Enlarged Terrestrial Atlas


Guang yu tu (Enlarged terrestrial atlas) is the oldest extant comprehensive atlas of China by the famous Ming cartographer Luo Hongxian (1504–64). It is based on the Yuan dynasty Yu di tu (Terrestrial map) by Zhu Siben (1273–1333). Luo Hongxian, a native of Jishui, Jiangxi Province, received his jin shi degree in 1529, the eighth year of Jiajing reign, and gained an official post as a senior compiler. Elbowed out of the court by other officials, he began to follow the teachings of Wang Yangming (1472–1529), the Neo-Confucian philosopher. He also studied astronomy, geography, irrigation, military affairs, and mathematics. He supposedly acquired a copy of Zhu Siben’s map, no longer extant, measuring about 7 x 7 chi (1 chi = approximately 0.3 meter). Using the earlier work as a blueprint, he applied traditional Chinese measuring methods to draw his maps on a grid scale, which then were bound in book form. The atlas, containing maps of the entire country of the mid-Ming era, was reengraved time and again. The first edition was issued in 1561 by Hu Song, provincial governor of Zhejiang Province, with the addition of two maps of the Ryukyu Islands and Japan. Another edition was issued in 1566 by Han Jun’en, an imperial circuit inspector of Shandong Province. This copy is dated 1579, the seventh year of the Wanli reign, and was issued in two juan by Qian Dai (1541–1622), the imperial inspector of Shandong. Juan 1 is a comprehensive atlas of China, with 16 maps of the southern and northern provinces, two provinces under direct rule, and 13 provincial administrative governments. It contains 93 leaves, bound in three volumes. Juan 2 has a total of 27 maps, in 106 leaves, also bound in three volumes, with ten maps of the Nine Frontiers extending from Liaodong to Gansu. The other maps are of Tao He, Songpan, Jianchang, Mayang, Qianzhen, the Yellow River, sea transport, grain transportation by water, Korea, foreign islands to the southeast and southwest, Annan, the west region, the northern deserts, the Ryukyu Islands, and Japan. Seven prefaces precede the atlas. At the end of each map are brief notes and explanatory figures. The textual part includes information about the evolution of organizational systems, affiliated areas, residences, land taxes, garrisons, soldiers, roads, and other topics. The atlas paints an imposing picture of China in the middle of the Ming dynasty and it had a far-reaching influence both in China and in foreign countries. Until the late 17th century, maps of China published in Europe were, without exception, drawn on the basis of this work.

Last updated: November 9, 2011