Copper engraving with original outline colour, of 2 sheets joined by original linen tape (Fair, bright original colours, loss to both upper corners with paper reinstated and some facsimile work to borders at upper corners, closed tear entering image lower centre, some light toning at centrefold, some small tears and toning to blank margins), 62 x 80 cm (24.5 x 31.5 inches).
This fine large format map is an early edition from James Wyld the Younger’s exceedingly successful and influential series of maps of China, produced in various editions from 1840 to 1884. The present edition was issued around 1845, shortly after the First Opium War (1839-42) radically altered the political status of the Chinese Empire and its relationship with the West.
The map depicts all of the Chinese Empire, as it was then existed under the rule of the Qing Dynasty. Overall, the geography is reasonably accurate, as numerous missionaries, adventures and traders had conducted various surveys over the years, although the resulting composite mapping was still far from precise. China is shown divided into its traditional provinces, with the empire’s northern limits defined by the Great Wall of China. The Chinese were never able to control the Mongol tribesmen beyond, so hoped that the wall would keep their two societies apart. The empire reaches up to the northeast (just beyond the map) to take in Manchuria, the ancestral homeland of the Qing. In addition to the Great Wall, the map delineates the ‘Imperial Canal’ (or Grand Canal), the great waterway, 1,115 miles long, completed in the 6th Century AD, which connected the Yangtze River with Beijing. Additionally, the map features notes identifying mines, forests, mineral resources, as well as some of the culture and achievements of the Chinese civilization. A table in the lower right, just above the title, provides information on each province including its size and population.
Korea seems to be shown as is if it were a part of China. This is due to a British misunderstanding of East Asian politics, as while Korea was a tributary state of China, it was nevertheless still an independent state under the Joseon Dynasty. The British had virtually no contact with Korea, and so assumed that it was essentially a part of China. Cartographically, Korea has an improved geographical form over many previous maps, but its appearance predates the scientific surveys that would reveal its precise outlines.
One will also notice that China’s western borders only extend westward to include Sichuan and Shaanxi as the Qing was yet to conquer Xinjiang and Tibet. Taiwan is noted as ‘Tai Ouan’.
The map was made during a period when China was at the top of global headlines. During the 1830s, the European nations were highly desirous of acquiring Chinese goods, particularly silk, spices and tea, which were all considered luxuries in Europe. Conversely, the market for Western products in China was virtually non-existent, in good part due to the fact that China was largely self-sufficient. Moreover, Chinese trade laws mandated that Westerners were restricted to trading only through the port of Canton, forbidding their general access to the potentially boundless Chinese market (which consisted of one-third of the World’s population!). Additionally, the Chinese government restricted the barter of most European goods, leaving silver and gold as the only acceptable method of payment. This caused a silver shortage back in Europe and became a significant hindrance to trade.
This Western trade deficit with China was quickly alleviated when the Europeans realized that the Chinese population showed a propensity to become highly addicted to opium (from British India). While opium was technically prohibited in China, for years this ban was loosely enforced and smuggling of the drug was rampant. However, in the late 1830s, the Chinese authorities started to crack down heavily on the opium trade, a move that proved intolerable to the British.
This led to the First Opium War (1839-42), which was won by Britain, so securing her the port of Hong Kong, along with expansive trading rights in China. In the succeeding years, intense European interest in China, coupled with political pressure on the Qing Dynasty, continued, leading up to the Second Opium War (1856-60), which hailed even greater Western interference within China.
The first edition of this map was issued in 1840, with several editions being produced regularly. The present edition of the map is undated, the date having been erased from the imprint (bottom centre), although the plate had been noticeably updated from the 1842 edition, for example ‘Heong Kong’ has been changed to read here ‘Hong Kong’. The present edition of the map appeared within an edition of one of Wyld’s atlases, although some of the other editions were separately published. Subsequent editions of the map were produced at least at late as 1884.
James Wyld the Younger: Leading Mapmaker of the Victorian Age
James Wyld the Younger (1812 - 1887) was one of the most important mapmakers of Victorian era. Wyld assumed control of the family business in 1836, while only at the age of 24, upon the sudden death of his father James Wyld the Elder (1790 – 1836), who had literally worked himself to death. The elder Wyld was the successor to the legendary map publisher William Faden (1749 - 1836), having purchased the former’s business in 1823. The Younger Wyld was appointed as the Official Geographer to Queen Victoria upon her ascension to the throne in 1837. He published many highly important and continually updated map series of parts of the British Empire, such as Canada, Australia, South Africa and India. He also made maps of key theatres of British warfare or economic activity, such as China; in addition the present map, Wyld also produced A Map to Illustrate the War in China (1842), one of the best geographic records of the First Opium War.
References: Cf. OCLC: 316356833 (re: 1840 edition).