasty; and it is here that we return to the first of the Sian maps in the 'Forest of the Tablets'.

Under the T'angs China had attained a high degree of civilization, perhaps the highest it has ever reached, and cartography then made remarkable progress. It was in 785 A.D. that Chia Tan was entrusted by the emperor, Te Tsung, with the preparation of a map of the whole empire. This commission resulted in the famous Hei-nei Hua I T'u [Map of China and the Barbarian Countries within the (Four) Seas] which was finished and presented to the emperor in 801 A.D. This very large map was meticulously exact and detailed, measuring 33 feet high and 30 feet wide, it was constructed on a grid scale of one tsoun (a Chinese inch), to 100 li (a Chinese league); that is, a scale of about 1:1,500,000, taking a li as 300 pou (a Chinese pace, roughly one-third of a mile) and a pou as five tchih (a Chinese foot) according to Nakamura, or, by Herrmann's calculations, a scale of about 1:1,000,000. Using either scale-estimate, Chia Tan's map must have covered an oikoumene [known world] of 30,000 li from east to west, and 33,000 li from north to south, probably a map representing all of Asia. Ancient place-names were inserted in black, and those of Chia Tan's own time in red. Unfortunately this great work also has not survived. However, during the succeeding Sung Dynasty, the author of the stele map Hua I T'u [Map of China and the Barbarian Countries] states that he consulted Chia Tan's map, remarking that it contained many hundred kingdoms. Carved in stone in 1137 A.D., it is fairly clear from the internal evidence that the Hua I T'u at Sian is modelled very closely on Chia Tan's work of 801 A.D. As a probable adaptation of the older work, the Hua I T'u is oriented to the North and concentrates primarily on the portion which covers China proper, but also includes part of Korea in the north and part of the Pamir plateau in the west - more than just a map of China, though by no means a world map. The 'barabarian countries' are not located graphically as on the map by Chia Tan, but are simply described in notes around the periphery of the map. As the latest date mentioned in this textual material is 1043 A.D., this date may be taken as evidence for the very probable date for the map's first composition (prior to engraving). One scholar, Soothill, actually argues that the Hua I T'u was Chia Tan's map, from which the sheets for the barbarian lands had been lost, and that the text was later substituted for them. Sung bibliographies do show, however, that versions of Chia Tan's map were still extant at this time, though kept secret at the imperial court and not easily accessible.
Curiously, the Hua I T'u lacks the distinctive rectangular grid system that superimposes most of the other Chinese maps. The coastline seems to be reduced to a sketchy outline, the Shantung peninsula being virtually non-existent. While some of the river systems are, imperfect, the course of the major rivers, as well as the line of the Great Wall, are shown with considerable accuracy. Mountains and cities within China are included, substantiating the claim that this map was intended for administrative and possibly military use.

Adding to the modern appearance of both of the Sian maps is the lack of the fabulous creatures or adornment of superfluous material so common to many of the European maps of the same period. Also their orientation to the North (true of all Sung Dynasty maps that have survived) contributes to the allusion. Needham and Ling, writing in their excellent multi-volume Science and Civilisation in China, assert, with ample justification, that this latter map is "the most remarkable cartographic work of its age in any culture".

P'ei Hsiu's Preface:
The origin of maps and geographical treatises goes far back into former ages. Under the three dynasties (Hsia, Shang and Chou) there were special officials for this (Kuo Shih). Then, when the Han people sacked Hsien-yang, Hsiao Ho collected all the maps and documents of the Chhin. Now it is no longer possible to find the old maps in the secret archives, and even those which Hsiao Ho found are missing; we only have maps, both general and local, from the (Later) Han time. None of these employs a graduated scale and none of them is arranged on a rectangular grid. Moreover, none of them gives anything like a complete representation of the celebrated mountains and the great rivers; their arrangement is very rough and imperfect, and one cannot rely on them. Indeed some of them contain absurdities, irrelevancies, and exaggerations, which are not in accord with reality, and which should be banished by good sense.

The assumption of power by the great Chin dynasty has unified space in all the six directions. To purify its territory, it began with Yung and Shu [Hupei and Szechuan], and penetrated deeply into their regions, though full of obstacles. The emperor Wen then ordered the appropriate officials to draw up maps of Wu and Shu. After Shu had been conquered and the maps were examined, with regard to the distances from one another of mountains, rivers and places, the positions of plains and declivities, and the lines of the roads, whether straight or curved, which the six armies had followed; it was found that there was not the slightest error. Now, referring back to antiquity, I have examined according to the Yü Kung the mountains and lakes, the courses of the rivers, the plateaus and plains, the slopes and marshes, the limits of the nine ancient provinces and the sixteen modern ones, taking account of commanderies and fiefs, prefectures and cities, and not forgetting the names of places where the ancient kingdoms concluded treaties or held meetings; and lastly, inserting the roads, paths, and navigable waters, I have made this map in eighteen sheets.

In making a map there are six principles observable:

(I) The graduated divisions, which are the means of determining the scale to which the map is
to be drawn.
(2) The rectangular grid (of parallel lines in two dimensions), which is the way of depicting the
correct relations between the various parts of the map.
(3) Pacing out the sides of right-angled triangles (tao li), which is the way of fixing the lengths
of derived distances (i.e., the third side of the triangle which cannot be walked over).
(4) (Measuring) the high and the low.
(5) (Measuring) right angles and acute angles.
(6) (Measuring) curves and straight lines.

These three principles are used according to the nature of the terrain, and are the means by which one reduces what are really plains and hills (literally cliffs) to distances on a plane surface.

If one draws a map without having graduated divisions, there is no means of distinguishing between what is near and what is far. If one has graduated divisions, but no rectangular grid or network of lines, then while one may attain accuracy in one corner of the map, one will certainly lose it elsewhere (i.e., in the middle, far from guiding marks). If one has a rectangular grid, but has not worked upon the tao li principle, then when it is a case of places in difficult country, among mountains, lakes or seas (which cannot be traversed directly by the surveyor), one cannot ascertain how they are related to one another. If one has adopted the tao li principle, but has not taken account of the high and the low the right angles and acute angles, and the curves and straight lines, then the figures for distances indicated on the paths and roads will be far from the truth, and one will lose the accuracy of the rectangular grid.

But if we examine a map which has been prepared by the combination of all these principles, we find that a true scale representation of the distances is fixed by the graduated divisions. So also the reality of the relative positions is attained by the use of paced sides of right-angled triangles; and the true scale of degrees and figures is reproduced by the determinations of high and low, angular dimensions,and curved or straight lines. Thus even if there are great obstacles in the shape of high mountains or vast lakes, huge distances or strange places, necessitating climbs and descents, retracing of steps or detours-everything can be taken into account and determined. When the principle of the rectangular grid is properly applied, then the straight and the curved, the near and the far, can conceal nothing of their form from us.

Pei Lin - Shensi Provincial Museum at Sian

*Bagrow, L., The History of Cartography, pp. 197-200.
*Chang, Kuei-sheng, "Africa and the Indian Ocean . . .", Imago Mundi, p. 28, Fig 5.
*Hapgood, C., Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, pp. 118 - 123, Table 10.
*Harvey, P.D.A., Medieval Maps, p. 17, Plate 12.
*Herrmann, A., Die Westlander in d. chinesischen Kartographie, . . ., volume 3, pp. 91-406.
*Nakamura, H., "Old Chinese Maps Preserved by Koreans", Imago Mundi, vol. IV, pp. 3-22.
*Needham, J., Science and Civilisation in China, volume 3, pp. 543-549, Figures 225, 226.
*Nelson, H., "Maps from Old Cathay", Geographical Magazine, pp. 702 - 704.
*Soothill, W.E., "Two Oldest Maps of China Extant", R.G.S. Journal, vol. LXIX.


Index of Early Medieval Maps