Visualization of Ancient Chinese Book

Information Art | Content Strategy | capstone Project

Information visualization design of the book Classic of Mountains and Seas.


The Problem

Classical Chinese was commonly used in ancient Chinese literature art. However, people are no longer able to quickly understand our traditional Chinese literature works under the century-lasting influence of the Written Vernacular Movement.

Accordingly, the low efficiency and reading ability have become many readers’ concerns. Within in this work, visualization became a medium for forward-looking perception since graphical languages had performed as a new form of storytelling for people.

Information Design of the book Classic of Mountains and Seas (also known as Shan Hai Jing) is my passion project. From this work, I tried to  examine the potential capability of visual languages to express ancient Chinese literal narration and to reserve Chinese culture through image-based information.

The Solution

I tried to examine the potential capability of visual languages to express ancient Chinese literal narration and to reserve Chinese culture through image-based information.


The book Classic of Mountains and Seas already has a clear hierarchy in its content, Some thoughts of classification and connections popped up to my mind after I read through three versions of this book in modern mandarin, classical Chinese and the photocopy of the ancient version from Ming Dynasty.


1. The two parts of Mountains and Seas are distinct but the information under these two parts are confusing.

2. The two parts of Mountains and Seas have respective patterns and logic, which asks me to use different graphical expressions.

3. There are seven key highlights of these two parts are geological locations, animals, myths, death rituals, plants,  minerals, and animals' retribution to the world.

4. The information in the part of the Wilderness is scattered and irregular, and time was limited for me during this project, thus I decided not to include it in this design.​​​​​​​

These insights allowed me to carry out my understanding of the content structure:

Contents of the Visualization Work


In this procedure, I meandered around all of the Mountains and Seas parts in the book and tried to capture the key highlights from the text. Then I assorted them into excel and began my analysis work.For the Mountains part, I mainly focused on assorting all of the seven key features, particularly, several sub-hierarchy data under the death rituals module drove me into a deeper level to explore the methods of adding proper visual languages to the narration on this map.

I liked that this sub-hierarchy information of death rituals was complex and its information volume presented no less than the main subject as the geological locations did. However, when I dug it deeper, I found that some of the mountains in the geological location module didn’t include any descriptions of this part -- this is interesting because it made me hesitated for a while that if I should really break it down into the analysis process and then put it on the map.

So I went back to the book and read this sub-layer information again, and surprisingly all patterns of the death rituals also followed a formula, which means there were only some specific activities that people would do in the death anniversary.


The first thing I did after I get the results from the analysis and had a holistic view of the mountain part was to look back in the authentic version of the reconstruction map of this part (the original version was lost). From the old version, I found that people may not understand this map since the information was not clear anymore and the documentation style was far more different than how we read maps today.

Classic of Mountains and Seas Restored Map


So how might I make this map more readable based on its existing attributes from the book?


With keeping this question in my mind, I started to look at other maps which reflects geospatial visualization. There were two of them: The Peutinger Map and the Europe Raw Cotton Imports in 1858, 1864 and 1865. The Peutinger Map inspired me that the graphics type could influence visual feedback to people and the Europe Raw Cotton Imports in 1858, 1864 and 1865 graphic symbol types mattered the richness of the information content.

So I decided to work on building this map as a linear look-alike and try to use dots, lines, and areas to differentiate each layer of the information from the book Classic of Mountains and Seas.

With this layout, I added all of the information under the basic structures of geological locations, animals, and death rituals. Each of their locations on the map was designed as the book documented.


The Basic Geographical Information of the Mountains
Embranchments of the Mountains
Dominant Rivers Among the Mountains
Animals from Every Mountain (Figures are excerpted from the Classic of The Mountains and Seas)
God of the Animals on Each Mountain
Death Rituals Representations on the Map
Final Design

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