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”.

Wikipedia has a good account of the entire history of the original and the derived copies here. Interesting academic on-line discussions on the origins here and here.

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.

Xbija ta'Marija Omm Alla, Sultana taċ-Ċina, impittra minn Chu Kar Kui. (Miżmuma fil-Knisja tat-Tramuntana, l-ex-Kattidral tal-Ġiżwiti, f'Bejġing, iċ-Ċina). Ix-xbiha turi kif il-fidi Nisranija tista’ tiġi inkulturata fiċ-Ċina, kif ried Fr Matteo Ricci SJ.

(Mother of God, Queen of China, painted by Chu Kar Kui (Held at the North Church, former Jesuit Cathedral, Beijing, China)The image shows how the Christian faith can be inculturated in China, as Fr Matteo Ricci SJ wanted.)

Source: Ħarsa fil-Għajn


China’s first ever introduction to the western would via maps was all due to one man, Matteo Ricci. Ricci was the first westerner ever allowed into the Forbidden City and into the company of the Chinese Emperor. Though those were probably his finest moments, Ricci helped introduce the Western astrolabe, the sphere, and isoperimetrics to China.

Matteo Ricci had brought western atlases with him when he traveled to China, so Chinese cartographers were exposed to a new view of the known world. Ricci in turn was also enlightened by Chinese cartographers who revealed their own atlases of the world, Ricci found that they were just as complete, yet different to his own. In 1602, Matteo Ricci, along with the help of Li Zhizhao, a Chinese mathematician, astronomer, geographer and cartographer, engraved a new atlas of the world depicting the combined atlases.

Read more…

This is Matteo Ricci’s Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the Earth and it’s the oldest surviving map to provide the Chinese with a larger view of the earth.
It was engraved by Li Zhizhao, a Chinese mathematician, astronomer and cartographer.  Ricci’s map is about 12-½ feet long and 5-½ feet high and is carved onto 6 wooden blocks that were printed on rice paper.

My inner history nerd is asdklfkfjgh-ing at this.


Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit who brought his mathematical, cartographical, and astronomical knowledge to China and adapted to Chinese culture. His name in simplified Chinese is 利玛窦, in traditional Chinese 利瑪竇 (in pinyin Lì Mǎdòu). He’s also known under his courtesy name 西泰, Xītài. 

In 1578 Alessandro Valignani, superior of Jesuit missions in the East Indies sent Ricci on a mission to Asia, and in 1580 he entered China via Macau, the Portuguese colony in South China. There he took an intensive language course which made him one of the first Western scholars to master Chinese script and Classical Chinese. Entering real China in 1583 with Michelle Ruggieri, his Jesuit companion, Ricci dressed first in the clothing of a Buddhist monk and then later as a Confucian mandarin. Ricci’s aim was to adapt to the customs of China to be more accessible. Ricci also brought with him Western clocks, musical instruments, mathematical and astronomical instruments, and cosmological, geographical, and architectural works with maps and diagrams. These, along with Ricci’s phenomenal memory and mathematical and astronomical skills, attracted an important audience among the Chinese elite.

In 1601 Ricci was called to meet with Emperor Wanli in Beijing as the first western person to be invited into the Forbidden City. For nine years Ricci and other Jesuits dialogued with members of the Chinese intelligentsia. In these dialogues Ricci sought to build a Chinese-Christian civilization.

Ricci died in Beijing on May 11, 1610, at the age of 57. By the code of the Ming Dynasty, foreigners who died in China had to be buried in Macau. Diego de Pantoja made a special plea to the court, requesting a burial plot in Beijing, in the light of Ricci’s contributions to China. Emperor Wanli granted this request and designated a Buddhist temple for the purpose. In October 1610, Ricci’s remains were transferred there.

By the time he died, Ricci left behind 2,500 Chinese Catholics, with many in the educated classes. He also left behind a Treatise on Friendship, a Treatise on Mnemonic Arts, a Chinese translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, a book of Chinese apologetics -The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, and Ten Discourses by a Paradoxical Man.

After Ricci’s death certain of his decisions were questioned by Church authorities. Especially questioned was Matteo Ricci’s acceptance of Chinese ancestor worship as a legitimate, nontheological memorial to their ancestors that Catholic converts could practice. Later missionaries, not as schooled in Chinese culture, questioned this interpretation and brought their case to the Vatican. After decades of debate, in 1705 the Vatican decided that the Chinese practice of ancestor worship rites was incompatible with Catholic doctrine and was forbidden. Hearing this, the Chinese emperor banned Christian missions from China in 1721, closing the door that Ricci worked so patiently to open.

Method of Loci; Memory Palace

Becoming eidetic, having photographic memory

Some people are born with eidetic memory; pin-pointing visual information precisely with no problem. But not everyone can be so blessed to be born with such a great memory; however, you could train yourself to become this way. 

The Method of Loci, is the theory of creating a memory palace in your mind. By picturing the most familiar setting in your mind you can then place more visuals there to help you remember everything precisely.

If you ever claim that you know a setting like the back of your hand, then this place will be the perfect mind map to letting you remember absolutely everything. 

The theory of memory palace is to place what you want to remember in the certain parts of your brain. Picture you’re in a familiar place, starting right from the entrance, through hallways, rooms, corridors, all the way through to the exit - while at the same time placing bits of information you need to remember in these different spaces.

But to improve this practice to another level make sure as you’re putting in these information to put some creativity into it and imagine the most visual images you can about them. [the theory suggests to use horrific visual aids, the scarier, the better]

According to your memory, this space will eventually fill up because there is only such a range in reality. But though reality has a limit, your creativity and illusions do not. You can create more rooms and corridors to this setting, more space to fill with information you need to remember. 

If you have been able to do everything here, congratulations, you have just trained yourself to have eidetic memory.


To find out more, you can also read The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence.


Xu Yong: Hutong series, 1989

Hutongs and the Forbidden City have been preserved over five dynasties from the Yuan Dynasty until now. Unlike the Forbidden City, the hutongs represent the culture and lifestyle of traditional Beijing citizens, the common people. As a result, the hutongs can be seen as a continuation of Beiing’s history and culture.

1. Fragrant Hutong

2. Willow Alley Hutong

3. Qian Jing Hutong

4. Common Storeroom Hutong

5. White Pagoda Hutong

6. Shang Qin Hutong

7. Grassmill Hutong

Interview with Xu Yong on the past and future of hutongs here

The Ricci Dictionary 

Our parent company, the Commercial Press, has been continuing the work of famous missionary, man of science, Sinologist, and potential Roman Catholic Saint Matteo Ricci–an extraordinary chap who, if you didn’t already know, was a famous member of the still-extant Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. Sent as part of the Jesuit mission from then Portuguese controlled Macau, Ricci became possibly one of the first European missionaries to learn the Chinese language to a properly high standard. This, along with his reputation for ability in the sciences, may have been what allowed him to end up by invitation at the Court of the Wanli Emperor, where he was ideally placed to carry out his task, and indeed he managed to convert a number of high-ranking officials to Roman Catholicism.

Continue reading here…

This is my English translation of a picture Middle Chinese teacher Dzeng Dzi showed me some time ago. I have added the diacritics as the original picture did not have them. The picture shows Matteo Ricci’s Romanization of the Mandarin during the Ming Dynasty.

Essentially, for Tangent k(h), <c(‘)> is used most of the time, with <k> being used before <i(u)> and <q(‘)u> being used for Tangent <k(h)w>. The table seems to suggest that either <c> was used before <e>, or /k/ before <e> did not exist (I strongly doubt this though).

As for Tangent ds and ts, <c> is used before <i(u)> and <e>, otherwise <ç>.

The varied use of the letters reflects the values of the letters in pre-modern Romance languages.

Note: Matteo Ricci’s final -m stands for Tangent -ng

[Update Jan 26, 2015: I asked Dzeng Dzi about /k/ before /ə/ and he told me that there wasn’t a record of such words in the original 西字奇跡, but noted that the book wasn’t a complete list of Chinese characters. For a Romanization based off of Romance languages, I think <k> would actually be most likely used if Matteo Ricci was tasked with Romanization such words, as <k> was used before <i> in his Romanization, and the same should go for <e>. <q> is used before <u> when the <u> stands for a medial and not a full vowel, and the <c> would have been a soft C if it was before <e>. In addition, <k> is used before <e> to denote /k/ in Vietnamese, which has a Portuguese-based orthography. Hence I believe the “complete” Matteo Ricci Romanization would use <k> before <e> to denote /kə/ in words like “肯”. About the <k> is not often used point that has been raised by some, <c> is often used to stand for /k/ because <k> is not used in native Latin/Romance words (it is only used it loanwords). However, C softens before <i> and <e> so an alternative would be needed.]