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CHINA – ENORMOUS HYDROLOGICAL MAP: 中國水系 [China: Water Systems / Zhongguo shui xi gua tu].



A rare, very large format official hydrological map of China, issued in the wake of The Great Leap Forward (1958-62), Chairman Mao’s monumental programme to rapidly industrialize the country, a vision that involved massive water management and reallocation projects; published in Beijing by the China Cartographic Publishing House, the state workshop that specialized in producing such high-quality, original thematic maps.

1 in stock


Colour printing, folding, accompanied by its original illustrated paper sleeve (Map in Very Good condition, bright, clean and crisp with only light wear and tiny holes at some fold vertices; paper sleeve with some tears, chipping and marginal loss, but reinforced by old repairs from the inside; map with legend and major points of toponymy translated into French by neat manuscript additions, in pen), 107 x 151 cm (42 x 49.5 inches).


This very large official Chinese map depicts the country’s water systems in the immediate wake of The Great Leap Forward (1958-62), Chairman Mao’s monumental programme to rapidly industrialize the country, which notably included the dramatic alteration of certain river courses and volumes for irrigation and hydroelectric use.

The map, entirely printed in Chinese (but here with the main details translated into French through neat manuscript additions), employs bold colours to identify the drainage basins of all of China’s major rivers, noting whether they ultimately flow into the Pacific, Indian or artic Oceans, or whether they are endorheic.  The chart in far lower-left corner lists the major rivers with their water volumes as well as the land areas of their drainage basins.  Further to the right, the legend identifies all aspect of the water systems, including rivers (permanent and seasonal); subterranean rivers; lakes (permanent and seasonal); reservoirs and dams (often hydroelectric); canals and springs.  The map reveals that China has an extraordinary hydrological profile, in that it has an enormous interior (endorheic) basin in Xinxiang, in the far west, while in the south, the rugged mountains separate narrow basins that drain in wildly differing directions; additionally, a small part of the country, in the far northwest, even drains into the Arctic Ocean, by way of Siberia.

The folding map is accompanied by its original paper sleeve of a lovely distinctly Chinese Mid-Century design.

The map was made by the China Cartographic Publishing House, in Beijing, which specialized in designing and printing high quality, often thematic, maps from the best official sources.  The present map was likely intended for educational, as well as administrative strategic planning purposes.

The map was issued in the immediate wake of ironically named The Great Leap Forward (1958 – 1962), Mao Zedong’s monumental nationwide programme that sought to transform China from a largely agrarian society into a modern industrialized state.  Of relevance to the map, the Chairman’s vision included massive irrigation and water management and conservation projects (canals, hydroelectric dams, rechannelling projects, etc.).  However, many of these endeavours were ill-conceived, as well as poorly designed and executed, contributing to desertification, draught and famine.  This was in line with the overall failure of The Great Leap Forward which was one of the most unsuccessful national policies in world history, as it created little viable industry while wasting immense resources, ruining China’s economy and killing millions of people.  The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) that followed was Mao’s reaction to this failure, being a mass socio-political movement that sought to return the state to a purer form of socialism but ended up being almost as disastrous as The Great Leap Forward.  It is a touch ironic that the Chinese government produced such an excellent, sophisticated, and presumably useful, map at time when it was otherwise pursuing such chaotic policies.


A Note on Rarity

The present map is very rare, as such large format Chinese ephemeral works have a low survival rate.  We can trace only a single institutional example of the map (or of a very similar issue) held by the Pennsylvania State University Library.


References: Pennsylvania State University Library: G7821.C315 1950.D5 / OCLC: 956503022.

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