Who were the Manchu mapmakers?

Who were the Manchu mapmakers?

Mario Cams

Ph.D. Candidate, KU Leuven

When a large project to map the Qing territories was initiated early on during the 18th century, officials of various backgrounds were selected to form teams that would conduct the necessary field surveys. Nearly every team of surveyors included two or three European missionaries, a representative of the Imperial Workshops (Ch zaobanchu 造辦處, Ma weilere arara ba), top personnel of one of the main administrative bodies, a director of the astronomical bureau, and a banner colonel of the imperial guard. To my knowledge, all non-European team members were Manchu or Chinese bannermen – perhaps not surprising, given the political and military importance of the information they handled. But when it comes to the specific reasons behind the composition of each team, most questions center around the inclusion of imperial workshop personnel. One way to approach the problem is to have a closer look at what we know of these men.

One of the appointedWorkshop officials was Foboo (Fo-bao 佛保), a booi  of the Bordered Yellow Banner. He features in one of the published Manchu memorials as a measurement expert. Foboo is reported to have drawn up a plan of the Wushu qingliang 無暑清凉gate at Chengde, so that the emperor could write down the characters for it in a way that would better fit the size of the gate. In 1712, when he was surveying Shanxi and Shaanxi with his fellow team members, Foboo appears to have disobeyed imperial orders by not keeping track of the other mapmakers in his team. A report was sent to his immediate superiors and plans were made to call back, impeach and punish Foboo. Fortunately for him, a follow-up report stating that he had rejoined the mapmakers reached the palace a few days later and the decision was made to give him a second chance.[1]

Another zaobanchu official taking part in the surveys was Pursai (Bu-er-sai 布爾塞). In European archival documents he is referred to as Pursama (or Purgama), a contraction of Pursai and ama, a form of address that can be seen as the equivalent to the contemporary expression laoye 老爷. As was the case for many Qing institutions, officials working for the imperial household and its workshops each had their place within the two overlapping hierarchies of the bureaucracy and the banner system. This explains Pursai’s different titles: on the one hand, he was jianshi監視(‘intendant’ or ‘overseer’) of the Wuyingdian 武英殿, where one of two clusters of workshops was located; on the other hand, he was a booi  (Plain Yellow Banner) who held a hereditary title of non-imperial nobility (baitalabure hafan or qiduyu 騎都尉). Pursai had previously been responsible for escorting two European missionaries to Guangzhou and, on another occasion, for transporting European goods from Guangzhou to the palace, a distance he is reported to have covered in an astonishing twenty days.[2]

Pursai was sent along with the team that was responsible for surveying the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Huguang. On the border with Ava & Pegu (Burma), both Pursai and one of the European mapmakers died, presumably of malaria. In keeping with Manchu practice, Pursai was cremated on the spot and his ashes were sent back to the capital.[3] Following his death, the court appointed a replacement: a jianshi of the same hall, Cangboo (Ch: Chang-bao 常保), who also held a similar rank of non-imperial nobility, was sent to Yunnan, alongside a replacement for the European missionary who had passed away.[4]

A fourth zaobanchu official selected to be a mapmaker was Li Bingzhong 李秉忠, jianshi of the palace’s Yangxindian 養心殿, where the second cluster of workshops was located. Li belonged to the Chinese Plain Blue Banner and was part of the team of mapmakers surveying Jiangxi, Guangdong and Guangxi. He would go on to build an impressive career. His name appears again in documents describing the transportation of European goods from Guangdong to the capital in the fall of 1716and, in the summer of 1720, he was to escort papal envoy Mezzabarba to Beijing and act as an intermediary between the emperor and the envoy during the latter’s stay there. By that time, Li appears to have held one of the top positions in the imperial household, as he is mentioned alongside senior household personnel. During the Yongzheng years, he continued to serve in different posts throughout the empire, first as treasurer, but later as provincial legal commissioner in Henan, and supervisor of the imperial manufactories in Hangzhou and Suzhou.[5]

All four of these men were working directly under top household personnel, mostly zongjianzao 總監造 or taijian 太監, officials who were particularly trusted personal agents of the emperor. However, the zaobanchu mapmakers themselves were all lower rank officials at the time they took part in the surveys. All but Li BIngzhong had entered the imperial household as bondservants at a relatively young age. It seems that at least one Manchu mapmaker, Foboo, made a name for himself as a trained measurement expert. Pursai , Cangboo and Li Bingzhong were certainly overseeing the production of goods at the Wuyingdian and Yangxindian workshops, but we have no indication of what their expertise, if any, may have been. On the other hand, their appearance in European archival materials suggests their appointment could have depended on their experience in dealing with the European missionaries at court, so as to more effectively keep an eye on their activities during the field surveys. The inclusion of officials working for the imperial household’s zaobanchu therefore hints at both the technical support provided by the workshops during the surveys and the emperor’s need for personal control over the mapping project.



[1]Kangxi chao manwen zhupi zouzhe quanyi 《康熙朝滿文朱批奏摺全譯》(Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1996), pp. 767 & 835-6.

[2]Baqi manzhou shizu tongpu 《八旗滿洲氏族通譜》, Shenyang: Liaoshen shushe, 1989, 358. For his uncanny achievements as a courier of European goods, see Acta Pekinensia: Western Historical Sources for the Kangxi Reign (Macao: Ricci Institute, 2013), p. 36.

[3]ARSI, Jap. Sin. 176, f. 397.

[4]A genealogy that mentions Cangboo is kept in the Havard-Yenching Library, TMA 2748/9126.

[5]See the Ming-Qing Name Authority File (MQNAF) 明清檔案人名權威資料查詢, accessible via http://archive.ihp.sinica.edu.tw.

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