It was begun under the directorship of Xia Yuanji 夏原吉 (1366-1430) as Tianxia junxian zhi 天下郡縣志 "Records of the commanderies and districts under Heaven" in 1418 but not finished. Work was resumed in 1454 under Wang Chong [Zhong] 王重 (1426-?), Chen Xun 陳循 (1385-1462), Gao Gu 高穀 (1391-1460) and Wang Wen 王文 (1393-1457). It is a description of the two capitals and all provinces of the Ming empire in 119 juan, including topics of adminstrative and physical geography, customs and habits, local products, cities, palaces, temples and monasteries, parks, schools, academies, tombs and important and eminent people of particular regions.
Because of several shortcomings (especially bescause it does not contain exact figures for household and tax registers), Emperor Yingzong 明英宗 (r. 1435-1449; 1457-1464) had a new imperial geography compiled, the Da-Ming yitong zhi 大明一統志 that fully replaced the Huanyu tongzhi as official geographical description of the empire. But there is one topic found in the Huanyu tongzhi that has been omitted in the later Da-Ming yitong zhi, namely the postal system (guanyi 館驛) of the early Ming of which detailed knowledge can only be extracted from the Huanyu tongzhi.