Chinese World Map in 1430

1602 World Map drawn by Ming Chinese in 1430

Siu-Leung Lee, PhD


Year 1430 is the year when the great Chinese admiral Zheng He commenced the 7th and the last voyage in his 28-year career of exploring the world. He was first commissioned by Emperor Zhu Di (朱棣) in 1405 to  launch a series of voyages for many reasons, mainly to establish trading relationship with other nations. Zhu Di is historically one of the most ambitious emperors who wants to accomplish great things in his reign.   This workaholic emperor left his marks in the Forbidden City, major part of the Great Wall,  the first Imperial collection of all books ever published (永樂大典), and the magnificent pagoda (大報恩寺, destroyed in 1856)  in Nanjing in memory of his mother, each one an unprecedented achievement.

Zheng He completed 6 major voyages between 1405 and 1424. Upon Zhu Di’s death in 1424, all marine activities came to a halt.  The next emperor Zhu Gaochi (朱高熾) resumed maritime ban.  Zhu Gaochi’s reign lasted for only one year. His son Zhu Zhanji (朱瞻基) became Emperor Xuande (宣德) in 1426.  By  early 1430, Zhu Zhanji realized that fewer and fewer nations were visiting Ming China to trade.  These little countries had no means of transportation to China without Ming’s fleet.   Finally Emperor Xuande issued an edict, dispatching Zheng He for his last voyage to re-establish trading relations. Upon the death of Zhu Zhanji, Ming resumed the maritime ban again until 1567.  The period of maritime ban 1435-1567 is significant in dating the construction of the 1602 map. 

Every one of the seven voyages employed a crew of about 27,000 people on hundreds of large ships, some as big as a small aircraft carrier in World War II.  The fleet was divided up in smaller groups on different routes. Some of the journeys lasted two to three years.  With a total of 200,000 man-trips, the Ming exploration is at a capacity more than 1000-fold of any of the European explorers.

Unfortunately, most of Zheng He’s records were destroyed in wars during the transition of Ming and Qing, and the invasion of foreign powers in the 19th-20th century.  The remaining records show Kenya as the farthest nation reached by Zheng He. This could hardly be convincing.  Maritime “Porcelain Road” between China and West Asia started in Han dynasty (206 BCE – 22o CE). By Tang dynasty (618-907), Chinese porcelain with Islam design are already popular exports.    With the support of a nation that owns 1/2 to 2/3 of the world’s GDP at that time, if Zheng He only achieved the same or less than what his predecessors did hundreds of years ago, he would not be qualified as the greatest mariner ever.

The actual completion date of the 1602 Map is ~1430

Above Spain on the 1602 Map, there is a note that says “This is Europe…. It has never established relations with China until 70 some years ago.” That is the secret.


While there were trading with Europe as far back as Han dynasty through the silk Road, the official relations of China and Europe was only established in Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) when a 50-clergyman Papal legation led by Giovanni de Marignolli visited China. They reached Beijing in 1342 and exchanged credentials with the Yuan Emperor.  After staying for a few years, they were escorted back to Europe in 1347.  Seventy some years from that period would fall between 1412 and 1426, exactly the time of Zheng He’s voyages.

If this note was written by Ricci when he completed the map in 1602, seventy some years before 1602 would be 1522-32, which is a period of maritime ban.  If the statement referred to the maps Ortelius and Mercator, it would trace back to 1500, still in the maritime ban period.  This statement excludes the authorship of Ricci and his adaptation of Ortelius and Mercator maps. This statement could be written only by Ming Chinese at the peak of Zheng He’s voyages.

The geography of Europe on the 1602 Map is obviously from the exchange between the Pope and the Yuan Khan.  The Hereford Mappa Mundi dated around 1300 CE is representative of the cartography of this period. It should reflect the knowledge earlier than 1338 when Marignoli left for China. 

During Marignoli’s journey, the Pope was in Avignon (1309-1378), corroborating with the absence of the Papal States in Italy on the 1602 Map.  That is also a period before Tuscany and Florence became well known in Renaissance.  That also explains why the Italy is badly shaped. It would take another 200 years for European cartography to reach the development of Ortelius and Mercator.

The colonial cities Veracruz(1519), Acapulco (1530), Sao Paulo (1532), Buenos Aires(1536), and Rio de Janeiro(1565) are all absent on the 1602 Map. Even though these are significant events in European history, Ricci did not update it on the map. For America, Ricci merely supplied names such as New Hispania (新以西把你亞), New France (新佛朗察), North America (北阿墨利加), South America (南阿墨利加). 

China of Yongle and Xuande

The brevity of Europe and erroneous Italy on the 1602 Map are in sharp contrakywgqt-NEChinast to the detailed China with names associated with Yongle and Xuande’s reign. In northeast China, names along the route of Yongle’s campaign against Mongolians are labeled. Some of these names don’t even qualify as villages. They are merely landmarks of Yongle’s battles. A revealing name is Yu Mu Chuan (榆木川), the place where Yongle died in 1424 on his way back from his last campaign.  Other than that, there is no significance for this name.  The map has to be drawn after 1424, the year Emperor Yongle died.


A number of names in southwest China on the 1602 Map are only important during Yongle reign. These names were established by Yongle to resolve some local conflicts. In addition, they are landmarks along the Tea-Horse Route of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi  for transporting goods from the maritime trade.

The name Annan (安南) is another time stamp.  Vietnam was called Jiaozhi (交趾)when it was a protectorate of China, and Annan when it was more independent. Vietnam was under the administration of Ming court most of the time until Xuande pronounced Vietnam  a self –


governing state Annan(安南) in 1428.  In the 1602 Map, Vietnam is named Annan, including Jiaozhi as the old name.  The inclusion of Jiaozhi only happened shortly after 1428, showing the date of completion of the map. One hundred fifty years later when Ricci was visiting China, the name Jiaozhi was dropped. 

The above two events indicate that the map was drawn shortly after 1428.  Since Yongle died in 1424, no maritime activity was permitted until 1430. I believe the map was prepared a guide shortly before the last grand voyage of 1430.  By the time of Ricci, the Tea-Horse routes have lost their significance. There is no point in labeling them on a world map.

Other evidence using place names of Africa also indicates the completion date of this map is no later than 1440.  This part discussed in my book will not be elaborate in here.


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