Sunday, November 15, 2009

Western China XVI-XVIII Centuries maps

The map of Chinese Kingdom from the «Drawing book of Siberia», 1699-1703

For more than three hundred years Russian travelers, merchants, diplomats, military agents and geographers created geographical descriptions and maps of the various regions of China. All their data was highly required by the government. As the Russian settlements moved far to the East from Ural in XVI – XVII centuries, government striven to extend the sphere of its influence to the Asia, promote Russian trade and oppose similar efforts from other European states. Several regions were subjects of the military interest, several – as potential trade and transport corridors. The pure academic interest to the nature, inhabitants, economy and natural resources was also great.

In Medieval time all maps of China came to Russia from Europe. First original and reliable data on China was received during the colonization of Siberia in XVI-XVII. It is considered that they came from Cossacks, sent by Ioann IV in 1567 «in order to find out new countries» (Popov, I.I., 1862). Only in the middle of the XVII century 9 diplomatic missions to the Jungarian khanate in Western Mongolia. were sent. The mission of Baikov started from Tobolsk to Pekin in 1654-1658 (Postnikov, 2001). Government sent expeditions to the Inner China to check rumors about gold sands, find short route

To India, collect strategic military information about Northern and Western China. Military reconnaissance data became of great interest especially after the Qinq Empire conquered the Eastern Turkestan and Jungaria in the mid-XVIII century. At this time historical sources do not contain exact and detailed information about places and geographical objects, but mainly unverified geographical narratives. One of the most interesting sources of the end of XVII is the geographical atlas of Siberia known as “Book of charts for Siberia (1699-1703)” by S.U. Remezov, studied in details by L.A. Goldenberg (1965, 1990). It is based on the medieval Siberian land cadastre.

Early maps and charts. 

This detailed and accurate data describing geography and demography of Siberia was not available for the European cartographers. The book includes several charts of Central Asia and China (as far as Tibet). The most interesting is the combination of the Russian data on Siberia unknown for the West and data on China borrowed from the Western sources. It shows the zone where Russian and Chinese cultures met. This atlas was considered so much valuable for border demarcation, that even in 1980s during the Soviet-Chinese boundary disputes the Soviet Foreign Ministry restricted access to it, and till now it still remains unpublished for this reason.

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