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Finding the Bearings on Historical Maps Scrolls

Two different systems of orientation were used in the making of maritime chart scrolls. According to Cheng K'ai-yang, a Ming military strategist who had devoted himself to China's coastal defense, on a maritime chart "objects close at hand are rendered close to the center of a page, while those far away are placed above them, close to the edges." That is to say, instead of applying a system derived from fixed bearings, the chart maker began from the user's perspective.

There, too, are two position-marking styles for the maritime chart scrolls. The first was applied to the long scroll charts. While there is no fixed bearing, the land is always on the upper section, with the orientation being from the ocean looking towards the land. Examples of this kind of chart includes the Cheng-ho hang-hai-t'u (The Nautical Chart of Cheng Ho) and the Ko-sheng yen-hai
k'ou-i ch'üan-t'u
(Complete Map of Seven Coastal Provinces). The second was used on coastal defense charts, ones that depict the coastline of China, in full or in part, outlining the defense systems of specific military posts. On these charts the ocean is always on the upper section, with the orientation being from the land looking towards the waters. Again, actual compass bearings were not applied. The main difference between these two systems is their intended use. The former was used primarily for navigation along China's coastline, while the latter was for land-based military purpose. The National Palace Museum has two pieces of the latter type that date to the early Ch'ing dynasty, the T'ai-wan yü-t'u (Map of Taiwan) and the Che-chiang fu-kien yen-hai
hai-fang-t'u
(The Coastal Defense Map of Chekiang and Fukien Provinces).

Hai-t'u(Nautical Chart)
Late Ming dynasty, Ink and color on paper, 30.5×2,081 cmHai-t'u (New window)
  • Enlargement I (New window)
  • Enlargement II (New window)

T'ai-wan-t'u fu p'eng-hu-ch'ün-tao-t'u(Map of Taiwan and the Pescadores) 
Yung-cheng reign (1723-1735), Ch'ing dynasty, Ink and color on paper, 62.5×663.5+93 cmT'ai-wan-t'u fu p'eng-hu-ch'ün-tao-t'u (New window)
  • Enlargement I (New window)
  • Enlargement II (New window)