Skip to main content

Taking the Measure of China: Highlights of Physical Geography in Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994

Posted on 11/15/2017


In the Wu Xing—the Chinese conception of the phases or transformation of energy—there are five elemental states, symbolized by wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. In this month’s highlights from Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994, we’re going to explore the physical geography of that vast land guided by those categories.

In keeping with feng shui principles, which the Wu Xing model also informs, we hope that our brief review will prove pleasing to the reader, and will manifest expansive characteristics of human understanding.

Articles on Natural Geography in South Communist China

Shanghai, 1957.

Earth and water here, with separate articles on the Han Kiang Delta, the Pearl River Delta, coastal geography, “red earth” (chiefly iron), and sandstone.

JPRS Nov 17 1.png


The Economic Aggression of the Soviet Union in Sinkiang

Taiwan, November 1959.

The Wu Xing permutations of substance hold that while earth generates metal, fire overcomes (melts) it, so this entry in our review will stand in for metal, concerning as it does the mineral wealth of Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu (the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang). That area is in the far western part of China, bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Mongolia and the Soviet Union.

Ethnically and geographically it presents distinct challenges for Chinese administration. Historically, Imperial Russia changed the boundaries of this region and subjected the population to military occupation. In this Chinese report, the Soviets are accused of exploiting Xinjiang’s resources and of treating the area to a great extent as a country separate from China proper.


K’un Lun and Tarim

Institute of Geography, Academy of Sciences USSR, Moscow, 1961.

The Kunlun Shan is a mountain range, and the Tarim refers both to an arid basin and a river, but since this report is about the agricultural development of desert regions, we’ll consider this as wood and fire.

Once again we’re in the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. This report is the product of the Sinkiang Joint Expedition of 1959, conducted by China and the Soviet Union. As an indication of Soviet intentions to control the resources here, this report originates in Moscow.

JPRS Nov 17 2.png

JPRS Nov 17 2.5.png


An Atlas of Chinese Climatology

Edited by the Office of Climatological Data Research of the Central Meteorological Bureau and published by the Map Publishing Society, Peiping, January 1960.

This is, quite simply, data, the substrate of intellectual growth, and as such will be characterized as earth. There are 140 maps here depicting 29 categories of meteorological data, generally extending to 1950 and to a limited degree past that year. The maps themselves are difficult to read. However, the atlas includes numerous tables which are more clearly presented, with translations of the data and place names.


Kiangsu—The Water Country

Shanghai, December 1956.

Water, of course, and every role it plays in Jiangsu Province, from transportation to agriculture.

JPRS Nov 17 3.png


Handbook of Water and Soil Conservation in the Middle Yellow River Loess Region

Academia Sinica, Peiping, 1959.

We’re back where we started, with water and earth. This handbook is very much a practical guide to agriculture featuring detailed information about erosion control on terraced hillsides. It includes everything from plans for the fabrication of simple farm implements to rudimentary topographical surveying techniques.

Trees are featured as crops in their own right as well as providing shelter for other plants, and for stabilizing hillsides. So without too much artifice we can close with an image devoted to wood.

JPRS Nov 17 4.png


For more information about Joint Publications Research Service (JPRS) Reports, 1957-1994, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

Stay in Touch

Receive product news, special offers and invitations, or the acclaimed Readex Report

Sign Up

By clicking "Sign Up", you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.