An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Shuidao tigang 水道提綱

Dec 16, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Shuidao tigang 水道提綱 "Guide to the Network of Waterways" is a concise description of rivers and canals in China. The book was compiled by the Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) scholar Qi Zhaonan 齊召南 (1703-1768), courtesy name Cifeng 次風, style Qiongtai 瓊臺, later Xiyuan 息園. He hailed from Tiantai 天臺, Zhejiang, and was an erudite literatus (boxue hongci 博學鴻詞), later bachelor (shujishi 庶吉士) at the Hanlin Academy 翰林院, and finally rose to the office of Right Vice Minister of Rites (libu you shilang 禮部右侍郎).

He participated in the compilation of the imperial geography Da-Qing yitong zhi 大清一統志, the statecraft encyclopaedias Da-Qing huidian 大清會典 and Xu wenxian tongkao 續文獻通考, the history Ming tongjian gangmu sanbian 明鑒綱目三編, and wrote several critical commentaries on Confucian Classics and historiographical texts. His collected writings are called Baoluntang ji 寶綸堂集.

The 28-juan long Shuidao tigang is the first general book on rivers in China since the compilation of the Shuijingzhu 水經注 by Li Daoyuan 酈道元 (466 or 472-527) during the Northern Wei period 北魏 (386-534). Yet since that time many conditions had changed, and the course and shape of many rivers was not the same as more than a millennium before. The text of the Shuijingzhu is furthermore quite exact on rivers in the northwest, but less detailed on many rivers on southern China. A first attempt at writing an overview of contemporary rivers was Huang Zongxi's 黃宗羲 (1610-1695) Xinshuijing 新水經 (or Jinshuijing 今水經), but this is book is only a very crude overview with many wrong statements. Fu Zehong's 傅澤洪 Xingshui jinjian 行水金鑒 concentrates on water conservancy works and less on the natural course of rivers.

As a participant in the project of the imperial geography, Qi Zhaonan had access to a archival sources as well as the imperial atlas Huangyu quantu 皇輿全圖 from 1718. The Shuidao tigang was finished in 1761, after more than ten years of work. The book describes the situation of waterways in the late seventeenth century. It begins with a description of the sea shore along the coast and the rivers flowing into the sea, then goes on to rivers around the ancient Manchu capital Mukden (Shengjing 盛京), Beijing (jingji 京畿 "the metropolitan region"), Shandong, the northern stretch of the Grand Canal (yunhe 運河), the Yellow River, the region of River Huai 淮水, the Yangtze River, the southern stretch of the Grand Canal, the hydro-system of Lake Taihu 太湖, the rivers of Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Yunnan, of Tibet, Western Mongolia, then the northeastern provinces with River Amur until the shores of the sea, back southwards to the Korean Peninsula, and finally Eastern Mongolia and Xinjiang. Rivers flowing into the Indian Ocean or Lake Baikal are not included.

For each river, its course is described from the source to the estuary, including side-branches and isles, dykes and dams along its course, hydrologic works, the meaning of rivers for border defence and for cities, and the change of the river's course over the centuries. The book includes a vast range of terms for waters, from the sea to rivers, streams, creeks, and riverines to fords, wells, sources, canals, lakes, ponds, swamps, beaches, banks and ports and harbours, with a total number of more than 7,000.

The text is arranged diffently than the Shuijingzhu, which uses commanderies as a geographic guideline, while the Shuidao tigang displays a network (gang 綱) of larger rivers, whose tributary rivers constitute the "meshes" (mu 目) of this net. This method is derived from a concept developed by the philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹 (1130-1200) in his history Zizhi tongjian gangmu 資治通鑒綱目. Yet this pattern can not consistent be adhered to because there are rivers directly shedding their waters into the sea, and some rivers branch out, so that there are also "meshes" among the "outer ropes", and vice versa.

The Shuidao tigang is the first geographical treatise making use of a geographic coordinate system to localize places exactly. The Western technique of surveying land was first used in Eastern Turkestan that was conquered in the early decades of the 18th century.

In spite of its high scholarly value the Shuidao tigang was only printed in 1776 by Dai Dianhai 戴殿海 in Hangzhou, together with critical comments. This was necessary because Qi Zhaonan had only relied on written sources and never personally inspected the actual situations of rivers.

The version in the imperial series Siku quanshu 四庫全書 is based on an edition submitted by the governor of Zhejiang and a print of the Chuanjing Hall 傳經堂. It was also printed in 1881 by the Wenrui Hall 文瑞樓 in Shanghai, in 1898 by the Sanwei Press 三味書室 in Xinhua 新化, and in 1941 by the Wenrui Hall 文瑞樓 in Shanghai. It is to be found in the geographical series Xiaofanghuzhai yudi congchao 小方壺齋輿地叢鈔.

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