Science and Technology of The Han Dynasty - Cartography


Further information: History of cartography

Map-making in China preceded the Han Dynasty. Since two 4th-century-BCE silk maps from the State of Qin (found in Gansu, displaying the region about the Jialing River) show the measured distance between timber-gathering sites, Mei-ling Hsu argues that these are to be considered the first known economic maps (as they predate the maps of the Roman geographer Strabo, c. 64 BCE – 24 CE). Maps from the Han period have also been uncovered by modern archaeologists, such as those found with 2nd-century-BCE silk texts at Mawangdui. In contrast to the Qin maps, the Han maps found at Mawangdui employ a more diverse use of map symbols, cover a larger terrain, and display information on local populations and even pinpoint locations of military camps. One of the maps discovered at Mawangdui shows positions of Han military garrisons which were to attack Nanyue in 181 BCE.

In Chinese literature, the oldest reference to a map comes from the year 227 BCE, when the assassin Jing Ke was to present a map to Ying Zheng 嬴政, King of Qin (ruling later as Qin Shi Huang, r. 221–210 BCE) on behalf of Crown Prince Dan of Yan. Instead of presenting the map, he pulled out a dagger from his scroll, yet was unable to kill Ying Zheng. The Rites of Zhou (Zhouli), compiled during the Han and commented by Liu Xin in the 1st century CE, mentioned the use of maps for governmental provinces and districts, principalities, frontier boundaries, and locations of ores and minerals for mining facilities. The first Chinese gazetteer was written in 52 CE and included information on territorial divisions, the founding of cities, and local products and customs. Pei Xiu (224–271 CE) was the first to describe in detail the use of a graduated scale and geometrically plotted reference grid. However, historians Howard Nelson, Robert Temple, and Rafe de Crespigny argue that there is enough literary evidence that Zhang Heng's now lost work of 116 CE established the geometric reference grid in Chinese cartography (including a line from the Book of Later Han: " cast a network of coordinates about heaven and earth, and reckoned on the basis of it"). Although there is speculation fueled by the report in Sima's Records of the Grand Historian that a gigantic raised-relief map representing the Qin Empire is located within the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, it is known that small raised-relief maps were created during the Han Dynasty, such as one made out of rice by the military officer Ma Yuan (14 BCE – 49 CE).

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