This extremely rare, curiously stylized and resplendently coloured grand format map perfectly captures the state of play in Late Qing Dynasty China. During this period, the Middle Kingdom was being utterly transformed due to its increasingly intense engagement with the West, bringing rapid infrastructure and economic development and introduction of European cultural and scientific influences. This led to great leaps forward in the standard of living, levels of education cultural awareness of the Chinese people in the major urban centres. However, juxtaposed against this ‘progress’ was the fact that China was the ‘Sick Man of Asia’, as since the 1840s the country had been consistently humiliated by European and Japanese imperialistic adventures, leading to the loss of much of the country’s sovereignty and some of its best territory.
The map was drafted and published in the bustling interior city of Chengdu, in the year Guangxu 27 , by Fu Chongju (傅崇榘), a brilliant young polymath who was one of Sichuan’s first modern journalists, as well as a groundbreaking cartographer, historian and humanitarian. His strength, as brilliantly illustrated by the present map, was taking the best elements of Western culture and methods and skillfully integrating them with Chinese traditions.
The map assumes a surprisingly, modern stylized form, on which geographic space is somewhat horizontally attenuated, to embrace a larger area than otherwise possible. Indeed, the map takes in all the Chinese Empire, and extends north to embrace Mongolia and a good part of Siberia, and to the southwest and south to embrace the British possession of Bengal and Burma, as well as Siam and much of French Indochina, while the map takes in much of the Far East beyond China, including Korea, Japan, northern Luzon and Russia’s Primorsky Krai and Sakhalin.
A curious mixture of Eastern and Western attributes, the maps rendering of the political jurisdictions, including the individual Chinese provinces, shows them distinguished by their own resplendent hues, in line with a traditional Chinese palette. While the text of the map is generally in Chinese, the names of counties, provinces, and many major cities are additionally given in English, written in a playful modern font, as a nod to any international audience that the map may have.
Significantly, the map shows the numerous foreign colonial holdings and treaty ports that dotted the Chinese coast, the legacy of the many ‘Unequal Treaties’ that the Qing regime had been forced to sign at the barrel of gun. As such, the map labels the British colony of Hong Kong (established in 1842; its boundaries extended in 1898); the Liaoning Peninsula (with Port Arthur), controlled by ‘Russia’ since 1898; and the Leased Territory of Guangzhouwan, in southern Guangdong, controlled by France since 1898.
The Legend, in the lower right corner, explains the diverse symbols that appear throughout the map, which identify all manner of communication, commercial and transportation infrastructure, including navigable rivers, maritime shipping routes, customs houses (many in the various Treaty Ports where foreign powers had special trading privileges), seaside fortresses, railways, post roads, and telegraph lines; these generally being Western-style elements. Additionally, the legend explains the traditional Chinse-style symbols used to identify cities and towns of various levels of political importance, as well as major interior fortifications. Many topographical features, such as mountains, deserts, rivers and lakes are expressed pictorially.
As vibrantly depicted on the map, at the dawn of the 20th century, spurred by Western and Japanese investment and the ongoing Industrial Revolution, China was undergoing a transportation and communications boom. An ever-expanding network of telegraph lines connected all corners of China, and the country with the world, allowing messages to be delivered anywhere in almost real-time. Meanwhile, China was on the cusp of seeing the explosive expansion of its railway network, from an embryonic state to having one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world, in only a very short time. Meanwhile, China’s post road system was being extended, with many routes macadamized, allowing reasonably commodious travel to all populated parts of the empire.
The map’s author, Fu Chongju, was fascinated by modern Western technology and its application to China, and the map showcases the country’s rapidly growing telegraph system (indicated by lines with dots) that connected virtually every important centre, and, in part by way of submarine cables, joined to the networks of it neighbours. The first telegraph lines to enter the Chinese sphere were completed in the 1860s, in the colonial holdings of Macau (Portuguese) and Hong Kong (British). While the Qing court was initially weary of telegraph technology, seeing it as a portent of further imperialistic incursions, in 1870, it relented and allowed a Danish concern to build the first line across Chinese sovereign territory, from Hong Kong to Shanghai. In 1876, the Chinese authorities embraced the telegraph wholeheartedly, establishing an academy to teach the technology in Fuzhou. In 1881, the Imperial Telegraph Administration (ITA), a crown corporation, was established and given a monopoly over the main telegraph lines in China. By 1900, the year before the present map was issued, the Chinese telegraph network had expanded to cover over 34,000 miles of lines and would continue to grow dramatically over the coming years.
China was also initially hesitant to embrace railways. The first line constructed in the country, in Shanghai, in 1876, proved short-lived, closing the following year. It was only in 1881 that the first enduring line was built near Tianjin, while another line was constructed in Taiwan between 1887 and 1893. By 1900, China still had only 292 miles of working railway lines, although 4,000 miles of track were in the active planning stage. Indeed, just as the present map was published, China entered an explosive rail boom, for by 1911 China would have 11,000 miles of operating lines!
Some of China’s most important new lines, all financed and engineered by foreign concerns, were the China Eastern Railway (completed in 1901), completed by the Russians as a shortcut for the Trans-Siberian Railway, across to Vladivostok via Harbin, along with the Southern Manchurian Railway, that connected Harbin to Port Arthur; the Sino-Vietnamese Railway, running from Haiphong to Kunming (inaugurated in 1904); the Beijing-Hankou Railway (completed in 1906); the Shanghai-Nanjing Railway (finished in 1908); and the Kowloon-Canton Railway (opened 1911). The lines, both in China and neighbouring countries, as they existed in 1901 are shown on the map in bold black lines.
Additionally, the map shows the vast archipelago of custom houses (represented as black flags) that highlight the locations of the major maritime and inland river ports where goods both entered and exited China, making the country a major trading power (albeit on terms that largely benefited the imperialistic foreign powers).
Fu Chongju created the present map in Chengdu, where the city’s experience perfectly epitomized the larger trends of hyper modernization, economic development and the opening up to Western influences that was transforming most major Chinese urban centres. Chengdu, as the capital of Sichuan, traditionally China’s most populous and wealthiest province, had in recent years become a nexus of trade between Indochina and Eastern China, as well as an emerging industrial powerhouse. European powers established large diplomatic missions in Chengdu, and significant foreign investment was flowing into the province, along with Western ideas and technology.
Chengdu, a bustling city of over 300,000, was fast developing a sophisticated modern economy and was becoming an estimable intellectual centre. Fu Chongju was on the vanguard of modernization, being the city’s first modern journalist, historian and cartographer.
In this context, Chengdu, almost overnight developed one of China’s, and indeed Asia’s, most dynamic print cultures, in which academic treatises of considerable merit were turned out of presses with surprising frequency and speed, while sophisticated maps and graphics were drafted and lithographed for an increasingly large, affluent and curious audience.
Thus, the present map perfectly captures the prevailing spirit of late Qing Dynasty China, showing the country as being literally enveloped by modern technology and infrastructure, intimately connected, both economically and culturally, to its neighbours, and the world beyond.
The map seems to extremely rare; we have not been able to trace another example. This is not at all surprising, as the map’s large size and its fragile nature would have given it a very low survival rate.
An ‘Auguste’ Provenance
The present example of the map comes from the estate of Auguste François (1857 – 1935), a French diplomat who was perhaps the greatest photographer and cinematographer in late Qing Dynasty China.
François was based in China between 1896 and 1904, initially as the French Consul in Longzhou (Guanxi) and then in Kunming (Yunnan). In the latter post, he was instrumental in setting the groundwork for the railway which was to run from French Cochinchina (Vietnam) to Kunming. Completed in 1910, it proved to be one of Asia’s most important nexuses of trade and cultural exchange.
François was a tremendously intrepid and curious man, and having mastered the Chinese language, he found the time to travel widely through Yunnan, Guanxi, Sichuan, and Tibet, visiting many areas where few Europeans had ever ventured. He also memorably followed the Yangtze River from Yunnan to Shanghai. He was a highly talented photographer and always travelled with an entourage carrying the most modern camera equipment. He took thousands of photographs, not only of landscapes and historical sites, but also of regular people and their daily activities, imbuing his work with tremendous documentary value. He also made the first motion pictures in China, upon which today the Middle Kingdom of a bygone era comes alive in way that could never be imagined through other media. Today, François’s images take pride of place in museum and gallery exhibitions worldwide.
The present example of map was likely acquired by François during one of his numerous visits to Chengdu (whereupon there is a good chance that he met Fu Chongju), and was clearly treated with great care, as it is found in surprisingly excellent condition today. The map was retained by François’s descendants until recently.
Fu Chongju: Polymath of Chengu, Merging Eastern and Western Cultures in Journalism, Cartography, Academic Writing and Medicine
Fu Chongju [傅崇榘] (1875 – 1917) was a fascinating and brilliant figure who contributed greatly to the intellectual life and modernization of Sichuan during a time of transformational change. He was dedicated to adopting the best aspects of Western science and culture and adapting them to Chinese traditions. With this ethic in mind, he is considered to have been Chengdu’s first modern journalist and historian, as well as being responsible for creating the most valuable chronicle of the contemporary city. He was also an accomplished cartographer, who made several extremely high-quality maps that merged European empiricism with domestic artistic styles.
Fu Chongju was born in the town of Jianyang, just to the southwest of Chengdu, but moved to the provincial capital as small boy, such that he always saw himself as native of that city. Imbued with an immense intellectual curiosity, he was a stellar student, graduating from Chengdu’s Zunjing Academy in 1898.
In the immediate wake of his studies, Fu Chongju was employed as reporter, and later as an editor of Shu Xuebao, which founded in March 1898, was only the second newspaper in Sichuan and the first in Chengdu. There Fu Chonju became the city’s first modern journalist, adopting Western methods of covering the news, including writing on crime, the arts and human-interest stories, as opposed to merely making dry announcements of official acts, which was traditionally the mainstay of the Chinese media.
While Fu Chongju seldom left Chengdu, he befriended resident foreigners and acquired a knowledge of European languages and Western customs, literature and scientific discoveries. He was close to many of the European consuls in Chengdu, and quite likely met Auguste François while the latter was on one of his visits to the city.
In 1900, Fu Chongju founded the Journal of Mathematics which, while short-lived, was Sichuan’s first scientific journal, highly regarded in academic circles. He also founded Chengdu’s first public reading room, the ‘Newspaper Reading Commune’. In 1901, he established Chengdu’s second newspaper, the Enlightenment Popular News, a woodblock publication issued initially semi-monthly and then monthly. In part sponsored by the European consulates, the paper pursued modern Western and liberal forms of journalism. From 1909, Fu Chongju added an illustrated supplement to the paper, the ‘Popular Pictorial’, which was much beloved by readers.
From 1903, Fu Chongju became one of the principals of Sichuan’s first official newspaper and Chengdu’s first daily, The Chengdu Daily, which while overseen by the government, permitted is writers a surprisingly wide degree of editorial freedom.
Fu Chongju made his only known trip outside of China, when he travelled to a World’s Fair, the Fifth National Industrial Exhibition (1903), in Osaka. There he encountered many amazing people and new technologies that greatly influenced his work going forward.
Fu Chongju made enormous contributions to cartography, developing his own distinct form, employing traditional Chinese styles with modern Western content. In addition to the present work, he made a colossal (1.5 x 3 metre) 4-sheet map of Sichuan (1902); a set of twenty maps of historical China; a New Map of Land and Water for International Trade; the Civilization Progress Map of China, the Reform Map of Ancient and Modern Western Regions; a Map of the Yangtze River; and a plan of his hometown, the Chengdu Market Map in the Three Years of Xuantong (1911).
However, Fu Chongju’s greatest intellectual masterpiece is the 成都通览 [Chengdu tonglan / Overview of Chengdu] (1909), an encyclopedic account of the history and cotemporary state of Chengdu that features an unprecedented array of detail on its sites, institutions, residents and their customs. Unlike the dry traditional Chinese histories, which focused upon the public affairs of national and regional rulers, the Chengdu tonglan discussed many elements of the daily lives of regular citizens and the appearance and activities of the normal city streets. It is today a seminal work on the modern history of Chengdu and is perhaps the finest contemporary work of its kind of any Chinese city.
Fu Chongju was also a great humanitarian, who spent a good deal of time and money to provide medical care to those in need. He was for a time the President of the Sichuan Red Cross, whereupon he promoted vaccines and modern Western medical practices, in tandem with traditional Chinese medicine.
While Fu Chongju was a bright intellect and good Samaritan, he was a terrible businessman. His attention to quality, detail and scientific rigour was often not cost effective. Most of his journalistic, academic and cartographic activities were money losing ventures, and he was forced to make up the shortfall by selling rickshaws and lottery tickets. It seems that Fu Chongju succeeded in making and losing several fortunes this way, for he quickly spent all the money he ever received, while his good nature was often exploited by unscrupulous business associates.
Sadly, Fu Chongju died in 1917, while only in his early forties, although he had lived the experiences of many lifetimes.
References: N/A – No References or Other Examples Traced. Cf. (background:) Erik BAARK, Lightning Wires: The Telegraph and China’s Technological Modernization, 1860—1890 (Westport, Conn.; Greenwood Press, 1997).