Thursday, January 14, 2010

400 Hundred year old Chinese Map Depicts Canada

The missionary Matteo Ricci was born in Macerata in Italy. He took up theology and law in Roman Jesuit school. In 1577 he applied to join missionary expeditions to India and in 1578 made his way there via Portuguese Goa. Four years later he was sent to China.

He arrived in Macau in 1582. The Portuguese colony was the home of China's young Christian community. However Ricci joined fellow missionary, Michele Ruggieri in learning the Chinese language and customs. He traveled throughout Guandong Province and soon became quite fluent in Chinese. He received permission to settle in Zhaoqing because the Governor of the Province learned that Ricci was quite adept at mathematics and cartography.

It was in Zhaoqing that he composed the first European-style map of the world in Chinese. It was called the "Impossible Black Tulip" because it was so rare. The map was printed on rice paper, and only six copies survive to the present day.

His 1602 map of the world in Chinese shows Ka-Na-Ta for Canada. It is believed this is one of the first world maps to do so. He died 8 years after the map was made at the age of 58.

Rare 1602 World Map, the First Map in Chinese to Show the Americas, on Display at Library of Congress, Jan. 12 to April 10

A rare, 400-year-old map that displays China at the center of the world will be on exhibit at the Library of Congress from Jan. 12 to April 10, before it heads to its intended home at the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota. The map is on loan from the James Ford Bell Trust.

The Matteo Ricci World Map, the first in Chinese to show the Americas, will be on exhibit for the first time in North America, joining the Library of Congress’ cartographic gem, the 1507 Waldseemüller World Map, in the ongoing exhibition "Exploring the Early Americas." The exhibit is free and open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, in the Northwest Pavilion on the second floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

After the three-month display, the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division will digitally scan the 1602 document and make the electronic image available to scholars and students for research.

"When the James Ford Bell Trust asked the Library to be the site for unveiling the Ricci map in North America, I was delighted," said Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for Library Services. "The Ricci map, the first map in Chinese to show the Americas, will be placed near the Library’s Waldseemüller Map of 1507, the first document to name America and to depict a separate and full Western Hemisphere. These two maps will ‘talk’ to each other, offering a unique perspective on East-West linkages."

The 1602 map was drawn by Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), a missionary in China, and measures 5.5 feet tall by 12.5 feet wide. It was designed to be mounted on a folding screen.

The James Ford Bell Trust purchased the map for $1 million from the firm of Bernard J. Shapero, a noted dealer of rare books and maps in London, for the benefit of the James Ford Bell Library.

When the map returns to Minnesota, it will be displayed for a limited time at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Afterward it will move to its intended home in the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota.

The James Ford Bell Library documents the history and impact of international trade prior to 1800. Its premier collection of rare books, maps and manuscripts illustrates the ways in which cultural influences expanded worldwide, with a special emphasis on European interactions.


Anonymous. 2010. "Matteo Ricci". Wikipedia. Available online:

Anonymous. 2010. "Rare 1602 Chinese Map on Display". Library of Congress. Newsrelease. Posted: January 12, 2010. Available online:

Map: Henry Davis Consulting. 1998. "441 World Map, Matteo Ricci, 1602." Henry Davis Consulting. Posted: February 12, 1998. Available online:

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