Review of the Historical Importance of the Oldest World Map (continued)


Shanhai Yudi Quantu Map c. 1425

This map is a Ming Dynasty document that is called "Shanhai Yudi Quantu." The geographic features on this map serve as Temporal Markers for the achievements of the Ming Navy in the early 15th century. When Matteo Ricci arrived in Beijing in 1601, he had his subordinates find an example of the traditional Ming world geography. They produced a copy of the Shanhai Yudi Quantu Map that was probably made between 1425 and 1435. The Jesuit motive in finding this map was to identify a bona-fide document that could be compared to a more recent European map by Ortelius. It was at this time that the Jesuits added such modern titles as “North and South America” to the traditional map. The Jesuit plan was to place the two types of maps side-by-side in order for the Chinese to make a comparison of the maps. According to Jesuit historian Victor DeMattei, it would be obvious to the Chinese that the European map was superior in its accuracy to the traditional Ming map. In this manner, the Jesuits hoped to gain converts to the European religion. Portions of the original Ming Shanhai Yudi Quantu showed up on Portuguese maps in 1436 and later on the Waldseemüller Inset Map of 1507. So we can be confident that the Jesuit copy of the traditional map was accurate.

This map shows some of the improvements that resulted from Zheng He's voyages. It no longer has a South Seas Australia. The Polar Australia is identified as a land that has parrots and is very hot. South America has lost its bulge along the Chilean coast, Norway and England are finally on the map, and the North Polar Isles have vanished.

Thompson established the early Ming provenance of this map at the Zheng He Symposium at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, in May of 2005. The map is known by at least three somewhat different examples--one of which is at Yale University. It was originally printed in China in editions numbering in the thousands of copies. It was reviewed in John Harley and David Woodward’s book, The History of Cartography.


Zheng He's Achievements—Ming Maps of 1418 & 1425

We can gain some further appreciation for the improvements that resulted from the expeditions of Zheng He's mariners by comparing the North American regions on both the 1418 Ming Map and the 1425 Shanhai Yudi Quantu. The later map accurately shows California as a peninsula. The map also shows Labrador, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico. By 1436, the Portuguese had obtained an accurate map of the Florida Peninsula—probably from Chinese sources (Andrea Bianco Map of 1436). By 1448, they had established the location of Brazil—probably with the aid of Chinese maps.


Impact of the 1418 Ming Map

This section from the Portuguese King's Map of 1502 (as copied by Cantino) features the dividing line that Spain and Portugal established by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Using a map that was largely derived from the 1418 Ming Map, the two European superpowers effectively divided between themselves the rights to world conquest. Spain got Cathay and the New World in the West; Portugal claimed Brazil, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Spice Islands. In the far north, Portugal claimed the Detached Labrador/Newfoundland region that had been misplaced on the Ming Map in the Eastern Hemisphere.


The Hunt for "Lost" Australia

On this section from the Waldseemüller Map of 1507, we see the European concept of the East Indies Islands southeast of Asia. This version of the isles can be seen on Portuguese charts as early as 1489—at which time the source has been identified as Marco Polo. The island that is farthest to the East is called "Java Major"—which served for many years thereafter as an alternative name for Australia. It appears to be quite similar in shape and location to the South Seas Australia that we have seen on the 1418 Ming Map. Of course, there is no such island in that location in the Pacific Ocean. In 1569, Mercator renamed this island as "New Guinea"—believing that this was the location of the island that the Portuguese had captured in about 1530. Once more, we have a situation where Europeans got cartographic information from Asian mariners. The Portuguese Admiral Alfonce de Albuquerque mentioned that his capture of a map of the East Indies had aided immeasurably in the success of his conquest. With respect to the Ming misplacement of Australia on maps that were copied by Europeans, we perhaps have an explanation for why it took the Dutch and English so long to find it. They were looking in the wrong place!


Zhu Di's Map of the World Family

In 1405, Zhu Di sent his favorite Admiral, Zheng He, on a mission to unite the peoples of the "Four Seas"—that is, the World Family. Midway through this enormous undertaking of many overseas voyages, a Ming artist prepared this elegant but somewhat stylized version of the world. It was based on information contained in a variety of field maps and navigational charts. The composite map was intended to represent the final unification of the World Family under the leadership of the Ming Dynasty. It was a visual testimonial about foreign nations (or barbarians) that paid homage to the Son of Heaven in Beijing. It was also a memorial to the role of world commerce in preserving the peace between nations; and it was a graphic representation of the system of transoceanic routes that formed Zheng He's colossal maritime trade network. Zhu Di's dream of a United Family did not last for very long.

Within a few years, Portuguese spies obtained copies of this map. And they used it as the principal tool in world conquest. During that conquest, Europeans claimed they were superior because they had better weapons and maps. They boasted that "the Victor writes the history." And so, the legacy of Zheng He and the heritage of other ancient voyagers faded into the twilight of Western doctrine.

This is a revolutionary map. It will finally force Western scholars to abandon the doctrine of Eurocentrism that has dominated world history for the past 500 years. In the 21st century, the Global Community needs a factual history that reflects the true events of the past. This map can precipitate a paradigm shift in history. Such a paradigm shift is essential in order to dislodge the medieval cultural anchors that are holding us back. Then we can truly build a philosophical foundation of equality for the Whole World Family.

Order now: a fully illustrated phamplet concerning the odyssey of the 1418 Ming Map will be available for purchase shortly, find out more!


©2006 Gunnar Thompson, PhD 1418 Ming Map