Zhang Mu, Maps of the Western Territories, and a forum of frontier scholars

Chapter Two) Ancient Maps and Scholars

Zhang Mu, Maps of the Western Territories, and a forum of frontier scholars

The National Library of China has, in its collection, an exquisitely drawn set of Maps of the Western Territories on which one can find the square seal of Zhang Mu. Zhang Mu was quite a famous scholar during his lifetime, who forged his reputation in the field of cartography.

Zhang Mu was an influential figure during the rise of northwestern history and geography as an academic discipline during the reigns of Emperors Jiaqing (1796-1820) and Daoguang (1820–50). In particular, Zhang is recognized for his role in reviving and disseminating the work of scholars from previous generations. He shared ties and even close friendships with famous intellectuals such as Qi Yunshi, Xu Song, He Qiutao, Shen Yao, Wei Yuan, Xi Zizhen and Li Wentian. As a second series of rebellions erupted along the Western frontier, these intellectuals decided to devote themselves to a field of research that was relevant to the concerns of their time. Through years of comparing notes; sharing and copying excerpts of historical books; revising manuscripts; and submitting articles for publication, they succeeded in making northwestern history and geography one of the most popular subjects of studies of that era. As Liang Qichao said: "Following the turmoil that arose along the Western frontier during Qianlong's reign, the scholars of Emperor Jiaqing's reign had become increasingly interested in the geography of the northwest regions of China, such as Xinjiang, Qinghai, Tibet and Mongolia. The most famous of these scholars were Xu Song, Zhang Mu and He Qiutao." (A General Introduction to Academic Thoughts of Qing Dynasty)

Using their collaboration on the Maps of the Western Territories as an underlying thread, I will introduce Zhang Mu and his friends, as well as the time in which they lived. 

1) An ode to the frontier: the Maps of the Western Territories

The Maps of the Western Territories are currently stored in the National Library of China and consist of one concertina-bound tome in a decorative case. The maps are painted in colored inks using the techniques of traditional shanshui landscapes. They depict the mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, cities and roads of Xinjiang. In total, there are 17 maps, including one map of the entire territory (the Complete Map, shown in Image 17), and 16 smaller maps, each of which are accompanied by captions.

The Complete Map of Xinjiang below features an unconventional map orientation where up is south and down is north. The territory depicted begins in the east with the Jiayu Pass, a frontier fortress at the western extremity of the Great Wall (colored light blue on the left hand of the map), and ends in the west at the Pamir Mountains. The map features details such as the network of roads connecting the northern and southern reaches of the Tianshan ranges, as well as cities, waterways and mountains along the way.

Image 17: The Complete Map of Xinjiang from the Maps of the Western Territories produced during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing

The 16 smaller maps depict the roadways, mountains, waterways, walls, towers and karun (frontier forts) of the aforementioned cities and their surroundings. The captions provide detailed information about the boundaries of various regions, the evolution of different cities, as well as military facilities.

Ancient maps generally didn't specify the date of their production or display. The best we can do is make an educated guess based on the information they and their captions relate, as well as other historical facts.

One of the indicators of this set of maps' age is the caption of the Map of Aksu, which provides information about the city's reconstruction. Specifically, the caption mentions that "the old city of Aksu was… located at a relatively low altitude and was therefore prone to flooding. The current city of Aksu was built following the flood that took place in the 16th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign." We can therefore reasonably assume that the map was produced or displayed after that year (1811). Secondly, imperial China had deep-rooted taboos surrounding the use of syllables or ideograms from the emperor's name. Every time a new emperor took to the throne, certain place names had to be changed so that they did not violate this serious taboo. For instance, when Emperor Yongzheng of Qing — birthname Yin Zhen — ascended the throne, the town of Zhending in Hebei had to change its name to Zhengding, while Yizhen in Jiangsu Province changed its name to Yizheng. By the same token, when Emperor Daoguang of Qing (born Minning) took over, place names that used the same ideogram for ning as the one in the emperor's birthname had to change to another ideogram, also pronounced ning. This is the case of Jiangning, modern-day Nanjing. We can see on these maps that many place names containing the syllable ning (such as Ningcheng, Laining and Huining) still use the same ideogram as the one in Emperor Daoguang's name of birth, suggesting that the maps were produced or displayed prior to his reign (which began in 1821). Therefore, we can ascertain that the maps date from 1811-1820, toward the end of the Jiaqing reign.

If we look at some of the content of these maps, we can see that they foreshadow a move towards academic research that is of "practical use to society" that would occur later, during the Daoguang reign. This is their cartographer, Zhang Mu, was one of the figures that inspired this movement. The maps reflect his pragmatic approach to academia, as well as his patriotic interest in the frontier regions.

2) Zhang Mu's experiences and the time in which he lived

In the bottom-right corner of the Caption of the Complete Map of Xinjiang, we can see a rectangular authorial seal reading "Revised by Shizhou" (as shown in Image 18). As Shizhou is one of Zhang Mu's known courtesy names, we can safely assume that he was the cartographer of this map.

Image 18: Rectangular seal reading "Revised by Shizhou" on the Caption of the Complete Map of Xinjiang

Zhang Mu was a native of Pingding in Shanxi Province. He was originally named Ying Xian and boasted a number of courtesy names, art names and aliases, such as Yongfeng, Fengxian, Shizhou, Shuozhou, Liqiao, and Yinzhai. Towards the end of his life, he would sometimes sign works as the Officer of Jingyang Pavilion. He was born on the 9th day of the 10th lunar month during the 10th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign (29 November 1805), and died of illness in Beijing on the 9th day of the 11th lunar month in the 29th year of Emperor Daoguang's reign (22 December 1849), aged 45. His father, Zhang Guoyi, passed jinshi — the highest degree in the imperial examination— in the 16th year of Jiaqing's reign. He first worked as a compiler and editor for the imperial court (bianxiu) before being appointed the role of Examiner in Chief of Fujian. On his way to Fujian, he suddenly fell ill and died in the boat on which he was travelling, off the shore of Jiande County in Zhejiang Province. Zhang Mu lost both of his parents at a young age: his mother, at age 10; and his father, at age 13. At 15, he was taken in by his paternal uncle, Mo Baozhai. In 1831, he was selected as a tribute scholar (i.e, recommended for studies in the capital) by his local government. The next year, he passed an examination to become a teacher for the Plain White Banners army.

Zhang Mu was a bold and uninhibited man. In 1839, aged 34, he took part in the xiangshi (the first degree in the imperial examination) in Shuntian Prefecture and brought a pot of wine in to the examination venue. When a supervisor ordered him to tip the wine out, he instead guzzled down every drop before throwing the pot to one side. The supervisor was utterly outraged by Zhang Mu's behavior and ordered him to open up his bags so that he could search the contents. He rummaged through them, only to find garments and stationery. Zhang Mu let out a hearty laugh, pointed to his belly, and said, "This is my bookcase, where I keep all of my manuscripts. I dare you to try and search it!" The supervisor was even more furious and ordered for Zhang Mu's luggage to be searched again with a fine-tooth comb. Finally, a piece of waste-paper on which a few words had been scrawled was found in the hollowed tube of Zhang Mu's brush. The supervisor used this as evidence to falsely accuse Zhang Mu of cheating. Zhang Mu was strung up and taken away to the Ministry of Punishments. Although he was able to prove his innocence, he lost the right to take part in subsequent imperial examinations. From then onwards, he lived in Beijing, just outside Xuanwumen, where he spent his days locked in his study, compiling scholarly works.

Zhang Mu's most important contribution to the field of northwestern history and geography is the Memoir of Mongolian Nomads, which explores the history and origins of different Mongolian tribes in regions such as Inner and Outer Mongolia, as well as the provinces of Xinjiang and Qinghai. This book is compulsory reading for those who wish to comprehend the history and geography of Mongolia. It is valued by scholars both in China and abroad; since the end of the 19th Century, it has been translated into Russian and Japanese. Zhang Mu also produced other notable works, such as Addendum on Russia and Topological Annals from the Yanchang Era of Northern Wei.

Image 19: Portrait of Zhang Mu

Zhang Mu lived during the reigns of Emperors Jiaqing and Daoguang of Qing. At this time, the northwestern frontier was threatened by rebellions for the first time since Xinjiang's unification in 1759, under Emperor Qianlong's rule. In the final year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign, a descendent of the Altishahr Khojas, named Jahangir Khoja, continually invaded and pillaged regions of Xinjiang to the south of the Tianshan ranges. By the reign of Emperor Daoguang, the situation had become even more urgent: rebels had succeeded in capturing southern cities, plundering citizens' assets, and launching riots across southern Xinjiang. With no alternative at hand, Emperor Daoguang deployed a massive battalion to suppress the rebels, capture Jahangir Khoja alive, and execute him in Beijing. Jahangir Khoja wreaked havoc throughout the western frontier for more than a decade, from the 25th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign (1820) to the 11th year of Emperor Daoguang's reign (1831). Against this tumultuous backdrop, Zhang Mu — a firm believer in academic pursuits that have practical use in society — shifted his focus towards the study northwestern geography and history. The Maps of the Western Regions were likely produced amid this climate of concern for national wellbeing.

3) Elder mentor Qi Yunshi and confidant Qi Junzao

In the 11th year of Emperor Daoguang's reign (1831), Zhang Mu (then aged 27) visited Qi Junzao, a famous artist and scholar. The two were related by marriage: Zhang Mu's third older brother, Zhang Lixian, had just married Qi Junzao's younger sister. At the age of 39, Qi Junzao became a lecturer in the "Southern Study" for Emperor Daoguang. He and Zhang Mu left each other with a favorable impression during their first meeting, sparking a friendship that lasted for more than a decade. Throughout the latter half of his life, as he studied, made friends and wrote new works of literature, Zhang Mu received much care and support from Qi Junzao.

Qi Junzao (1793-1866) was a native of Shouyang County in Shanxi Province. He passed the highest imperial examination during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing and was appointed Grand Minister of the Strategy Board (junji dachen), Grand Scholar of the Pavilion of Embodying Benevolence (tiren ge daxueshi), and Grand Guardian of the Heir Apparent (taizi taibao). Qi lectured three emperors in his lifetime. In his role as Academy Expositor (shijiang xueshi), he lectured Emperor Daoguang on the Confucian classics from behind a podium at Hanlin Academy. Later, as a court lecturer and Grand Scholar of the Pavilion of Embodying Benevolence, he would provide Emperor Xianfeng with advice concerning the appointment of officials as well as potential strategies of governance. Finally, he would lecture Emperor Tongzhi in the Hall of Promoting Virtue. It is for this reason that Qi Junzao was known as the “Master of the Three Emperors". Indeed, few other scholars throughout China's history have rivalled Qi's achievements in this regard.

Qi Junzao's father, Qi Yunshi, was a pioneer of northwestern history and geography during the Qing Dynasty. Qi Yunshi (1751-1815) was born in the 16th year of Emperor Qianlong's reign and died in the 20th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign, at age 65. In the 43rd year of Emperor Qianlong's reign, Qi Yunshi received the jinshi degree and joined Hanlin Academy.

Image 20: Portrait of Qi Junzao

Unlike his son, Qi Yunshi didn't have much luck within the realm of officialdom. Instead, he was known for his outstanding achievements in the field of academic research. After he was accepted into Hanlin Academy, Qi Yunshi studied the Manchurian language. Following his studies, he found employment as an editor for the National History Bureau and was tasked with compiling the Biographies of Mongolian-Muslim Nobility. In the 10th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign (1804), while he was working as a secretary in the Ministry of Revenue (hubu zhushi), Qi Yunshi was banished to Ili in Xinjiang after a shortage of copper was reported at the Baoquanju ("Bureau of the Source of Wealth") mint. Aged 54, Qi Yunshi embarked upon "a journey lasting more than 170 days and spanning more than 10,700 li" to the frontier town of Ili. Not only would this journey completely change the course of his life — it also inspired a whole new field of research: northwestern history and geography. During his time in exile, he devoted himself to studying the region of Xinjiang, producing such works as An Outline of the Western Frontier, Sketch of the Western Borders, the Guide to the Geography of the Western Territories (shown in Image 21), as well as the Memoirs of a Ten-Thousand Li Journey.

Many of Qi Yunshi's works were not published during his lifetime. However, his fourth son, Qi Junzao, achieved a fairly high rank as an official and was able to meet Zhang Mu, whose intellectual talents he admired and to whom he was related by marriage. Qi Junzao was thus able to ask Zhang Mu to revise and publish his father's manuscripts. This encounter was one of the important events that led Zhang Mu towards the field of northwestern frontier research.

During his time in Xinjiang, Qi Yunshi was ordered by the General of Ili, Song Yun, to compile the Outline of the Western Frontier. Later, Qi Yunshi wrote two other books based on the Outline: Sketch of the Western Borders and Guide to the Geography of the Western Territories, neither of which were published during his lifetime. It was only more than two decades after his passing, in 1836, that Zhang Mu's edited versions of these two books were released. Furthermore, during his time as an editor at the National History Bureau, Qi Yunshi also wrote a work entitled Introduction to the Imperial Ministry of Frontier Management, which was not published in his lifetime. In 1845, Qi Yunshi once again enlisted Zhang Mu's editing services for this book, which was published the next year.

Zhang Mu's most well-known work, the Memoir of Mongolian Nomads, would not have existed had he not first corrected Qi Yunshi's Introduction to the Imperial Ministry of Frontier Management. Qi's book is written in a commemorative format known as jinian ti, while Zhang's book is written in the traditional style of regional annals (zhishu). Although they belong to different text types, they are both important works within the field of ancient Mongolian history. One could say that the Introduction to the Imperial Ministry of Frontier Management served as the foundation for Zhang Mu's representative work.

Image 21: Guide to the Geography of the Western Territories

During my studies of Zhang Mu's Maps of the Western Frontier, I noticed that certain phrases in the captions had been taken directly from the Guide to the Geography of the Western Territories. One can assume that these maps were a secondary product of Zhang Mu's corrections of Qi Yunshi's manuscripts; at the very least, they were influenced by Qi Yunshi's studies of northwestern geography. By asking Zhang Mu to revise his father's posthumous manuscripts, Qi Junzao had unwittingly planted the seed for Zhang Mu's subsequent career in frontier studies.

Zhang Mu and Qi Junzao shared a close relationship: in addition to the revision of the manuscripts, Qi also cared deeply about Zhang's life and career. When Zhang was in Beijing, Qi would often help him make ends meet by sending him silver ingots.

In the winter of 1849 (the 29th year of Emperor Daoguang's reign), when Zhang Mu passed away in Beijing, Qi Junzi sent his son Qi Shichang to arrange Zhang Mu's funeral. After Zhang Mu's death, his daughter Zhaogu was adopted by Qi Junzao's younger sister and provided for financially by Junzao. In the 11th lunar month of the fifth year of Emperor Xianfeng's reign (1855), Qi Junzao's younger system took Zhaogu with her to Beijing. When Junzao saw that Zhaogu had inherited her father's intellect and demeanor, he was so moved that he wrote a poem in honor of his old friend. Zhang Mu left behind him several manuscripts which were revised and completed by a friend before being published during Emperor Xianfeng's reign thanks to Qi Junzao's financial backing. Some of these works went on to be Zhang Mu's most well-known, such as Memoir of Mongolian Nomads, Collected Works of Yinzhai, and Anthology of Poetry by Yinzhai.

4) Zhang Mu's contemporaries: Xu Song, Wei Yuan and He Qiutao

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that goes, "Peach and plum trees do not speak, yet a path is formed beneath them". In other words, one's achievements speak for themselves, so there is no need to brag. In Beijing, Zhang Mu had many friends who shared his interested and devoted themselves to the same causes. These friends were all famous historians and geographers of the time, such as Xu Song, Wei Yuan and He Qiutao. They would often hold banquets, as well as comparing notes and sharing passages from ancient texts. Together, they formed what could be thought of as a small academic society.


Image 22: Record of Waterways in the Western Territories

Xu Song (1781-1848), courtesy name Xingbo, was a native of Daxing District in Beijing. He was a leading scholar in the field of northwestern history and geography during the reigns of Emperors Jiaqing and Daoguang. During his lifetime, he published a number of notable works, such as the Record of Waterways in the Western Territories (as shown in Image 22). In the 5th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign (1805), Xu Song passed the imperial examinations at the provincial level, aged 19. Five years later, at only 25, he obtained the highest grade of the second band of his year group in the metropolitan level of the exam, known as the huishi. He was then hired as an editor and compiler at the Hanlin Academy, where his work would receive the praise of Emperor Jiaqing himself. In the 15th year of Jiaqing's reign (1810), at the age of 30, Xu Song was promoted to Education Commissioner of Hunan Province. Xu Song's success at such a young age is reminiscent of Meng Jiao's poem After Passing the Examinations:  "With the spring wind, I am content and my horse gallops; In a single day, I see all of the flowers of Chang'an."

However, in the 16th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign (1811), while he was still Commissioner, Xu Song was accused of egregious errors such as "quoting the classics out of context" in examination questions, and was exiled to Ili in Xinjiang the next year. Xu was in Xinjiang for seven years. During that time, he conducted an almost year-long investigation throughout Xinjiang, following which he led the revision and expansion of Qi Yunshi's Outline of the Western Frontier (also known as the Outline of Ili Prefecture). Once this revised edition was complete, the Emperor Daoguang contributed a preface and entitled it A Handbook of Xinjiang. It was then published by Wuying Dian ("The Hall of Martial Valor") in the Imperial Palace. Just as Emperor Daoguang ascended the throne and Xu Song was allowed to return to Beijing, Jahangir Khoja and his rebels began to wreak havoc in Xinjiang. The emperor therefore convened a meeting with Xu Song and asked for his counsel. As a result, Xu Song developed an immense reputation in the imperial capital.

Zhang Mu and Xu Song regularly met and shared knowledge on the subject of northwestern history and geography. Xu played an important role in editing Zhang Mu's Memoir of Mongolian Nomads. Later, as he revised the Records of Ghenghis Khan's Military Conquests (author unknown), Zhang Mu borrowed Xu Song's copy (which had been produced by Wang Fanggang, a courtier and poet of the time), which he compared with his own. Meanwhile, when Xu Song revised his Waterways of the Western Territories in later life, he allowed himself to consult Zhang Mu's edition of the map of northwestern regions from the Compendium of Yuan Dynasty Institutions as well as Zhang's handwritten copy of the Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty. When reading the caption on Zhang Mu's Map of the Western Territories, I discovered many phrases that had been taken from or inspired by Xu Song's Waterways.

Zhang Mu's contemporary, Wei Yuan, was well-known throughout China as the writer of the Illustrated Treatise on the Maritime Kingdoms. Zhang Mu and Wei Yuan had an exceptional relationship. In the fall of 1841, Zhang Mu gave Wei Yuan a replica of the Compendium of Yuan Dynasty Institutions' Map of the Northwest that he had drawn based on the Yongle Encyclopedia. Wei Yuan later included this map in his Illustrated Treatise on the Maritime Kingdoms, thus making more people aware of this precious historical document, which represents the three great khanates of the west during the Yuan Dynasty (the Kipchak Khanate, the Chagatai Khanate and the Ilkhanate) and their cities.

He Qiutao (1824-1862), courtesy name Yuanchuan, was a native of Guangze in Fujian Province. In 1844, he passed the highest level of the imperial examination, the jinshi, and was hired by the Ministry of Punishments. His notable works include Collected Articles on the Northern Frontier and Detailed Records of the North.

Zhang Mu began writing Memoir of the Mongolian Nomads in the 17th year of Emperor Daoguang's reign (1837) and finished the first draft of the first volume after almost ten days of painstaking work (in 1846). When he died in the 29th year of Daoguang's reign, he left behind him four incomplete volumes. In the 2nd year of Emperor Xianfeng's reign (1852), Zhang Mu's good friend He Shaoji took the Memoir of Mongolian Nomads to be edited by He Qiutao. Upon receiving these posthumous manuscripts, He Qiutao wholeheartedly immersed himself in the editing process. He spent a decade correcting and expounding upon Zhang Mu's work before it was published with the financial aid of Qi Junzao.


Image 23: The Maps of the Western Territories produced during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing

5) Subsequent scholars inspired by Zhang Mu's work

Zhang Mu made enormous contributions to the rectification, publication and dissemination of important ancient works of literature concerning the northwestern territories. Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty is the most essential historical text concerning the early history of the Mongolian people. That said, following its translation into Chinese at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, the Secret History was initially poorly known in China. By the second the second half of the 19th Century, very few scholars were able to track down this coveted secret text. Thanks to his close relationship with high-ranking officials Ruan Yuan and Qi Junzao, Zhang Mu had the privilege of staying in the National History Bureau in the fall of 1841. There, he was able to make a hand-written copy of the Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty from the Yongle Encyclopedia. In 1847, Zhang Mu was able to borrow from his contemporary, the scholar Han Taihua, a copy of Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty transcribed by Bao Tingbo, a famous book collector of the time. Zhang used this copy to correct certain errors in his own version, which he then published.

One could say that Zhang Mu was a conservationist and purveyor of northern frontier research: thanks to him, hitherto obscure or unpublished texts were introduced to a new generation of scholars, who in turn were inspired to follow in his footsteps. One of these scholars was Li Wentian (1834-1895), a native of Shunde in Guangdong Province, who started out as a compiler and editor at the Hanlin Academy and who was later promoted to Right Vice Minister of Rites-cum-Vice Minister of Public Works.

Li Wentian didn't have the opportunity to meet Zhang Mu during his lifetime, as he was only a teenager when Zhang died. However, Li was introduced to Zhang's work after he developed a profound interest in northwestern frontier research. He read Zhang's revised edition of the Secret History of the Yuan Dynasty and later re-published it with his own annotations. In this way, he could be said to have carried on Zhang Mu's academic pursuits.

In the field of northwestern history and geography, Zhang Mu held strong ties to three generations: he carried on the work of Qi Yunshi with the help of Qi Junzao; he collaborated with his contemporaries, such Xu Song, Wei Yuan and He Qiutao; and he inspired later generations of scholars, such as Li Wentian, to follow in his footsteps. In this way, he played an important role in imparting research from the Jiaqing reign and promoting its development throughout the Daoguang reign. Although the set of Maps of the Western Territories may not be as famous as Zhang's Memoir of Mongolian Nomads, it nonetheless served as a reference to other notable works of his generation, such as Guide to the Geography of the Western Territories by Qi Yunshi and Waterways of the Western Territories by Xu Song; therefore, it could be said to have significantly contributed to the prosperity of Qing Dynasty academia. Small though they may be, these maps have immense significance: they reflect the vicissitudes of Zhang Mu's life and the adventurous spirit of the times. 

Main references:

Guo Liping: A summary of dialogues between northwestern frontier scholars during the Daoguang reign. Taiyuan Normal Academy Review (Social Sciences Edition). Vol. 2, 2005.

Ma Ruheng, Zhang Shiming: The prosperity of northwestern frontier studies and rise of academic pragmatism during the Jiaqing, Daoguang and Xianfeng reigns. History and Geography of the Chinese Borderlands. Vol. 1, 1992.

Yu Dajun: Qing Dynasty scholar Zhang Mu and his contributions to China's northwestern history and geography studies. Journal of Inner Mongolia University. Vol. 3, 2009.

Zhang Chengzong: Zhang Mu and He Qiutao's research on the history and geography of China's borderlands. Journal of Historiography. Vol. 3, 1983.

Guo Liping: Qi Yunshi and "northwestern history and geography studies" during the Jiaqing and Daoguang reigns. Beijing Institute of Technology Journal. Vol. 6, 2004.

Liu Changhai: A brief examination of Qi Junzao and Zhang Mu's relationship. Culture and History Monthly. Vol. 12, 2003.