D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi

Kun II

                       Kun                                            Peng

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library                                           Courtesy of the Bodlein Library

In the dark sea of the north there is a fish; it is named the Kun. The Kun is so huge no one knows how many thousand li he measures. Changing, it becomes a bird; it is named the Peng, so huge no one knows how many thousand li he measures. Aroused, it soars loft, its wings like clouds hung from the sky. As the sea shifts, it turns to set its course toward the dark sea of the south, the Pool of Heaven.

Zhuangzi, Chapter 1, Free and Easy Wandering

Sometimes something is so obvious that one cannot see it. That is the case with the Kun. Its representation appears in the far North in the Mongolian steppe at the top of The Selden Map in the shape of a sea monster. One can presume that where there is a sea monster then one will find a sea--perhaps frozen during the winter. In an existential sense, the creature is the sea from which it emerges. If it were only so simple though because the sea creature seems to have the beak of bird.

                                 Sea Monster Kun

Courtesy of the Bodleian

The sea creature rests on top of the Ox. Both face West. Both rest on top of the Black Tortoise (of the North) which faces East. Within the shell of the Black Tortoise is the emperor's head, headdress and breath of the four winds. Xian, Shaanxi is located within the breath. Therefore, Xian is directly south of the actual Kun of the North.

While the importance of the final battle of the Han-Xiongnu War around the Altai Mountains near Lake Baikal cannot be underestimated it may be that the marker was what was actually remembered. Normally, a marker is found at the same location where the battle was fought. In this case, though, the battle was fought over a large swath of territory. At the conclusion of the battle, General Dou led a triumphal march southward; although, in retrospect, it represented a decline or the beginning of the end for him. It is apparent though that the Inscription of Yanran which appears as the Yanran Square on The Selden Map is found within the sea creature. The marker was meant to remind the enemy of their defeat and the Han of their victory (ie. Hun were assimilated into Han within the empire).


Is the boat floating in the air or on the water of Lake Baikal?

The author has taken artistic or poetic licence in repositioning Lake Baikal further west at the 100th degree of latitude instead of the 108th degree. In other words, it is not above the Yanran Square which is roughly in line with Xian, but rather above Lake Qinghai. It is therefore positioned at the upper lefthand corner of what the author has called the Northwest Rectangle. Incidentally, the white turtle image (ancient north) is also positioned in the northwest corner of the Kun.

                             Northwest Rectangle

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

The Kun symbol representing Lake Baikal in the Northwest is juxtaposed with the Peng symbol in the Northeast. Both are found at the corners of the NW Rectangle. The Kun dives to the bottom of the sea or in other words to the top of the rift valley below. The Peng stands upright on land. The land is near the East Sea and the Peng faces West with its beak to the edge of the empty rectangle. It is poised to launch itself or ascend from the land into the air.

The repositioning of Lake Baikal (North Sea) at the Kun symbol in the Northwest is an expression of western expansion. Indeed, Han territory expanded past the 100 degree longitude along the Silk Trade Route as far as Lake Balkaish. Ban Gu's younger brother whose name was Ban Chou (班超) administered the Western Regions as Protector General and also expelled the Xiongnu from the Tarim Basin.


                                      Ao Shun

The Kun symbol may also represent Ao Shun (北海龙王) or the Dragon King of the Northern Sea. His brothers are the other seas. This mirrors the concept that all Chinese are brothers. The Monkey King visited the dragons in order to trick them into giving away their special powers.

Quite simply, if Lake Baikal were positioned above the Yanran Square as it is on a modern map then one would not have a quadrilateral with equal angles. In the other corners of the quadrilateral are found Lake Qinghai designated as the West Sea, Tèlín on the coast of the East Sea and Quanzhou on the South Sea. Lake Baikal is the North Sea.

The Han Empire did not want to expand north above the Yanran Square to Lake Baikal. Rather, it wanted primarily to go northwest for military and trade reasons. These routes to the northwest of Xian were developed during the Tang Dynasty. While the Northwest Rectangle is not explicitly delineated on The Selden Map; nevertheless, it is implicitly evident in order to reflect the boundaries of the empire through the open, overland Silk Trade Route and the openness of the Maritime Trade Route with which it was interrelated. One may also generally say that over time the older trade route established in the Han Dynasty decreases while the maritime trade route of the Ming Dynasty increases.


                                 Position of Ruler

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

It may be worthwhile to take a quick look at the ruler on The Selden Map. Its primary use was to represent distances on the map. One might though consider its position. Its left end is directly above Xian or capital of 13 dynasties among which was the Eastern Han Dynasty AD 190 to 195. In the center of the ruler appears to be an infinity symbol. One might draw a north-south line from the center of the compass rose downward through the infinity symbol and then onward to the new capital of Beijing. The ruler is above the outline of the Emperor. Furthermore, its right end is just below the Peng symbol. Finally, its right end roughly defines the eastern boundary of the empire.

The compass rose is located in the middle of The Selden Map above the location of Beijing which was the new capital of the Ming Empire. The imaginary line running west to east through the center of the compass rose then takes on more importance. This line runs West to the top of the Yanran Square and goes on to the middle of the Kun. To the East the line runs through the middle of the set of rectangular voids, then continues to the middle of the Peng symbol and then on to Tèlín. To use a modern expression it was necessary to place the Kun symbol where it is in order to "get one's ducks in a row".

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

It is generally accepted that the Four Seas concept was derived during the Han Dynasty. Furthermore, there is support for the idea that the seas defined territory of an expanding empire. Prior to the Han Dynasty it seems there were mainly two seas recognized; namely, the East and South China Sea. However, these two seas would have given a rough dimension to the future, four seas concept because longitude and latitude were roughly established regarding territory. For example, the East Sea met the South China Sea at what was later called the island of Taiwan and Quanzhou on the mainland. Is it fair to say that people beyond the Four Seas were not brothers but rather barbarians despite exceptions like Ban Chou who was the brother of Ban Gu?


                                 Emperor Liu Bang

The four corners of the empire was a common theme expressed by Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu of Han 漢高祖) who reigned from 202-195 BCE. It was recorded in his poem called Song of the Great Wind. He would sing it as he played the guqin or seven string Chinese zither.

Song of the Great Wind

A great wind came forth,

the clouds rose on high.

Now that my might rules all within the seas,

I have returned to my old village.

Where will I find brave men

to guard the four corners of my land?

Calgary  July 18, 2012

Orchestral Rendition of Song of the Wind


The answer to the question which finishes the poem may be his four brothers. Liu Jiao 刘交 was the youngest and most trusted of the brothers. He was made Prince of Chu. It would seem that the four brothers were to defend the four corners which were the Four Seas. The fifth brother who was Liu Bang would be at the center of the empire.

Emperor Liu Bang initially wanted the capital of the empire to be at the center of the Sun which was Luoyang. However, he changed his mind due to economic and strategic considerations. The new capital was to be Changan (modern Xian). It was at the center of a road system leading to the provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, Henan, Hubei and Shanxi.

During the Han Dynasty both Lake Baikal and Lake Qinghai came to the forefront because of Han territorial expansion. It is true that neither were really seas, but rather large lakes. Metaphorically, if not metamorphically, lakes became seas. Indeed, though, if one waits long enough it is said by geologists that the Baikal rift may open over millions of years and the lake will become an ocean.

It is argued herein that Lake Baikal was metaphorically and poetically repositioned on the map to roughly correspond to its opposite on the map. Its opposite was the East Sea. Lake Qinghai which has actually gotten smaller over the centuries transformed or increased imaginatively on The Selden Map into the West Sea. Notice the kind of balance achieved. Two large lakes are now regarded as seas or in a more general sense the smaller lakes transform into larger seas (along with territorial expansion). The larger East Sea and South China Sea appear on The Selden Map to become smaller relative to both the land mass of the mainland and the close proximity of the islands to the East.

With regard to latitude there is a rough overlap on the southern boundary of the NW Rectangle with the Tropic of Cancer. The Northern Tropic is currently located at 23 degrees 26' 12.9 N. The cities of Quanzhou and Guangzhou are located at 24.8741 N degrees and 23.1291 degrees N respectively. Officially, Lake Qinghai's latitude is 37 degrees N, but on The Selden Map it appears to be in-line with the Tropic of Cancer.

Is it possible to plot the time of the summer solstice on the map? It would seem that the compass rose which may be interpreted as a Sun symbol might be equivalent to the peak time of daylight hours. This is the time when the emperor who resides in Beijing shines brightest.


The descending white Kun on the left shares a fluke with the bird beak of the turtle. The turtle shell takes on the appearance of a tiger's face.

The cartographer placed the Kun symbol just above the full Moon. While it may be subject to interpretation or for that matter correction, the author regards the full Moon's whiteness to represent the autumnal equinox which is also reflected in the whiteness of the descending whale. From this point onward the daylight hours are rapidly decreasing.

On the other side of the map is the Peng symbol which stands for the spring equinox or beginning of spring. The Peng stands upright. It is increasing as the daylight hours increase.


                       John Selden (Father and Farmer)

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

The Kun symbol is also associated with phases of the Moon. To express one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet with regard to phases would be the three-quarters portrait of John Selden (independent farmer) who is the father of the jurist John Selden. His face is illuminated by the reflected light of the full Moon. However, the back of his head is in darkness. Together, they may represent a three-quarters Moon.



Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

The phases of the Moon express transformation or metamorphosis. The small ox or water buffalo embedded in the John Selden portrait may be said to transform into the larger ox or water buffalo below it and vice versa. Furthermore, a descending bird may be said to transform into a turtle. Perhaps one can say that the bird has eaten a turtle egg and then the bird becomes part turtle and vice versa. In Zhuangzi's philosophy one might find that when the Peng eats the cicada the little becomes bigger and the bigger becomes more little. The hibernation period of the cicada in Asia or for that matter the bat during the winter season is roughly 17 weeks.


                       Sanzhang faces three directions

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

The five characters of Journey to the West can also be found in the Kun as they were in the Peng. In the middle of the Kun is Sanzhang. This fictional character has morphed from the real Xuanzang of the Tang Dynasty. He wears a crown and holds a staff.

The Monkey King or Sun Wukong who holds a rod overlaps with the top of the figure and shares the same crown. Sun though looks westward toward John Selden (the young boy) who looks in turn at him. Selden has a mouse on his head (ie. a mouse that is elsewhere part of a bat crown). The Monkey King is a woodland monkey. John Selden, too, was born under the sign of the woodland monkey since his birthday may be December 16, 1684.

Sun Wukong is rather hard to spot. This may be because he is a mischievous monkey. However, keep in mind that he is also a cloud-soarer who starts from the Northern Sea on his visit to the Eastern, Western and Southern Seas according to Journey to the West, Ch.2, p.28. Today, if you are a cloud-soarer with a Lenovo IBM program in the cloud then it may be easier to identify him.

The water buffalo or ox represents the character Sandy who had been thrown from heaven as punishment and presumably given a chance to reform. The largest manifestation of Sandy on the map is the ox of the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts. It might represent the mythical one legged ox. The smallest representation of the ox is in a previously described pastoral scene just in front of the face of John Selden (young son).

Pigsy is also represented within the Kun. There are two figures. One is a pig and the other is a pig man. It is difficult to distinguish between the two which suggests that there is very little transformaton or reformation of a character ruled by vice.

                                  Dragon Horse

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

White horse is the steed of Sanzhang. Within the Kun the white horse is coloured red. The dragon is above the horse which suggests a kind of dragon-horse as depicted in the ship of the Selden poems. The tiger is below the horse in the Kun. On the bigger map the image of the smaller tiger is part of the bigger horse which can also be viewed separately as two of the zodiacal figures. Of course, the ox, monkey, pig and mouse are also zodiacal figures.

The symbol to the right of the white, decreasing Kun may be seen in two ways. First, it may represent a bat; afterall, it has a bat crown on its head. It is not surprising if one refers to a giant bat since Lake Baikal is a very strange place. There are also other bat crowns on the heads of the Selden family. Indeed, there are over 100 species of bats in the caves around the lake. The bat would actually hibernate upside down from the ceiling until the warmer weather appears. In the spring it comes out at night to hunt insects and sleeps during the day.

The waxing and waning of both trade route systems can no better be illustrated in the population of its capitals. Luoyang during the Tang dynasty was called Dongdu (东都), the "Eastern Capital". At its height its population was about one million. It was just short of the population of Changan which was the largest city in the world. By the time of the Ming Dynasty, the city of Beijing had become the world's most populous in the year 1500 and retained that status for centuries.

                                       Illustration D

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

Basically, the Northwest Rectangle of the Han Empire showing the Four Seas and the Kun and Peng symbols transforms into Illustration D of the Ming Empire which extends from Moon to Sun on The Selden Map. In other words, Changan with its emphasis on the overland silk trade routes wanes as Beijing waxes with the growth of the maritime silk trade routes.

                                  Polar Quadrilateral

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

In illustraton D, a polar quadrilateral becomes part of the NWR and extends further to the Sun. In other words, Changan and its routes are associated with the Moon while Beijing and its routes are linked to the Sun. Furthermore, the yellow pattern of squares and circles manifests itself as a square earth and round heaven with Beijing at the centre. Earth is in harmony with Heaven.

                                 Polar Quadrilateral

Courtesy of John C. Didier

The poet was inspired by the illustration of the polar quadrilateral in John C. Didier's "In and Outside the Square". At the four corners of the quadrilateral are the stars Alioth-Mizar of the Big Dipper and Kochab-Pherkad of the Little Dipper. Draconis 11 (Thuban) is at the top of the quadrilateral with Draconis 10 beneath it. Didier contends that Draconis 11 corresponds to Taiyi (太一) and Draconis 10 to Tianyi (天一) or the two highest Chinese gods.

The poet agrees that the two highest Chinese gods are located at Draconis 11 and 10 as does Didier. However, he adds that the binary star system or something is balanced by the gravitational barycenter of the system. This barycenter is nothing.


                                The Chinese Directions

Four Directions

Sì Shòu 四獸

Black Tortoise (North), Red Phoenix (South), White Tiger (West), Azure Dragon (East)

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library


Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

                            Black Tortoise and Snake

The Black Tortoise is representative of seven northern constellations; for example, determinative stars are of the ox, emptiness and the wall. Normally, it is depicted as a tortoise entwined by a snake. In the poem called The Chinese Directions, the poet recognizes both tortoise and snake in the North just below The Great Wall as they appear on The Selden Map. In other words, the shell of the tortoise which is female defends China (Earth) as does The Great Wall. Rather than entwinning the turtle, the snake (phallic symbol) or one leg of the ox seems to protect it and China. In time, the Black Warrior replaced the Black Tortoise.

One might say that the rounded back of the tortoise symbolizes Heaven. The belly of the tortoise stands for Earth. The reader will observe that the capital of Beijing resides in the flat belly of the tortoise on The Selden Map. Joseph Needham in Volume 3 of Science and Civilization said that "In ancient China, the prevailing belief was that the Earth was flat and square, while the heavens were round". This assumption went virtually unchallenged until Matteo Ricci introduced in 1602 the concept of the sphericity of the Earth on a flat map.


Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

At this point, the poet briefly expands his explanation of the Peng symbol. The symbol of the horned, water buffalo now becomes the horned Panku who emerges from the Cosmic Egg which is broken open. The interaction of yang and yin leads to the birth of Panku. There seems coincidentally to be a slight resemblance between the word "Panku" and the words "Peng" and "Kun" which may respectively represent Yang and Yin (greater and lesser light). Actually, Xu Zheng( 徐整) was the first to write about the myths of Panku in the Three Kingdoms period which was a considerable period of time after the birth of Zhuangzi (莊子) in 396 BCE who wrote about the Peng and Kun in a text attributed to him called The Zhuangzi.

Earlier, the poet had seen Sha Wujing (沙悟净) within the Peng symbol or the water buffalo of Journey to the West fame. The buffalo known familiarly as "Sandy" has horns and a humped back. He was exiled from Heaven when he accidentally broke a vase. Part of that broken vase becomes the broken Cosmic Egg in the Peng symbol. Now, the humped back of Sandy metamorphoses into the humped back of Panku. Furthermore, it changes into the shell of a tortoise which represents the rounded vault of heaven. The right side of Panku's face is framed by the Tree of Life which springs from the square Earth. In other words, the small image of a round Heaven and the square Earth within the Peng is a microscopic representation of the macroscopic drawing of the Black Tortoise just below the compass rose on The Selden Map.


                              The young John Seldens

Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

In conclusion, the map has traditionally been designated The Selden Map because it was donated by John Selden in his will to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. However, several images have been perceived on the map by the poet which have been interpreted to be those of John Selden--including Baby Bat hatching from the egg. They appear to show him wearing a bat crown. The Northwest Kun image itself seems to be an upright bat with bat crown. About a king John Selden said "A king is a thing men have made for their own sakes, for quietness' sake".

D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi





Zhuangzi: The Inner Chapters 莊子。內篇, trans. by Robert Eno, Chapter 1, Free and Easy Wandering, Indiana University: Bloomington p.7

John C. Didier, “In and Outside the Square,” Sino-Platonic Papers, 192, vol. 1, 2, 3 (September, 2009)

Four Guardians of the Four Compass Directions