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Mianhuatu 棉花圖

May 31, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald, Sabine Kink

Mianhuatu 棉花圖 "Drawings of cotton culture", full title Yuti Mianhuatu 御題棉花圖 is an illustrated book on the cultivation and processing of cotton compiled during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) by Fang Guancheng 方觀承 (died 1768), courtesy name Xiagu 遐穀, style Wenting 問亭 or Yitian 宜田. He hailed from Tongcheng 桐城, Anhui, and was governor-general (zongdu 總督) of Zhili 直隸. His posthumous title is Keming 恪敏.

The Mianhuatu includes 16 illustrations of cotton cultivation and the processing of the material from sowing, propagation, cultivation and harvest to spinning, weaving and dyeing. Each illustration is accompanied by a descriptive textconsisting of poems written by the Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1735-1796), and some commentaries. The book closes with a rhapsody of the Kangxi Emperor 康熙帝 (r. 1661-1722) on cotton (Mumian fu 木棉賦).

Figure 1. Harvesting cotton
Rubbing of a stele from 1765 in which figures and poems are engraved.

The illustrations are thus the core part of the book, while the poems are rather a literary and calligraphic padding. However, both in unison describe the situation of cotton cultivation and cotton culture in the region north of the Yellow River during the 18th century. This can be contrasted with the conditions prevailing in the Yangtze region. The illustrations were presented to the throne during one of the emperor's southern tours.

The first print from 1765 was relatively widespread. Yet most famous is a stone slab version produced after 1800 and today owned by the Museum of Hebei Province 河北省博物館. The book is included in the collection Shouyi guangxun 授衣廣訓 of 1808, but with some additional texts. The most precious modern edition was published in 1986 by the Hebei Kexue Jishu Press 河北科學技術出版.

Table 1. Contents of the (Yuti) Mianhuatu (御題)棉花圖
1 布種 Buzhong Sowing
2 灌溉 Guangai Irrigation
3 耘畦 Yunxi Weeding of the plots
4 摘尖 Zhaijian Picking off the tips
5 采棉 Caimian Plucking the cotton bolls
6 揀曬 Jianshai Sorting the bolls and drying them
7 收販 Shoufan Marketization
8 軋核 Gahe Ginning
9 彈花 Tanhua The bowing of cotton to make it fluffy
10 拘節 Jujie The smoothening of threads
11 紡線 Fangxian Spinning yarn
12 挽經 Wanjing The spooling of warp yarn on the mandrel
13 布漿 Bujiang The starching of warp yarn
14 上機 Shangji Dressing the loom
15 織布 Zhibu Weaving cloth
16 練染 Lianran Boiling and dyeing
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