HUANG, Qianren (1694-1771). Da Qing wan nian yi tong di li quantu. [Complete Geographical Map of the Great Qing Dynasty]. [Jiaqing period (1760-1820), perhaps c.1811.]
Extremely rare example of the famous ‘Blue Map’ of the world
Uniquely printed in ‘yin’ (relief) and ‘yang’ (intaglio) woodblock engraving
Only seven examples recorded in institutions
Shows China at the height of the Qing empire
According to the text on panel 1 (extreme right-hand side), the map was based on another drawn by Huang Qiaren (1694-1771) from Yuyao. This original map was probably executed in 1767, although no example of it now survives. However, a manuscript copy of the map was produced in 1800 which now resides in the Beijing National Library. A revised and enlarged woodblock-printed version was produced probably sometime around 1811, and exists in two versions, one in black and white, and the other in blue, such as the present lot. The title of the map is as much a political statement, as it is a geographical record, showing China at the height of the Qing empire, and celebrating the ‘unified status of all Chinese borders’ (Pegg).
Besides its grand political statement, the map also had a utilitarian purpose to aid in the administration of the empire, and its surface swarms with numerous administrative details and named symbols: squares capped by small rectangles = provincial capitals (sheng); squares = prefectures (fu); squares capped with triangles = independent district magistrates (zhilizhou); vertical rectangles = departments (zhou); diamonds = sub-prefectures (ting); circles = districts (xian); small buildings = frontier passes (guan); triangles = local headmen or western tribute states (tusi); dotted lines delineate provincial borders. The text states on the lower right of the map that a side of each grid represents 100 li (approx. 33 miles), but no such cartographic grid appears on the map.
Additionally, the physical geography is represented with mountains, deserts, rivers and coast lines all depicted, as is the mid-Qing era Great Wall with its checkpoints. The map focuses on two rivers, the Yellow and the Yangtze. The origin of the Yellow River is drawn correctly; however, the map still shows Minjiang River as the source of the Yangtze River, which repeats the old legend and is not correct.
‘[This] “complete” map minimizes the European notion of a map of the world, its centralized and marginalizing construct confirming the Qing/Chinese notion of the Central Kingdom’ (Pegg). Although Russia, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Korea are clearly defined (especially the latter which has a large textual commentary, indicating its status as the chief vassal state), there are no international borders: ‘The intentionally vague geopolitical lines of the [empire’s] frontiers and beyond clearly indicate the Qing’s perception of the world around them... All foreign entities simply inhabited the fringes of the empire’ (Pegg). To the upper left of the map lie both the Mediterranean (‘Small Western Ocean’), and Atlantic (‘Great Western Ocean’), with both the Netherlands and Great Britain shown as islands.
‘Two prominent visual features of this map do align well with the claims of China's greatness that maps of this genre tend to assert. The massive scale of this eight-part map, which fills the viewer's field of view, lends grandiosity to its subject. Moreover, the work's palette dramatically imbues its subject with antique culture, for the deep blue and green colours recall the opaque mineral pigments of the venerable blue-and-green style of painting that the aristocrats Li Sixun (651-716) and Li Zhaodao (c.675-741) popularized at the imperial court of the Tang dynasty (618-907)’ (Smith).
We have been able to trace the following examples recorded in institutions – China: National Library, Beijing; Beijing University Library; Shandan Museum in Gansu Province; USA: Library of Congress, Washington DC; Maclean Collection, Chicago; Japan: Kobe City Museum; Waseda University Library.
Reading Imperial Cartography: Ming-Qing historical maps in the Library of Congress (2013), pp. 88-89; Richard Pegg, Cartographic Traditions in East Asian Maps (2014) pp.8-9, 18-26; Richard Smith, Chinese Maps: Images of ‘All Under Heaven’ (1996).
Large woodblock world map, printed on paper, composed of 4 separate panels each of 2 joined sheets, each panel approx. 1320 x 586mm (overall size when joined approx. 1320 x 2340mm), all mounted on 19th-century Japanese paper (see provenance note below). Administrative divisions printed in relief, the mountains, rivers and islands printed intaglio; the Gobi Desert depicted in a series of dots which are finished in pink by hand. The edition not established, but the following identifying features are noted: title repeated down extreme right-hand side with numbers 1-8, perhaps relating to each sheet; some areas of loss attributed to printing process to bottom left-hand side of panel 3 and small area of sea in panel 1, these features also appearing in the copy of the map at Sotheby’s 9 May 2017, lot 119.
Overall uneven fading and discolouration, mainly affecting panels 3 and 4, and also to additional title text to extreme right-hand edge of panel 1; panels 1-3 with crack running at approx. 250mm from lower margin with associated light losses. Please see online condition report for further details.
Until recently, the maps were hung on a set of fusuma doors in a late Edo period / mid-19th-century Japanese house, and are mounted onto sheets of Japanese paper with manuscript calligraphy. A date of ?? ? ? ? ?? (Kaei 6 Ox year New year) has been found in ink calligraphy on other papers in the doorway area of the house, thus giving a terminus post quem of January 1853.