Old map shows China was the centre of world

08:36, January 13, 2010      

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North America part of a 400-year-old map created by Matteo Ricci . (Global Times Photo)


A rarely seen 400-year-old map that put China at the centre of the world and identified Florida as "the Land of Flowers" went on display on January 12th at the Library of Congress in the United States.

The map created by Matteo Ricci was the first in Chinese to show the Americas. Ricci, a Jesuit missionary from Italy, was among the first westerners to live in what is now Beijing in the early 1600s. Known for introducing western science to China, Ricci created the map in 1602 at the request of Emperor Wanli.

Ricci's map includes pictures and annotations describing different regions of the world. Africa was noted to have the world's highest mountain and longest river. The brief description of North America mentions "humped oxen" or bison, wild horses and a region named "Ka-na-ta."

Several Central and South American places are named, including "Wa-ti-ma-la" (Guatemala), "Yu-ho-t'ang" (Yucatan) and "Chih-Li" (Chile).

The Ricci map gained the nickname the "Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography" because it was so hard to find.

This map - one of only two in good condition - was purchased by the James Ford Bell Trust in October for $1 million, making it the second most expensive rare map ever sold. The library bought another of the world's rarest maps, the Waldseemuller world map, which was the first to name "America," for $10 million in 2003.

The Ricci map going on display had been held for years by a private collector in Japan and will eventually be housed at the Bell Library at the University of Minnesota. It map symbolizes the first connection between Eastern and Western thinking and commerce, said Ford W. Bell, co-trustee of the fund started by his grandfather, General Mills founder James Ford Bell.

The map was being shown publicly for the first time in North America. It measures about 3.7 by 1.5 metres and is printed on six rolls of rice paper.

The Library of Congress rarely exhibits artifacts it does not own because its holdings are so vast, but curators made an exception for the Ricci map. It will be on view through April alongside the Waldseemuller map and later will be shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The library also will create a digital image of the map to be posted online for researchers and students.

Ti Bin Zhang, first secretary for cultural affairs at the Chinese Embassy, said the map represents "the momentous first meeting of East and West" and was the "catalyst for commerce."

No examples of the map are known to exist in China, where Ricci was revered and buried. Only a few original copies are known to exist, held by the Vatican's libraries and collectors in France and Japan.

Source: CRI online/Agencies

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