China’s View of the West, A Comparison of the Historical Geographies of Wei Yuan and Xu Jiyu

in Social Sciences and Missions
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Wei Yuan and Xu Jiyu, civil servants in mid 19th century China, were deeply disturbed by British expansion into Asia. On the theory that one should know one's enemies, both wrote pioneer historical geographies designed to introduce Chinese officials to the sources of Western power. They both made extensive use of missionary sources; however, there were significant differences between the works of Wei and Xu. Wei never abandoned the Middle Kingdom concept whereas Xu came to realize that the West had developed its own civilization, and he encouraged China's development of trade and commerce, especially in Southeast Asia. Wei and Xu's works circulated among a small number of Chinese officials on China's east coast, but it was not until after China's defeat in the Opium War, 1839-42, and the near over throw of the Qing dynasty by the Taipings that the works were reprinted and served as introductions to the West.

Social Sciences and Missions

Sciences sociales et missions (Formerly: Le Fait Missionnaire)




 Quoted in Drake, China Charts the World, p. 24. As noted, conservative officials were able to have Xu Jiyu dismissed on minor charges because of his Yinghuan zhiluë.


 Quoted in Leonard, Wei Yuan, p. 102.


 Quoted in Drake, China Charts the World, p. 165.


Drake, China Charts the World, pp. 187-188.


Paul A. Cohen, China and Christianity. The Missionary Movement and the Growth of Chinese Antiforeignism, 1860-1870 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963), ch. 1, “The Anti-Christian Tradition in Chinese Thought,” pp. 3-60.


Xu YHZL, pp. 147-156; Wei, HGTZ, 5.39: 2144-2150.


Xu, YHZL, pp. 206-211.


 Quoted in Drake, China Charts the World, p. 147.


 Quoted in Drake, p. 1.


Drake, China Charts the World, p. 196.


  • Portrait of Wei Yuan. Reference: Jane K. Leonard, Wei Yuan and China’s Discovery of the Maritime World (Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1984).

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  • Portrait of Xu Jiyu. Reference: Fred Drake, China Charts the World. Hsü Chi-yu (Xu Jiyu) and the Geography of 1848 (Cambridge: Harvard East Asian Research Center, 1975).

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  • Semi-Westernized Map by Wei Yuan. Reference: Wei Yuan, Haiguo tuzhi, 2nd edition [1847] (Yangzhou: Guwei tong, 1947 reprint edition), vol. 1, pp. 166-167.

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