Carte des Terres Nouvellement Connues au Nord de la Mer du Sud tant du Coté de l'Asie que du Coté de l'Amérique...
Published ca. 1752, Paris
Size: 6.5" X 10.5"
A rare and fascinating map of the American Pacific Northwest and Asian Northeast that depicted for the first time to a Western audience the route and location of the mythical Chinese colony of Fu-sang. Phillippe Buache’s map was first presented to the French Académie des Science in 1752 and then published in Buache’s Considérations Géographiques sur les Nouvelles Decouvertes au Nord de la Grande Mer in 1754.
The map is also of interest for it’s controversial depiction of the Mer de l’Ouest, as well as it’s speculative geography of the Alaskan peninsula. It should be noted that it was the Considérations Géographiques, and the maps presented to the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris between 1752-54, that helped ignite one of the greatest cartographic debates of the 18th Century. It is also important to note, that what gave credence to the body of maps found in the Considérations Géographiques was the implied association between Buache and Joseph-Nicolas de l’Isle, Buache's brother in law, who had recently returned from the Royal Academy in St-Petersburg following the Great Northern Expedition, and who’s brother was none other than Guillaume de l’Isle, one of the most important and influential cartographers of the 18th Century.
As such, the controversy that ensued following the publication of the Considérations Géographiques revolves mainly around the depiction of the Mer de l’Ouest in the Pacific Northwest.
Although Guillaume de l’Isle, did produce a manuscript map in 1696 that toyed with the concept of an inland sea, which was later spuriously copied by Jean-Baptiste Nolin in 1700, the controversial depiction, and the implications that it entailed of a possible inland route to the Pacific, remained somewhat dormant until its publication by Buache.
Yet, the salient feature of this particular map is, as already described, it’s depiction of the mythical Chinese colony of Fu-sang and the route taken by the colonists in the year 458 from mainland China to the Pacific coast near the said Sea of the West. What is important to underline is that this map, and the work by the sinologist, Joseph de Guignes, from which it was based upon, but which had yet to be published, is the first European rendering of this Eastern myth to a European audience.
Although Fu-sang is today relegated to myth, it is this very concept of the mythology which is interest to modern historical study. It has been argued by Dora Polk that the myth of Fu-sang might be same myth, or its oriental equivalent, that we associate with the myth of the Amazon and how early explorers imagined the New World.
In essence, the myth of Fu-sang is based on the legend of Buddhist monks recounted by Hui Shen who allegedly travelled to the shores of a distant land known as Fu-sang. The issue that is of interest is that Buache and Guignes locate Fu-sang on the American continent. By doing so, it begs the question as to the motive and evidence behind Buache’s geographic speculations that includes Fusang and the Sea of West. His cartographic speculations presented under the guise of science not only erupted in controversy, but also ultimately led to further exploration of the coast and interior of the American West, and finally led to the third and final voyage of James Cook to prove or disprove some of the most spurious geographic mis-conceptions that had eluded prior explorers since the age of exploration began.
(Sources: Polk, D.B., The Island of California, Olshin, B., The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.)