A Map Full of Holes

A Map Full of Holes

By Jin Guo-ping (17 Jan 2006 in Lisbon)

(Draft translation by Geoff Wade 18 Jan 2006 in Singapore)

The "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven," which was first shown to the public on 16 January in Beijing, can be said to be full of doubtful elements, some very obvious and some less so.

1. Liu Gang bought the map for 4,000 yuan Renminbi from a Shanghai book dealer in 2001. Because he suspected at that time that the map might be a fake, he asked "five experienced collectors to verify the map and they affirmed that the map was at least 100 years old." Later, he asked a group of foreign "experts" "(Professor Robert Cribbs, Dr. Gunnar Thompson, Charlotte Harris Rees, Lam Yee Din, Robin Lind, Gerald Andrew Bottomley and Anatole Andro) to examine this map (which in English was referred to as "The 1418 Map") to assesses its veracity. It was noted that "To date, all experts who have given their opinion on the 1418 map consider it to be genuine." I would like at ask how these "foreign experts" assessed a map from the 16th year of the Yong-le reign to be genuine. Even if the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven" is shown to truly be from the 28th year of the Qian-long reign (1763), how is one to determine whether it was based on another map from the Yong-le reign? What can be the objective basis for the assessment? And isn't it the case that we don't even know anything about Mo Yi-tong, the purported author of this map?

2. Even the name "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven" is somewhat strange. If we examine various Chinese maps from 1724, 1755, 1767, 1810 and 1817 we observe that during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) the term "all under Heaven" referred to the Qing empire, not the world. None of the Chinese-language maps of the world which have been produced since the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) have used the term "all under Heaven." None of the world maps by Matteo Ricci, de Pantoja, Aleni, Verbiest or Benoist used the term "tian-xia" (all under Heaven) in its title. And if, prior to the arrival of the Jesuits in China in the 16th century, the Chinese already knew about the geography of the world, why was it that Matteo Ricci elicited such a huge reaction when he introduced western maps of the world to China, and people were clamouring to copy and translate these?

3. As to the "Map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" Professor Mao Pei-qi has stated "This map is a fake." His basis for saying this is that the character "zhi" in the title is erroneously written. Instead of using the "zhi" with an ear radical, it used the "zhi" with a speech radical. The complex forms of these characters are similar but the ancients would certainly not have confused them. A modern person who was trying to fake this, however, appears to have not had this knowledge and made the mistake of confusing them. In Shanghai dialect, the two characters are pronounced very similarly. Given that this map was bought in Shanghai, was it the case that a modern faker was confused by this dialectical similarity? An even greater error is that frequently on the map there appears a number followed by the character "yu" (meaning "plus" or "more than"). In simplified characters there is only one way of writing this character, but in this case, the form which would have been used in pre-modern times was not the one which is used. We can thus affirm that there is no way such simplified characters would have appeared in either the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven" or a "Map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court"

This is an iron-clad proof for passing judgement on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven". Just on the basis of these erroneous characters we can make a firm assessment as to whether or not the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven" is a fake.

The foreign experts cited are unfamiliar or only slightly familiar with Chinese characters and possibly missed these problems with the characters. This is understandable. The collector himself also is probably only familiar with simplified characters and his confusion is also explicable. However, those experts who assessed the "map as being at least 100 years old", and could not even pick out the simplified characters which had only been in use for 50 years, cannot be excused. They are simply swindlers!!!

4. On the top-left of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven" there is a panel which reads "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" Liu Gang explains it thus: This means that there were some annotations which were on the original "Map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" and some were added later by the copier. The original annotations were enclosed with a red border. In other words, all those annotations within red borders were from the original map. Liu Gang, his connoisseur experts and even his foreign experts managed to miss the fact that in three places there are red borders around the "Great Qing Ocean"!! The "Great Qing" did not replace the Ming until 256 years after this map was supposedly drawn. Are all these people colour-blind?

5. The notes "Now called North America", "Now called South America", "Now called Libya", "Now called Europe", "Mediterranean Sea" and so on were all Chinese translations of global geographical terms introduced by the Jesuits in the 16th century. This is common knowledge. On 21 December 2005, I had a telephone conversation with Liu Gang. During this, we touched on the question of the "Mediterranean Sea". He suggested that Chinese people had already been to the Mediterranean Sea by that time. I asked him how they had entered the Sea and he responded through the Red Sea. I again asked him if he knew when the Suez Canal was built. He was quiet. I told him that it was built in the 19th century. He then claimed that it was through another route but on being questioned as to its name could not answer.

6. Even if the Carbon 14 tests show that the paper and ink are from the age of Qian-long, it will not prove the veracity of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven". We cannot exclude the possibility that ink and paper from that time were used to produce a fake. The above analyses of the erroneous use of characters and the confused use of simplified and full-form characters and the anachronistic nature of the texts within the red borders all point to the very great likelihood that this is a fake.

7. Menzies and Liu Gang have ignored an essential issue. Every major overseas venture requires a motivation, usually an economic motivation. The European voyages were aimed at discovering new lands, but it seems that Zheng He's voyages to the Western Ocean did not have this mission or aim. So we can ask, what would Zheng he have been doing circumnavigating the globe?? If one can answer this question, then there will be no need for others.

8. Let us just ignore for the moment the question of whether the Chinese at that time had any idea of the world as a globe. Rather, let us just note that each time Zheng He went on a voyage, it lasted for two or three years. How could these ships have circumnavigated the globe or sailed to the North and South Poles? We just need to calculate the maximum speed of the ships, the seasonal winds and the necessary rest and repair periods, and we come to the obvious conclusion that this was not possible. There is another even simpler issue. How would it have been possible, under the technological conditions at that time, to draw maps of such accuracy as this after just one or two voyages? And the ships could only have surveyed the oceans. How is it that there is so much detail within the landmass of the continents on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven". 

To sum up, we need to conduct cross-disciplinary comprehensive research on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all Under Heaven", not just come to an immediate conclusion. 

Having written this, I cannot help but feel some sadness for the Chinese people. The sad thing is that such a great country has its own international experts, so why do we need to seek advice from foreigners? On top of this sadness, I feel indignation. This derives from the fact that Chinese have linked up with foreigners in an attempt to deceive us!

In the press release issued at Liu Gang's launch, it is noted that the map "answers all the questions". Could I thus ask him to try and answer those above!

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