Ricci's 1602 World Map

This is short discussion of the antecedents of the Ricci map of 1602.

Reconstruction of Ming efforts to explore the world is well underway with the enthusiastic assistance of Chinese scholars who are scouring old source material to develop an accurate picture.  This was spurred by the book a few years back by Gavin Menzies regarding the voyages of Zheng He in the early fifteenth century.

We are waking up to the simple fact that the size and scale of the enterprise undertaken had to have had a long and successful pre history likely inspired by the long established foundation of trading colonies around the Pacific and into the Indian Ocean.

A thousand years of such efforts is not unreasonable at all.  Particularly since established Sates in Central America, around the South Chin Sea and around the Indian Ocean were easily accessible as proven by Europeans a century later.

The Zheng He expedition can be seen as a deliberate attempt to fill in the blanks left by the limitations of commercial exploration.  We did the exact same thing in the late eighteenth century when the British sent ships out into the Pacific to locate Australia and the Northwest Coast of North America.

It took Europeans four hundred years and it was well rewarded.  Ming efforts may simply not have been so lucky.

Matteo Ricci’s 1602 world map reveals Chinese surveyed world before Columbus Melaka, July 5, 2010

Matteo Ricci’s 1602 world map offers the definitive proof that Chinese not only visited and surveyed America, they circumnavigated the world 60 years before Christopher Columbus, pointed out by Dr. Siu-Leung Lee at the First International Zheng He Conference in Melaka, Malaysia.

After examining more than 300 maps published from 14th century to 19th century, Dr. Lee presents the solid evidence including in Ricci’s own words, that Ricci’s 1602 world map is in fact mostly based on Chinese information and maps drawn 160 years before Ricci’s time and 70 years before Columbus’s first voyage to America.

Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map is all written in Chinese. In Ricci’s own words on the map, he has consulted Chinese sources to add hundreds of names and corrected the geography. Almost 50% of the 1114 names, including those on the American continents, do not have equivalents in European maps of its time. The most important dating clue is a note on the map above Spain clearly stating that the map was drawn “70 some years” after the first official contact of China and Europe. This refers to Pope Benedict XII sending a legation of 50 to Beijing (1342-47). Seventy some years later would date the map to 1410s-1420s when Zheng He was active in his voyages, which is 160 years before Ricci and 70 years before Columbus.

The absence of Papal State and important names in Renaissance on Ricci’s map is inconsistent with Ricci’s status as a Jesuit commissioned to evangelize China. An Italian map without the Papal State and Florence in the 16th century is equivalent to an American map today without Washington DC and New York City. If the Europe on Ricci’s map is not drawn by European cartographers, the rest of the map would be even less likely. Major cities founded in the Great Discovery Age such as Santa Cruz, Acapulco, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires are notably absent.

Ricci’s map is consistent with the naming of major oceans with cardinal directions using China as the center of reference, while European maps were inconsistent and confused even 200 years later.

This mistake is seen on a globe commissioned by the Pope and a map by Ricci’s successor Giulio Aleni. This shows the Chinese knew about the relative size of the three largest oceans.

The shape of Cape of Good Hope, South America, Hudson Bay and the California peninsula are far more accurate on Ricci’s map than the contemporaneous European world maps. The west of Mississippi explored by Lewis and Clark 200 years later is shown with many names. Names and features that should be on the map are not there, while those shouldn’t are found. That is why Ricci’s  1602 map has been characterized as “impossible”.

The 1602 map was completed one year after Ricci was allowed to roam in the Forbidden City where he likely had access to a copy of Zheng He’s map in the imperial archive.

For Ming Chinese to know the comparative size of the three largest oceans (Pacific, Atlantic and Indian) and draw the map, they must have circumnavigated and returned safely. It is thus beyond reasonable doubt that Ricci actually uncovered and redrew a Chinese world map of Zheng He’s era (1405-1433), proving that Chinese were the first to start the Great Discovery Age.

Dr. Siu-Leung Lee, a retired chemistry professor, is ironically a resident of the city named after Columbus. Contact: SLLee@asiawind.com ###

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