Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2017, Vol. 27 ›› Issue (12): 1521-1540.doi: 10.1007/s11442-017-1450-0

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The heritage and cultural values of ancient Chinese maps

Lili JIANG1,2, Qizhang LIANG2(), Qingwen QI1,2,*(), Yanjun YE3, Xun LIANG2   

  1. 1. State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environmental Information System, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    3. School of Earth Science and Engineering, Hebei University of Engineering, Handan 056038, Hebei, China
  • Received:2016-08-24 Accepted:2017-02-28 Online:2017-12-10 Published:2017-12-10
  • Contact: Qingwen QI;
  • About author:

    Author: Jiang Lili, PhD, specialized in cartography, GIS and remote sensing. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41101447;Basic Science-technological Special Working: Compilation of the National Atlases of the People’s Republic of China (New Century Version), No.2013FY112800;Foundation Project of the Ministry of Science and Technology, China, No.2012FY120200


Ancient Chinese cartography dates back to the Western Jin Dynasty in the third century. Cartography was initiated during this period by Pei Xiu, a minister and cartographic expert, who suggested six principles of cartography. Pei Xiu, who is known as the father of Chinese cartography, oversaw the completion of the “Yu Gong Regional Maps”, along with 18 articles and the “Terrain Fangzhang Map” (AD 224-271). This led to a number of subsequent cartographic initiatives including the “Wooden Fangzhang Map” (an administrative map) which was completed by Xie Zhuang, a minister during the Southern Dynasties (AD 502-557), “Haineihuayi Tu” (Map of China and its neighbouring countries) (AD 730-805), drawn by Jia Dan, a cartographer of the Tang Dynasty, and “Shouling Tu” (an administrative map, AD 1031-1095), drawn by Shen Kuo, a scientist during the Northern Song Dynasty. Throughout the 16th century, ancient Chinese cartography developed continuously and cumulatively, and formed the specific characteristics of China ancient cartography. Although Western latitude-based and longitude-based mapping techniques introduced to China in AD 1460, the theories and methods of Chinese and Western mapping systems co-existed for over 400 years. The cultural heritage of Chinese cartography can be seen in many famous ancient Chinese maps, including astronomical figures and atlases (world, Chinese, regional, military, water conservancy, historical, and educational maps), charts, and maps of scenic spots. These have hitherto been kept in well-known archives and institutions across the world. They form an important part of the global cultural heritage of ancient maps and cartography. Given their high cultural value, these maps remain an important point of study. This paper provides a preliminary discussion on the rarity, application, and the historical, scientific, and artistic value of ancient Chinese maps.

Key words: ancient map, historical cartography, map heritage, ancient cultural maps