A 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
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 on foot.
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 includes:
-- 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
-- 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 of plants.
-- 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 the
-- A detailed depiction of the phenomenon of terrestrial heat, the earliest
of its kind in China.
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.