#220.2 Dili Tu

 Laste Updated: 15 June 2016

 TITLE:  Dili tu

DATE: ca. 1193 A.D. [1247]

AUTHOR: Huang Shang and Wang Zhiyuan

DESCRIPTION: From ancient times maps have served a variety of purposes in China. Many were designed as practical educational tools for scholar-officials, to guide, instruct and edify in times of both peace and war. They were also employed as a concrete means of asserting the emperor’s territorial claims, whether local, empire-wide, or world-wide. Maps became symbolic tokens of exchange in China’s domestic and foreign relations, and were even used to depict a perceived link between the realms of heaven and earth. Significantly, they also provided a means by which viewers could take “spiritual” journeys to distant lands - the cartographic equivalent of “travelling [through a landscape painting] while remaining at rest [woyou]”.

Traditional Chinese maps tend not to be drawn to scale, include a great deal of text and are sometimes pictorial. This generalization is accurate in so far as one acknowledges that a number of kinds of mapping practices, reflecting various epistemologies, did coexist. Distinct technologies and map styles were suited to different audiences and purposes.

Cartographic texts in China commonly provided technical data concerning roads, waterways, landmarks, distances, and so forth. But they also supplied important cultural information. An excellent illustration can be found in a “geographic map [of China” [Dili] tu], created by a scholar named Huang Shang in 1247 - several decades after the fall of the Northern Song capital of Kaifeng to the invading Ruzhen people. The map was intended as an illustration for the future Song emperor (Ningzong, r. 1194-1224) of how much land had been lost to the northern barbarians, and as a reminder of the sovereign’s responsibility to reunite the empire. The commentary to the map addresses the perennial problem of keeping China together, observing that “only one out of every ten [rulers] has been able to bring unity to all under Heaven.” This discussion - which constantly emphasizes morality as the key to administrative success - is full of historical allusions to events such as the invasion of China by the Qidan people in the early 10th century and the rebellion of An Lushan in the mid-eighth century, as well as to the noteworthy unifying accomplishments of the sage-rulers Tang and Wen, who, despite having only modest territories to begin with (like the Southern Song), founded the great Shang and Zhou Dynasties, respectively. The commentary naturally includes references to northern landmarks that had recently fallen under “barbarian" control - including the Yellow River, the Great Wall, and “a vast forest stretching several thousands of li.”

This map was one of four which Huang Shang had presented to the imperial throne in 1194 A.D.  Later, in 1247 A.D., the Dili tu [Geographic Map of China] was engraved on a stone stele at Suchow by Wang Zhiyuan.  The size of the original map was about 3.75 x 3.25 feet.  An examination of some of its characteristics will reveal a much earlier source or model than that of the 13th century.  The cartographic principles involved here are in the Hua I T’u tradition [Map of China and the Barbarians, 1137 A.D., see #218], the mountains and forests being more naturalistically drawn in, with no grid system, and with place-names inserted in cartouches.  The coastline and the Shantung peninsula are, however, better represented than in the 1137 map.  One of the many scholars who have studied this map, Aoyama, considers that in all its essentials, the Dili tu goes back to Shen Kua’s time, a century or more earlier.  Indeed it is purported to represent China as it was before the loss of its capital, Khaifeng, to the Chin Tartars in 1126 A.D.

In this map, the Yellow River is delineated from Jishi Mountain as opposed to the maps that show Kunlun Mountain as the Yellow River source. Kunlun Mountain is pushed far away to the West, as far as possible from the core imperial territories.



 *Dorofeeva-Lichtmann, Vera, “A history of a spatial relationship: Kunlun Mountain and  

   the Yellow River source from Chinese cosmography through to Western cartography”,

   CIRCUMSCRIBERE 11 (2012): 1-31.

*Harley, J.B. and David Woodward (eds.), The History of Cartography, vol. 2, book 2: Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995, p. 86, Figure 4.11.

*Needham, J., Science and Civilisation in China, volume 3, plate LXXX III, pp. 549-551.

*Smith, Richard J., Chinese Maps, Images of ‘all under Heaven’, Oxford University Press, 1996, 88pp.




Zhuili [Dili] tu, a 1247 stone engraved copy the map of China from 1193, 3.75 x 3.25 feet


Jishi 積石 at the Yellow River source is circled in red.


Email: jsiebold@me.com© Jim Siebold 2015