noted traveler and geographer of the late Ming Dynasty
(1368-1644), Xu Xiake, also named Hongzu (1587-1641),
was born in today's Jiangyin of East China's Jiangsu
Province. He studied the ancient classics as a small
boy and learned to write the eight-part essay prescribed
for the imperial civil service examination, but
refused to take part in the imperial examination.
Instead, he developed an interest in historical
books, especially such books on different places,
and devoted himself to traveling all over the country.
During his lifetime, Xu Xiake traveled
around and conducted surveys in 16 provinces,
leaving his footsteps in virtually every part
of the country. In conducting his surveys and
investigations, he would never blindly embrace
the conclusions recorded in previous documents.
Instead, he discovered that the documentations
made by his predecessors in their geographical
studies were quite unreliable in many aspects.
To ensure that his reconnaissance
were real and detailed, he seldom traveled by
ship or by wagon. He climbed over mountains and
hills and traveled long distances almost entirely
Aiming to develop a true picture of
the natural world, he made it a point of undertaking
his expeditions in those mountain areas where
roads were difficult to travel and in those woods
that were sparsely populated. In this way he discovered
many marvelous mountains and beautiful scenes.
He made repeated visits to the famous mountains
across the country at different times and seasons
of the year to so that he could make repeated
observations of their wonderful scenery that kept
changing all year round.
Xu's main contributions to geography
-- A detailed study and scientific
study of the karst landform. Xu visited over 270
caves in the (South China) Guangxi Autonomous
Region and in (Southwest) Guizhou and (Southwest)
Yunnan provinces, kept records of their directions,
height, and depth, and elaborated on the cause
of the formation. He was a pioneer in systematic
karst studies in both China and the world.
-- Correcting some mistakes of the
records on the source and waterways of Chinese
-- Observing and recording the species
of many plants, explicitly putting forward the
influences that landform, temperature, and wind
speed might have on the distribution and blooming
-- Conducting survey on the volcano
relics of Tengchong Mountain in South China's
Yunnan Province. Xu kept records of the shape
and quality of the red pumice expelled from the
volcano, and provided scientific explanation on
-- A detailed depiction of the phenomenon
of terrestrial heat, the earliest of its kind
Xu Xiake' contribution to the
ancient Chinese geography was unprecedented, especially
his detailed narration of the karst landform.
His travel journal was compiled by the later generations
into a book called The Travel Diaries Xu Xiake,
which is of high scientific and literary value.