1878 Trần Manuscript Map of Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnam

清化省圖本 / [Map of Thanh Hóa Province]. - Main View

1878 Trần Manuscript Map of Thanh Hóa Province, Vietnam


A stunning late 19th century Vietnamese manuscript map.


清化省圖本 / [Map of Thanh Hóa Province].
  1878 (dated)     79 x 28 in (200.66 x 71.12 cm)


An incredible, one-of-a-kind large-format 1878 manuscript map depicting Thanh Hóa Province (清化省) in north-central Vietnam by Trần Lưu Huệ, an official at the court of the Nguyễn Dynasty. It is one of only a few examples of traditional Chinese-influenced Vietnamese cartography in private hands and outside of Vietnam. The area here covered was significant for the Nguyễn emperors, who had risen to prominence from Thanh Hóa in the early Lê Dynasty (r. 1428 - 1789). This, nonetheless, captures the Nguyễn Empire in decline as French Indochina began its push into the region.
A Closer Look
Standing six-and-a-half feet tall in total, with a map portion measuring some 58 inches and a text portion of roughly 20 inches, this extraordinary manuscript map covers Thanh Hóa, a large province spanning from the coast to the interior mountains along the border of Laos. The map is oriented towards the west, with the coast at bottom (the third image above rotates the map to orient north at top, east at right, and so on). Boxes mark out the location of prefectural (府) and county (縣) seat, as well as villages (社 / 村), throughout the province, while fortifications (城), garrisons (屯), temples (廟), mountains (山), islands (島), and other features are illustrated. The provincial capital, Thanh Hóa City (清化省城), stands out prominently at center towards bottom-left, surrounded by hexagonal walls. The Mã River (馬江上流), noted near top and then divided into its estuarine portions (梁江 / Lương Giang, 音江 / Âm Giang, and so on), flows past Thanh Hóa City towards the ocean.

Place names are noted in both Sino-Vietnamese characters (Chữ Hán / Chữ Nôm) and in the Vietnamese Latin script (chữ Quốc ngữ), while French placenames also occasionally appear (such as, 'Citadelle de Thanh Hoa'). It is likely that the transliterations and translations were added post-production by a French colonial official. Text throughout provides information on the distance between cities, towns, and fortifications by river, the width of rivers, the size of temples and palaces, and more. The extensive block of text at top is essentially a large table of distances, beginning with a description of the province's maritime coast, ports, and commercial connections, before delineating the time needed to travel between points on the coast or from the coast to the provincial capital, and providing similar information for travel between towns and cities over land.
The Nguyễn Lords and Thanh Hóa
Thanh Hóa sits in north-central Vietnam, roughly three-quarters of the way between the Nguyễn capital of Huế and the earlier (and subsequent) capital of Hanoi. It is an unusually large province, stretching across the the county, from the Pacific to the mountainous Laotian border. The region was especially significant for the Nguyễn, as the family rose to prominence there in the formative stages of the Lê Dynasty as one of their most reliable loyalists. In the 17th century, a weakened Lê Dynasty was unable to prevent a power struggle between the Nguyễn and Trịnh lords from breaking out into open civil war, which resulted in two de facto independent states. A century later, a new crisis appeared in the guise of the Tây Sơn Rebellion, a thirty-year struggle that ended the Lê Dynasty and devastated the country but resulted in national reunification under Nguyễn rule. Though their traditional power base was in Thanh Hóa, Gia Long (r. 1804 - 1820), the founding emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, moved the capital to the more central city of Huế.
Developments in Vietnamese Cartography
Vietnamese cartography changed significantly in the mid-19th century, maintaining stylistic elements of earlier, Chinese-influenced maps reminiscent of landscape paintings, but incorporating features and techniques from Western cartography. This was not necessarily a straight line, however, as Chinese cultural influence increased in the 19th century as the Nguyễn hewed closer to the Qing to resist French encroachments. Still, despite his general hostility to Western influences, Emperor Tự Đức (r. 1847 - 1883) was especially keen on producing comprehensive and accurate maps of his realm and its borderlands.

The present map was not part of the two major cartographic projects of Tự Đức's reign, the Đại Nam nhất thống dự-đồ (early 1860s) or the Đại Nam nhất thống chí (1865 - 1882). Instead, it was a one-off map of the province, much larger than those which appeared in the just-mentioned atlases and also more recognizably part of the Chinese cartographic tradition.
Wider Historical Context
In the decades preceding this map's production, the Nguyễn Dynasty struggled to maintain its independence from outside imperial powers, especially the French. By alternatively appealing to its traditional protector, the Qing Dynasty, and attempting to mediate with the French, the Nguyễn maintained a degree of autonomy, but, following several incidents and wars, this was merely nominal by the mid-1880s. Thanh Hóa was the northernmost province of the French Protectorate of Annam, established in 1883 and secured through intermittent fighting in the following years.
Publication History and Census
This manuscript map is noted as being 'surveyed and edited' (勘編) by Trần Lưu Huệ (陳劉惠) and drawn (描繪) by Nguyễn Văn Vịnh (阮文詠) and Nguyễn Văn Tuân (阮文遵), who, from their titles, were likely military officers. It is dated to the 31st year of the Tự Đức Emperor's reign, that is, 1878. Given that quốc ngữ was generally not used in official documents until the 20th century, the text in Latin script here was likely a later addition from the early-mid 20th century, perhaps the work of French colonial administrators. Alternatively, the map might have been picked up by French troops during their military campaigns of the 1880s, with the quốc ngữ being added at that time. As a manuscript map, this piece is unique example of traditional Vietnamese cartography in the waning years of the Nguyễn.


Trần Lưu Huệ (陳劉惠; 1832 - 1907) also known as Trần Lưu Tuệ (陳劉慧) was a Vietnamese official of the Nguyễn Dynasty. Born in Thừa Thiên in central Vietnam, Trần showed aptitude from a young age and passed a series of imperial exams, allowing him to take a position in the prestigious Viện Cơ mật (機密院, Privy Council). His skills being in demand, he moved around frequently in the Nguyễn bureaucracy, eventually becoming governor of several provinces. Along the way, he developed a special interest, among others, in surveying, cartography, and border demarcation. Trần's life overlapped with Vietnam's loss of sovereignty, and the latter portion of his career was in service to Nguyễn emperors who were effectively subordinated to the French, to the extent that he was granted chevalier rank in the légion d'honneur for his government service. More by this mapmaker...


Good. Backed on linen. Small, scattered areas of soiling, abrasion, and loss. Creasing throughout. Punch holes down right and left margins.


Whitmore, J. K., 'Cartography in Vietnam' in J. B. Harley and David Woodward (eds.), The History of Cartography, Vol. 2, Book 2, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).