This colossal, resplendently coloured and immensely detailed map is the finest cartographic rendering of Sichuan Province of the Late Qing Dynasty. It was drafted and published in Chengdu in the year Guangxu 28  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. He thrived during the period when Sichuan was opening up to foreign trade and ideas, and Fu Chongju’s strength, as brilliantly illustrated by the present map, was taking the best elements of Western science and techniques and gracefully integrating them with Chinese traditions.
The gargantuan map (1.5 x 3 metres!) is lithographed on 4 sheets, and embraces all Sichuan, as well as significant parts of neighbouring provinces. It is a skilled mélange of European and Chinese elements. Sichuan’s prefectures and the province’s neighboring jurisdictions are distinguished by bright full wash colours following a traditional Chinese palette, while the manner of depicting rivers, cities and towns follows established domestic conventions. However, the map features many modern Western elements, such as a compass, the depiction of modern infrastructure, and the use of depth gradients in lakes. Moreover, while most of the toponomy is in Chinese, the names of provinces are additionally given in English, while the author is signed as ‘Chung Chi Fuh. Map Printer Chentu Sechuan’, in the lower left corner of the far-left sheet, all being a nod to any foreign audience that the map may have. The planimetric accuracy of the map is quite assured, for it is carefully composed from the best official sources.
Significantly, the map is an incredibly sophisticated thematic work, as it features a vast wealth of information on Sichuan’s economy and infrastructure, conveyed in a scientific fashion to the best Western standards. The Legend, in the lower right corner of the title sheet, explains the literally dozens of symbols that dot the map, identifying cities and towns of various sizes and political importance; the locations of mines and other natural resources; agricultural crops; as well as detailing the transportation infrastructure.
In the extreme lower left corner of the composition is a large and detailed map of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, subtitled in English as a Plan of Chentu, City. And Environs. The city’s ancient core is shown in the centre surrounded by rectangular walls, while the bulk of the cityscape spreads out in all directions, forming a dense warren of streets, in which the major thoroughfares are named. The small symbols that appear throughout are explained in the lower part of the map, identifying many different types of businesses and temples, etc.
The extensive text panels at the bottom of the composition host a virtual encyclopedia on Sichuan, ranging from descriptions of cities and major sites, climate, economics, history, as well as practical information such as Yangtze River water tables.
Impressively, Fu Chongju succeeded in following the best practices of European empiricism without sacrificing Chinese artistic traditions and conventions of draftsmanship.
Fu Chongju created the map when Sichuan, and it capital, Chengdu, was opening to foreign influences for the first time in centuries. Traditionally, Sichuan was China’s most populous and wealthiest province, owing to its vast natural and agrarian resources. In recent years it had 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.
The present map is an unrivalled resource for those seeking to understand the nature of Sichuan’s economic and political geography during the heady days of the late Qing Dynasty, providing fascinating insights into the tastes and interests of the emerging intellectual class in one of Asia most exciting environments.
The present map was issued in 2 editions, the first (as seen here) was published in Guangxu 28 , and the second was published in Guangxu 33 . As best as we can tell, there does not seem to be any major differences between the two editions, save for the date, and the colour scheme (it seems that the second edition employed only outline colour, as opposed to full wash colour), while the 1907 issue seems to show marked fading of the image due to worn down lithographic matrices (whereas the printing of the 1902 edition, as here, is sharp and fresh).
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. While the present monumental map of Sichuan is his perhaps his most impressive work, he made many other maps, including a telegraph and transportation map of China and the Far East (1901); 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 Chengdu, that while separately issued is similar to the inset map of the present work, 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.
A Note on Rarity
The map is extremely rare, in both of its editions. This is not at all surprising, as the map’s gargantuan size and its fragile nature would have given it a very low survival rate.
We can trace only 2 institutional examples of the present first edition (of 1902), held by the David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford University and the Regenstein Library, University of Chicago; while we can find 2 examples of the second edition (of 1907), held by the Yenching Library, Harvard University and the Library of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo. Moreover, we are not aware of any sales records for any other examples, as least in the last generation.
References: David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford University: G7823 .S55 1902 .F8 ;
Regenstein Library, University of Chicago: xf 3094.2428; OCLC: 1017697794; Cf. (re: 1907 ed.) Yenching Library, Harvard University: T 3064 0262; Library of the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo: 2003402087.