Map out your plans for a visit to gallery

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 August, 1997, 12:00am

The thought of going out and paying $10 to see some maps might not sound too exciting.

But when the maps in question are works of art in their own right, they are worth turning out for.

History Through Maps - Old Maps of China, is the current exhibition at Hong Kong Museum of History's Thematic Gallery.

It is largely made up of historic maps from the National Library of China and the private collection of a Hong Kong-born businessman, Tam Siu-cheung.

Mr Tam has collected 3,000 charts over the years, mostly of China, and it was his enthusiasm which sparked the exhibition.

These are not just any old maps - 18th century stone rubbings have been made with imperial ink and there are beautiful riverscapes, more like landscape paintings than the usual charts we see these days.

The oldest-known printed Chinese map appeared about 1150 AD, a couple of centuries before the first-known European example.

The two traditions grew up in very different ways, with Europeans concentrating more on scientific charts for navigation, while the Chinese continued with brush and paint, artistic maps.

One of the fascinating examples of how politics affected the cartographer's work is a map of China on a fan, made in Shanghai in 1885.

As it was a gift for Japanese diplomats, their nation is shown as a huge place.

Even in the 18th century, the political views of the emperor were foremost in cartographers' minds. Anywhere west of Persia (now Iran) was shown as a mere dot on the map.

The charts from the mainland themselves have a fascinating history.

The basis of the library's collection was a treasure trove of documents returned to Beijing from Nanjing, where they had been left by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists on their way to Taipei.

The exhibition is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 6 pm and from 1 pm to 6 pm on weekends.