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Past Exhibits

Mapping the Imperial Realm - an Exhibition of Historical Maps
Mapping the Imperial Realm - an Exhibition of Historical Maps
  • Dates: 2012/09/29~2013/03/31
  • Gallery: (Northern Branch) Exhibition Area I 104

Exhibit Info

Maps originated in pictorial depiction, which as visual representations was used in the remote time to convey messages or to pursue artistic expressions. From the Neolithic cave walls or potteries many man-made images have remained to show such early mental pursuits and serve as records of actual lives. Later during the development of graphical imitation skills, some came to use simple lines to depict what they perceived of their geographical surroundings, gradually lending a practical aspect to the art and concept of pictorial representation, and eventually giving rise to the art of mapmaking.

Despite practical purposes, maps in the process of development were also full of rich cultural elements. Hence two main branches emerged: one stressed lines for spatial representation of the real world, and the other complemented the function with aesthetic appeal. The same general trend existed in both China and the West, though in different ways. The latter tended to embellish their artistic-oriented maps with dazzling ornamental patterns, while the former emphasized brushwork, composition, and atmosphere, rendering their maps more in the sense of paintings. As Cordell D.K. Yee points out in his History of Chinese Cartography, poetry, calligraphy, and painting, all three are indispensable to the making of an ancient Chinese map. Through the fusion of image and text, maps inform as well as represent. They are not only pragmatic guides to use but also beautiful works of art to look at.

Indeed, the makers of Chinese ancient maps in essence were no different from art painters, and many Chinese art painters at times made maps, into which they constructed their interpretation of space and expressed their feelings toward natural environments, political boundaries, and social customs. Map reading therefore is not simply to look for "information about a geographical space". There are more profound meanings to be read, between the "lines", about the times of their making. It should be a dialogue across space and time between the map-reader and the mapmaker.

The present exhibition features a selection of ancient maps from the Museum's cartography collection. These river, mountain, sea, and territorial border maps made during the Ming and Qing dynasties are presented in three themes: "Charting the Rivers", "Guarding the Seas", and "Marking the Borders", showing both the traditional mapmaking techniques and particular concerns of the times.
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