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A seemingly unrecorded blueprint map of Southern China depicting major railways routes, made by French colonial administrators in the French Leased Territory of Guangzhouwan (Kouang-Tchéou-Wan) who used the map as strategic aid to oversee the extensive French commercial interests in the region (mines, factories, plantations, etc., as well as the railway lines themselves) during a time of booming business and diplomatic intrigue; printed in Fort-Bayard, the administrative HQ of Guangzhouwan (today Zhanjiang, Guangdong).


Cyanotype (blueprint), with original manuscript highlights in orange and yellow hand colouring, a few further contemporary manuscript annotations in orange hand colouring (Very Good, overall clean and pleasing, some wear along old folds, some slight loss to blank corners around old tack marks), 37.5 x 47 cm (15 x 18.5 inches).

1 in stock


In 1898, France gained control of the leased Leased Territory of Guangzhouwan (Territoire de Kouang-Tchéou-Wan), located on the eastern side the Leizhou Peninsula, in far southern Guangdong.  The French were given authority over the territory for a period of 99 years (the same term as the British were given for Hong Kong’s New Territories). While the area was not well developed, the 1,300 sq. km (500 sq. mi) territory was valuable as it lay along the estuary of the Maxie River, which was navigable for large warships, while there were coal mines in the interior.

Instead of creating a separate colonial government for the territory (as the British had with Hong Kong), the French ruled Guangzhouwan from Hanoi, and considered it the be a part of French Indochina, while sending administrators to the territory to implement their polices and orders.  They built Fort-Bayard as the territory’s administrative HQ, strategically located at the mouth of the Maxie.

Guangzhouwan was classified as “commercially unimportant but strategically located”, so unlike the situation in other European colonial, or quasi-colonial, entities in China (ex. Hong Kong, German Tsingtao, and the Shanghai Concessions, etc.), France made little effort to develop the territory into an urban-commercial centre, and merely used it to as a military base to oversee the considerable French business interests and assents in Southern China, and to protect the many French Christian missionaries there.

The population of Guangzhouwan grew slowly, rising from 189,000 in 1911 to 206,000 in 1931 (the year after the present map was made), of which only 270 of the residents were Europeans.

In 1943, during World War II, Japan conquered Guangzhouwan from France.  While the territory was returned to France in September 1945, Paris decided to hand it over to the Chinese Nationalists on November 20, 1945, as they were too distracted with turmoil in Vietnam to concern themselves with the small territory.  Guangzhouwan was then reintegrated into China’s Guangdong Province, with the area reverting to the preferred local name of ‘Zhanjiang’.

In the 1950s, the Chinese Communist regime dedicated massive resources into Zhanjiang, taking advantage of its advantageous geographic location.  Today, Zhanjiang is a great port and industrial centre, home to 7 million people.


The Present Map in Focus


Prior to World War II, France maintained very extensive commercial interests throughout the Southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan, in form of mines, railways, factories and plantations.  The French military garrison at Fort-Bayard was responsible for ensuring the security of these assets.  This was a ‘hot issues’ as the French and Chinese governments had frequent, sometimes heated, disagreements regarding France’s extraterritorial rights within China.  One of the keys to maintaining the security of French assets and citizens in Southern China was maintaining oversight of the region’s main transportation corridors, namely the railways, especially those under French ownership/management, in addition to the navigable rivers.

The present map is an unrecorded cyanotype (blueprint) made in Fort-Bayard by the French authorities administering Guangzhouwan (either civilian or military) in September 1930, when the business carried on by French companies in Southern China was still booming, as the Great Depression had not yet affected the Far East.

The map embraces a sizeable portion of Southern China and northernmost Vietnam (part of French Indochina), and extends from ‘Yunnanfou’ (Kunming), in the upper left over to Hong Kong, on the right, and then below to take in Hanoi and Hankou Island.  The French territory of ‘Kouang-Tcheou-Wan’ (Guangzhouwan) is located near the centre, while the map otherwise focuses upon Guangdong, Guangxi, and Hong Kong.

The work’s purpose is the serve as a transportation map, and it intentionally depicts the topography in a skeletal manner, cleanly delineating the major rivers and coastlines, as well as marking only places that were critical to commerce and logistics.

The ‘Legende’, lower left, explains the symbols used to identify the boundaries of French territories (represented by dashed lines), internal boundaries (dotted lines), existing (operational) railways (bold orange lines; including the critical Yunnan–Haiphong Railway, completed 1910); French controlled railways in China (bold yellow lines); Railways in China entrusted to French control but subcontracted to a Monsieur Llonet according to a 1902 agreement (mixed orange and yellow lines); proposed new railways (intermittent yellow lines); and planned extensions of existing lines (bold white lines).  Red boxes mark ‘capital cities or great cities of commerce’ (ex. Hanoi, Hong Kong, Canton, Yunnanfou); yellow dots mark provincial capitals, while white dots are lesser cities.  Additionally, the black bars lined in orange placed across some rivers mark the locations of rapids, so barring boat traffic.

The map was made through the cyanotype (blueprint) printing technique, which is sometimes referred to as a ‘sunprint’.  This photographic printing process involved the use of two chemicals: ammonium iron (III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide.  Invented in 1842 by the astronomer Sir John Herschel, the technique was favoured by engineers, as it produced technical diagrams of sharp contrast and clarity.  It also had the advantage of being very low cost and easy to execute (by those properly trained).  In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the technique gained wide popularity for architectural and engineering plans (i.e., ‘Blueprints’).  This led it to be adapted to cartography, often to maps of a technical nature, such as urban models and plans for mines and infrastructure (notably railways).  A limitation of the cyanotype medium is that it could yield only a very limited number of copies, such that virtually all cyanotype maps are today extremely rare.

The present map is seemingly unrecorded, which is not surprising as it would have been made in only a very small print run reserved for high level use by senior French officials in Guangzhouwan.  The survival rate of such fragile maps made in Tropical Asian colonies is incredibly low.  Moreover, this is the only document of any kind we have ever encountered printed in Fort-Bayard, making it an unusual artefact of a curious aspect of Franco-Chinese history.


References: N / A – Map seemingly Unrecorded.

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