An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Fangyu shenglüe 方輿勝略

Jun 3, 2015 © Sebastian Demuth

Fangyu shenglüe 方輿勝略 "Outlines of the geographical features of the world" is a world geography compiled by Cheng Bai'er 程百二 (dates unknown), courtesy name Youyu 幼輿. The altogether 24-juan-long text, finished in 1610, was forbidden during the Qing period清 (1644-1911), so that nowadays only a few copies are still extant.

Cheng's compilation draws on many written sources, but it mainly relies on the government-sponsored imperial geography Da-Ming yitong zhi 大明一統志. The Fangyu shenglüe comprises a general index (zongmu 總目) followed by 18 chapters. There are furthermore six attached chapters about the "outer barbarians" (waiyi 外夷). The book is subdivided according to administrative regions and includes several detailed maps. The main part of the book comprises two maps of the capitals of China (Beijing and the secondary capital Nanjing), 13 maps of the provinces as well as maps of the unified Ming empire and the adjoining countries.

Centrepiece of the waiyi chapters is a map of the world whose origins can be traced back to those drawn by the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610, Ch. Li Madou 利瑪竇). This so-called "Complete map of the eastern and western hemispheres" (Dong-xi liang banqiu tu 東西兩半球圖) is regarded as the earliest and only still extant Ricci map. It separately depicts the two hemispheres of the globe, each 26 cm in diameter. After a detailed explanation of the map, the illustration is supplemented by an index of the longitudes and latitudes of "all countries" (Geguo dufen biao 各國度分表), which lists 591 toponyms and their corresponding coordinates following the former geographic coordinate system with Ferro (today's El Hierro), the westernmost island of the Canaries (Ch. Fudao 福島), as the first meridian. From Fudao on the longitudes are counted up to 360 degrees eastwards, while the latitudes are differentiated between northern and southern ones.

The index contains brief descriptions of each continent as well as short introductions to the main characteristics of countries and cities. It is followed by a shortened and modified account of Luo Yuejiong's 羅曰褧 (16th cent.) Xianbinlu 咸賓錄 "Record of all [tribute-delivering] guests [from foreign countries]", a writing on the history of 105 countries, peoples and ethnic groups.

In an early study of 1936, the year of the rediscovery of the Fangyu shenglüe by the historian Gu Jiegang 顧頡剛 (1893-1980) in the library of Yenching University 燕京大學, it is remarked that the compiler's attempt to revise and simplify the Da-Ming yitong zhi had failed. Li Jinhua 李晉華 documents that the content was not revised, but merely shortened to about one third of the original, resulting in a disorderly structure, and therefore incapacitating the Fangyu shenglüe for the use as a reference book. Further, Li explains that illustrations and descriptions were defective in information and that their factual validity remained in part unchecked. Because of the many deficits and the rather unsophisticated composition, William Hung (Hong Ye 洪業) supposes that Cheng Bai'er's reason for the compilation of the Fangyu shenglüe was either to try to enter the circle of literati, or just for the sake of making profit, using the famous Ricci map as an advertising feature.

Apart from this, it can be pointed out that the book with its attached waiyi chapters most notably follows and mirrors the zeitgeist of the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) in two aspects: first by the definition of the empire's borders by geographic mappings and descriptions, in order to accentuate and define the borders between the "Chinese" (hua 華) and the "barbarian" (yi 夷) world, and secondly, by meeting the great demand for exotic curiosities in Ming society by presenting one of Ricci's world maps to the public, which was still a novelty at that time.

The Fangyu shenglüe is included in the series Siku jinhui shu congkan 四庫禁燬書叢刊 from 2000.

Chen Guangsheng 陳光勝 (1936). "Fangyu shenglüe geguo dufenbiao zhi jiaoding 方輿勝略各國度 分表之校訂", Yugong 禹貢, 1936/5 (No. 3/4).
Demuth, Sebastian (2014). Die Waiyi-Kapitel des spätmingzeitlichen geografischen Kompendiums Fangyu shenglüe (Tübingen: unpubl. Master thesis).
Hong Ye 洪業 (1936). "Kao Li Madou de shijie ditu 考利瑪竇的世界地圖", Yugong 禹貢, 1936/5 (No. 3/4).
Li Jinhua 李晉華 (1936). "Fangyu shenglüe tiyao 方輿勝略提要", Yugong 禹貢, 1936/5 (No. 3/4).
Wang Zhongmin 王重民 (1986). Zhongguo shanbenshu tiyao 中國善本書提要 (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe), 185.