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Map of China from the early 17th century

by on June 4, 2008

This is a late Ming watercolour map of East Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and part of India, probably executed in the 1620s. The map has no title, and is very large, approximately 1×1.5m. The text is Chinese, but there are some Latin annotations by a later hand. The map shows shipping routes and compass bearings from the port of Quanzhou across the entire region. A panel of text on the left of the map near Calicut, its western extremity, gives directions of the routes to Aden and the Strait of Hormuz.

The shelfmark is MS Selden supra 105. 

It came to the library from the estate of the London lawyer John Selden (d.1654) in 1659, along with a large collection of Oriental manuscripts, Greek marbles, a Chinese compass and the famous Aztec history known as the Codex Mendoza. It was most likely obtained in Southeast Asia through the East India Company’s base at Banten, but was almost certainly produced in the port of Quanzhou in Fujian province. It probably arrived in London towards the mid-17th century.

 

The map has always been known as an interesting curiousity from the time it arrived in the Library, but its importance was first recognised by the visiting American scholar Robert Bachelor in January 2008. He was the first to notice the shipping routes, which make the map unique among both Chinese and indeed European maps of the period, and has described it as “an object of globally recognizable significance”.

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