Colour lithograph, printed on 3 sheets joined and dissected into 24 sections and mounted upon original linen, with publisher’s blind-stamp to bottom margin (Very Good, overall clean, crisp and bright, just a few tiny stains), 140 x 61 cm (55 x 24 inches).
During the late 19th Century, Germany developed vast economic and political interests in China. It was involved in the West’s political intrigues, and in 1898 received control of the valuable treaty port of Qingdao. German companies were heavily invested in China’s industrial rise, controlling an increasingly significant share of the empire’s overseas trade. Many German explorers and intellectuals became leading global authorities on the land and peoples of China. Moreover, German businesses concerns and diplomats held great sway in Peking, even if they were less flamboyant than their British, French or Russian counterparts.
In the wake of the Boxer Rebellion (1899 – 1901), following which Germany was one of the victorious foreign powers German concerns dramatically ramped up their investments in China. However, the Germans were dissatisfied with the nature of the existing cartography of China, which seemed to prioritize Anglo-French imperatives, at the expense of a broad overview of the country relevant for planning industrial and infrastructure development.
In response, the Kartographische Abteilung der Preußische Landes-Aufnahme (Cartographic Department of the Prussian State Land Office) in Berlin created the Karte von Ost-China, an immense map on a scale of 1:1,000,000 depicting all of China east of the 106° Longitude East, as well as adjacent parts of Korea and Russia. This grand map, of 22-sheets (21 region sheets, plus one key sheet) covered all of the populous, industrially promising parts of the country, from Manchuria down to Guangxi. Importantly, the sheets of the map were issued separately and serially over a ten-year period (1902 to 1912) and are only very rarely found together as a complete set. The individual sheets were considered to be stand-alone maps in their own right, and commonly, as is the case here, one, or a few sheets, were sold at a time to serve the needs of a particular client.
The Karte von Ost-China is one of the great masterpieces of the scientific cartography of China, although it does not receive the recognition it deserves from modern scholars. The Kartographische Abteilung borrowed heavily upon the ground-breaking cartography of Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen (1833 – 1905), a German geographer adventurer, who mapped large parts of China during the 1870s. It was also vitally informed by the vast corpus of maps made by German soldiers and railway engineers active in China, as well as other sources.
Present here is a map, comprised of three sheets of the Karte von Ost-China originally joined at the shop of the Kartographische Abteilung (bearing the office’s blind-stamp). The map gives a grand perspective over the Beijing-Wuhan transport corridor, one of the most important industrial economic zones in China. Specifically the map joins the sheets Peking (Beijing); Tsi nan fu (Jinan) and Hankau (Wuhan).
The map gives a highly detailed and sharp rendering of the countryside, with areas of elevation expressed by subtle shading, while all rivers, lakes, swamps and coastlines are delineated. All cities, towns and villages are carefully marked, while all roads are delineated.
Most importantly, the map depicts the entire route of the Peking-Hankou Railway (also known as the Jinghan Railway), a 1,215-kilometre-long line built between 1897 and 1906. The map labels every station, including the distance markers for each in kilometres. The railway connected Peking with Wuhan, the ‘Chicago of China’, an industrial and trading colossus on the Yangtze River that had an outsized role in the modernization of the country (Hankou was one of the three traditional cities that were merged to create modern Wuhan). The construction of the line led to the foundation of the Chinese Bank of Communications, and the business syndicate known as the ‘Communications Clique’ which became a leading political and financial force in Republican China.
This special three-sheet combination was likely made by custom order from a German client for the express purpose of showcasing the entire Peking-Hankou Railway route. Indeed, German business magnates were amongst the leading investors in Wuhan’s rise, as well as other interests along the Beijing-Wuhan corridor.
The maps sheets of the Karte von Ost-China only rarely appear on the market, and originally customized combinations of sheets, as present here, are special finds.
References: Cf. [Re: the full 22-sheet set of the Karte von Ost-China]: OCLC: 316356892 / 760240883.