One of the Most Important 17th c. Accounts of China

Nieuhof, Johannes (1618-1672)

L'Ambassade de la Campagne Orientale des Provinces unies vers L'Empereur de la Chine, ou Grand Cam de Tartarie, faite par les Srs. Pierre de Goyer et Jacob de Keyser, illustré d1une tres-exacte description des villes, bourgs, villages, ports de mers, & autres lieux plus considerables de la Chine: enrichie d1un grand nombre de tailles douce. Le tout recuieilli par le Mr. Jean Nieuhoff, Mre. d'hostel de l'ambassade, à present gouverneur en Ceylon: mis en François, orné, & afforti de mille belles particularitez tant morales que politiques, par Jean le Carpentier, histiographe.

Leiden: pour Jacob de Meurs, Marchard libraire & graveur de la ville d 1665


Folio: 370 x 235 mm. [*]1, *4, **2, (:) 2, A-Z4, Aa-Nn4, Oo2, A-R4.


Bound in contemporary, seventeenth-century mottled calf, the edges of the boards decoratively gilt-rolled, rebacked, with end-bands of blue and white silk. The edges of the text-block are speckled red. Internally, this copy is in overall excellent condition, with bright clean leaves, dark impressions of the engravings and wide margins. There is a small wormtrail in the gutter of the first forty leaves, slightly affecting the text. Clean tear to leaf M1. Very light dampstaining to inner, lower margin of the final section. A small stamp "Bibliotheque du Roi, Neuilly" appears at the foot of the printed title page. A note attached to the verso of the engraved title explains that "The royal chateau of Nevilly, built in the reign of Louis XV., was the favorite summer residence of Louis Philippe, but was destroyed during the revolution of 1848. This volume, from the library of the king, fortunately, escaped destruction."

This work is generously illustrated with 110 text engravings each of which take up one third of the page, 34 double-paged engravings and one large folding engraved map of China. The text of the second part "Description générale de l'Empire de la Chine" is primarily the work of the translator, Jean Le Carpentier, and includes chapters on language, architecture, sciences, arts, ethnography, religion, topography, minerals, flora and fauna. The magnificent engravings include numerous cities, palaces, harbor views, vistas, people, plants, and animals.

"Nieuhof, a German traveler, born in Westphalia, visited China and Batavia, and published in 1665 an account of his journey. Having gone ashore at Madagascar in 1672, he was lost killed, or disappeared mysteriously." (Thomas)

"The Dutch East India Company, being well aware of what the Jesuits were publishing about China, sent embassies to the Ch'ing court in an effort to establish direct trade relations with China…

"For European readers the Dutch embassy produced in 1665 a major description of China which in a sense combined the two main sources of information about China: the travel relations and the Jesuit missionaries' accounts. Written by the Embassy's secretary, Johann Nieuhof (1618-1672) it combined the author's firsthand observations with information taken from the works of Trigault, Semedo, and Martini. The first part of the book is a narrative of the travels and experiences of the Embassy, introduced by a brief, general description of China drawn from Trigault's work and Martini's "Atlas". The introduction includes an abridgment of Martini's description of those provinces through which the embassy did not travel. Descriptions of the provinces actually visited by Nieuhof were inserted into the narrative at the appropriate places, but these too were taken from Martini's "Atlas" the narrative itself contains much descriptive material, most of which was based upon Nieuhof's personal observations.

"Part two of Nieuhof's account is a general description of China based primarily on the works of Trigault, Semedo, and Martini. But Nieuhof's general description is longer and more detailed than any of those from which he borrowed. In addition to providing descriptions of Chinese government, religion, learning, customs, etc. Nieuhof also devotes two chapters to Chinese history. Chapter xviii summarizes Chinese history from the mythical emperor Fu Hsi to the Ming dynasty. His discussion of the sage emperors is rather detailed, but beginning with the Hsia dynasty Nieuhof does little more than list dynasties and their dates. With the Mongol dynasty of the thirteenth-century, however, the history becomes more detailed. The chapter ends in about 1640. Martini is the source for all the historical information in the chapter; most of it comes from his "Sinicae historiae" and the rest from his 'De Bello Tartarico". Nieuhof also devotes many chapters to topics such as temples, flora, minerals and mines, animals, rivers, and mountains. These phenomena are discussed province by province.

"Nieuhof's account presented the European reader with the most substantial and detailed description of the Middle Kingdom yet published. It contains information from the most important Jesuit sources and adds to them the observations of one of the first Dutchmen to travel to China's interior and to visit the capital. The book is lavishly illustrated. Most of the 150 plates appear to have been based on Nieuhof's own sketches, and while embellishments characteristic of later chinoiserie were added by the engravers or even by the author himself, they nevertheless provided European readers with more realistic visual images of China's landscape than ever before." (Lach)

Cordier 2345; Lust 534; Lach "Asia in The Making of Europe", Vol III, Bk I, pp. 482 ff.