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Map, China, Peking, John Kirk Sewall, Peiyang Press: Pictorial Map, c. 1938-45 (Sold)

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John Kirk Sewall (after)
Peiyang Press, Tianjin and Beijing, China: c. 1938-45
Color-process print
23.5 x 19.5 inches, overall

Pictorial street map of the inner city of Beijing, decorated with small illustrations of landmark buildings and black silhouettes of workers, pedestrians and animals, including camel trains. The map is basically divided into three areas shaded different colors: Tartar City, Imperial City (which contains the Forbidden City) and Chinese City. Buildings are identified in both English and Chinese characters. A compass rose upper left bears the name Peiyang Press, the publisher. The map is printed in shades of green, yellow, red, blue and white, outlined in black. It appears to have been published in China for tourists, since it highlights areas of particular interest to travelers including sightseeing attractions, the rail station, hotels, the YMCA, and a street identified as “good for shopping.” Of historical interest is the Legation Quarter, where the foreign delegations were clustered. An examination of this section of the map helps to ascertain its publication date.

Product description continues below.


This particular edition of the Sewall map is titled Peking, but other examples are titled Peiping. “Peking” was the Romanized spelling for the capital city of China until 1979, when “Beijing” was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization. During the period between 1928 and 1949, the city’s name was changed from “Peking” to “Peiping” by the Kuomintang government, which had moved the national capital to Nanjing (the suffix “jing” or “king” means “capital”). After the Communist Party takeover in 1949, Peking was re-established as the capital, but supporters of the ousted opposition Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang) persisted in using the name “Peiping” because they considered the Communist government as illegitimate and therefore did not recognize the city as the capital.

The dates of issuance of the Peking and Peiping examples of the Sewall map can partly be determined by political history, in particular the establishment of the Nazi regime and the indications of this in the Legation Quarter, though this is not definitive. Sewall’s map titled Peiping must have been published after 1928, when the name first came into use. On that map, the German Legation is represented by the black, red and gold Reichsbanner flag, which was banned in 1933 when the Nazis gained power, and supplanted by the Nazi red flag with swastika in 1935 (and indicated on the Peking version). Thus, the publication date of the Peiping map likely was between approximately 1928 (when the name was established) and 1935.

Sewall’s map titled Peking is most likely later than the Peiping version because the German Legation and the site of the ex-Austrian Legation are not named — rather they are represented entirely by the Nazi flag, adopted in Germany from 1935 until the regime fell in 1945. Germany annexed Austria in 1938 so the use of the Nazi flag to represent it on the Peking map can be presumed to be 1938 or later. Thus, the Peking map probably dates between 1938 (when Germany annexed Austria) and 1945, when the Nazi regime was defeated. This dating is in conflict with the fact that the city officially was called Peiping rather than Peking between 1928 and 1949. One plausible explanation is that by 1938 the Japanese occupied Peiping, but were interested in re-establishing Peking as the capital in opposition to the Kuomintang so favored that name.

John Kirk Sewall was an American illustrator best known for his work pertaining to China. He created a pictorial map titled Peking (and another related map alternately titled Peiping) published between about 1928 and 1945 by the Peiyang Press (Tianjin and Beijing). He also made a lesser known pictorial map of Shanghai, published by Kelly & Walsh, Ltd. (Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore), undated, but apparently in about the same period. In addition, he designed endpapers and provided illustrations for The Chinese Festive Board, a 1935 cookbook by Corrinne Lamb.

Peiyang Press was a private publisher from at least 1924 (or slightly earlier) until 1949 in Tianjin and Beijing, China (then called Tientsin and Peking). They published books and maps catering to the Western market, in English, German and Dutch, and were probably owned and operated by Westerners. Among these publications were British authors Alice Leighton Cleather and Basil Crump’s English-language book Buddhism: The Science of Life (2nd ed., 1928), Robert M. Duncan’s Peiping Municipality and the Diplomatic Quarter (1933), a Chinese-Dutch dictionary (1935) and a 1937 album of black and white photographs of British military exercises in China celebrating the coronation of George VI. They published a detailed city plan, Map of Tientsin (1941), in English. They are known to have published at least two pictorial maps in English during the 1930s, A Map and History of Peiping by Frank Dorn and Peking (Peiping) by John Kirk Sewall.


Davies, Stephen. E-mail correspondence with George Glazer Gallery. 1 June 2013.

French, Paul. Beijing’s Former Legation Quarter — Recovering the Heart of Foreign Peking. (1 April 2013).

Poser, Bill. Language Log. 13 March 2004. (29 March 2013).

Additional information


20th Century