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

6 .

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610)

Western historians typically honor the Jesuit geographer Matteo Ricci as the European who most influenced the course of cartography in China. Ricci believed that the style of European scientific mapping as seen in the works of the Dutch Masters, such as Mercator, Ortelius, and Judaeus, was superior to what he saw in China. Matteo Ricci traveled from Italy to the Philippines in 1580; by 1582 he was in Macao. He reached Beijing in 1601 carrying newly-revised maps that he hoped would win converts to his own religion.


Abraham Ortelius Map 1570

Abraham Ortelius redrew the 1569 Mercator World Map in the form of an oblong or "planispheric" projection. This is the kind of map that was most in favor with the Jesuits. Note in particular the South Seas Australia (6) in the far left-hand corner of the map. Mercator identified this as the island of "New Guinea" that the Portuguese had conquered in about the year 1530. Of course, New Guinea wasn't actually located so close to South America.


Jesuit Map Conversion 1584—Temporal Marker

In order to appeal to his Chinese associates, Matteo Ricci converted the map by Ortelius into one that had China and the Pacific Ocean at the center of the map. By comparing a modern European map with the out-of-date Ming world maps (such as the Shanhai Yudi Quantu of c. 1425-1430), Ricci hoped to convince the Chinese that Europeans had developed superior mapping technology. In this manner, he hoped to persuade the Chinese that the European God and religion were also superior to the traditional religion and deities of China.

There is one very important characteristic that we should note in the 1584 Ricci Map: the Jesuit chose to eliminate the South Seas Australia (6) that had been a feature of maps by Ortelius and Mercator. Apparently, Spanish mariners in the Philippines informed Ricci that the so-called "New Guinea" (or South Seas Australia) did not really exist. At least, it did not exist in that location. Mo Yi-tong couldn't have copied from the Jesuits when he made his map in 1763—because his map has as one of its distinctive features the South Seas Australia. Therefore, Mo Yi-tong must have copied this geographical anomaly from some older map source.

One of the more unusual features of the 1418 Ming Dynasty map is the portrayal of the West Coast of North America as an Island...

©2006 Gunnar Thompson, PhD 1418 Ming Map