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Importance of selected works

Why These Five Works?

The above selected works are clearly very different between them: the first two are geographical works (belong to the dili wenxue 地理文学), written by authors who never left the Song Empire. They include sections on foreign countries as well as descriptions of local Chinese population. Zhou focused his attention in particular on the Guangxi (flowers, plants, animals, local customs, food and rituals), while Zhao in the second chapter of the Zhufanzhi focused more on several foreign products and goods arrived in the Chinese harbours, as Quanzhou, in the Fujian region. The other three works are instead travel works, (belong to genre youji wenxue 游记文学), since they describe the itineraries realized by the author themselves, from China to the most distant Western territories. They represent a sort of travel diaries, which, in most of the cases, include first-hand information. Even if the choice of these (first) five works could seem arbitrary, it must be pointed out that they are strictly connected: Ma Huan and Fei Xin works present several similarities and sometimes overlapping descriptions (Dreyer: 2007). Comparing their sections with Wang Dayuan’s work (Rockhill part II and III: 1915) written in 1349, it is possible to find many analogies and that leads to two considerations: on one hand, it is probable that the two travelers not only could be able to read earlier works, but they could use them as reference when they needed to provide ethnographic information. On the other hand, the correspondence of several pieces of information written by different authors in different times, it seems a proof of their authentic value and exactness. Additionally, parts of the descriptions found in DYZL by Wang Dayuan resemble those in the Lingwai Daida and Zhufanzhi. The last sections, contained in the DYZL, (nine additional places he did not visit) are based on earlier works. (Ptak: 1995, Images of Maritime Asia). Zhufanzhi by Zhao and Lingwai Daida by Zhou are strictly related. As said, a large part of Zhao’s segments is copied verbatim by Zhou’s sections.

It is possible to state that the choice of these five works was made starting from the following schemes:

Ma Huan > Fei Xin > Wang Dayuan > Zhao Rukuo > Zhou Qufei;


Yingya Shenglan > Xingcha Shenglan > Daoyi Zhilve > Zhufanzhi > Lingwai Daida;


1451 > 1433 > 1349 > 1225 > 1178.

Such schemes can be interpreted in three ways:

  • Chronological: Elements (author and works) on the left are more recent than elements on the right; elements on the right are earlier than those on the left;
  • Influence potential: Elements on the left have been influenced by elements on the right.
  • Content: Works’ content on the left are generally richer and probably more reliable than those on the right.

Following the same principles (Chronological, Influence potential and Content) it will be possible to improve the database adding earlier and later geographical works.