1602 world map not European

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) is an Italian Jesuit born in Macerata, a town in the Papal State.  He came to China in 1582 and never left until his death in Beijing in 1610. In 1602, Ricci presented a world map to Ming emperor Wanli. It is entirely label in Chinese. It has been thought that Ricci translated the names from the world maps by Abraham Ortelius and Gerardus Mercator, the most famous cartographers of Ricci’s time.

On close examination of the 1602 world map comparing with world maps by Ortelius  (1570) and Mercator (1569), the following abnormalities are obvious:

  • The shape of Italy is inaccurate, missing the “heel” and the “toe”. Ricci, being an Italian, would not have presented his home country so unprofessionally. The atlas by Ortelius shows a much more accurate and detailed Italy.


    1602 Chinese world map – Italy

  • A dedicated Jesuit like Matteo Ricci would not have omitted the Papal States, where he was born and where the Pope ruled over Europe. The Papal States in the 16th century is about one fourth of the size of Italy, much bigger than Vatican today. For Ricci to omit the Papal States is as inexcusable as a contemporary map of the United States without the first thirteen states and Washington DC.
  • The 1602 world map does not label Tuscany and Florence, which are the most important names, not only in Italy but for the entire Europe during Renaissance. Starting from 1400, Florence was the center of Renaissance  where da Vinci, Michelangelo made their names. Ortelius dedicated a full page in his atlas for Tuscany. As someone living in the peak of the Renaissance Era, Ricci would not be a scholar at all to leave out these important names.
  • The 1602 world map has some large labels for New France, New Spain, North and South America, but none of the European colonial cities like Veracruz (1519),  Buenos Aires (1536), Sao Paulo (1554), Rio de Janeiro (1567) are marked. Ricci studied in Portugal just before he left for Asia. He should have known all these cities as newly established European colonies.
  • Of the 1114 place names on the 1602 world map, including those of the Americas, 50% of them have no equivalents in the maps by Ortelius and Mercator.  Where did Ricci get these names?

Any one of the above would be a fatal error if Ricci was indeed the author, or if he adapted the world maps of Ortelius and Mercator.

The only possible reason for the missing the Papal States, Tuscany, Florence, and the European colonial cities in the Americas is if the map was drawn at a time when these were unknown to Europeans, a time before these names were established,  which is prior to 1400.  As will be seen in a later section,  this is indeed the case.

If the Europe on the 1602 world map is not drawn by Ricci from the maps of Ortelius/Mercator, then his authorship of the rest of the 1602 map is even more questionable.

There are only two possible sources for the 1602 world map, either from Europe or China.  When Europe is excluded,  the only possibility left is China.

In the next section, more evidence will be discussed on why the 1602 world map is the work of Ming Chinese around 1430.

Siu-Leung Lee, PhD (2013.10.01)

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