Kunyu Wanguo Quantu
Matteo Ricci’s complete map of all the nations of the world from 1602.
The map (Chinese 坤輿萬國全圖, pinyin: Kūnyú Wànguó Quántú which literally means A Map of the Myriad Countries of the World) was printed at the request of the Wanli Emperor. It is a xylograph (wood block print) on six panels of fine native paper (made with bamboo fiber), in all measuring approximately 182 x 365 cm. The large scale, Ricci explained, let the viewer “travel about, as it were, while reclining at ease in his own study.”
Li Zhizao (1565-1630), a Chinese mathematician, astronomer and geographer, was the cartographer who engraved the map, it took him and his assistants an entire year to carve the wood blocks! The first versions of the map were printed by Zhang Wentao of Hangzhou, possibly an official printer of the Ming court. Although printed in great quantities, today only six complete examples are known to exist.
Ricci’s monumental work is as elusive as it is legendary. Popularly called The Impossible Black Tulip because of its rarity, or Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the World, it is the oldest surviving Chinese map to show the Americas. To create it, Ricci resourcefully drew from both Western and Eastern cartographic traditions. He relied on 16th-century Dutch atlases, and also consulted Chinese scholars just as he made use of Chinese maps and land surveys. As the map was completed one year after Ricci was allowed to roam in the Forbidden City, he most likely had access to a copy of Zheng He’s map in the imperial archive. For Ming period 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.
The main map shows an oval shaped world map, and includes insets of astronomical and seasonal maps. On top right is “Seventh Heaven” chart; on bottom right is “Armillary sphere”; on top left is a map of “Northern Hemisphere”, “Solar and Lunar Eclipse” chart; and on bottom left is a map of “Southern Hemisphere”, map of “Chinese 24 seasonal segments calendar” and “Quantity-day ruler”.
1. Version of the map attributed to Giulio Aleni, 1620 @ Vatican Apostolic Library Collection, see here
2. Version of the 1602 map belonging to James Ford Bell Trust
3. The James Ford Bell Trust map exhibited @ University of Minnesota, good optical exploration tool here
4. Small scale north polar projection map at the top of the first left panel
5. Copy of the Giulio Aleni version, 1620’s
6. Version of the original map created by Li Yingshi in 1603 @ Liaoning Provincial Museum in Shenyang.
7. Unattributed two page colored Japanese copy of the original, from 1604.