On the "Overall" Map

On the "Overall Map of the Geography of All Under Heaven" and Zheng He's Fleets

Gong Ying-yan of the Ningbo Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University


Chinese original at: http://bbs.omnitalk.org/alumni/messages/28967.html
(Written 15 Jan 2006)
(Draft translation by Geoff Wade 16 January 2006)


2005 marks the 600th anniversary of the first voyage to the Western Ocean by Zheng He, and many people both within and outside China have employed various forms to commemorate this great achievement in global navigational history. Of course, in this, not everyone's aims have been the same. Abroad, the retired British commander Gavin Menzies in his book "1421: the Year China Discovered the World" suggested that Zheng He's fleets had carried out the first circumnavigation of the world. His views were responded to by many people who were not very sure of their facts and were also subject to criticism by some scholars. After a number of critics had shown through clear historical facts that Menzies viewpoint was completely mistaken, at the end of 2005, someone advised that a recently-discovered ancient Chinese map could prove Menzies' claims and proclaimed that "history should be rewritten to show that Zheng He's fleets were the first to discover the entire world!"

http://huangzhangjin.blogchina.com/3880436.html

It was learned that this map, named "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" had on its left panel the characters "Copied in the second month of spring in the kui-wei  year of the Qian-long reign (1763) from a map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court of the 16th year of Yong-le reign of the Ming dynasty, drawn by Mo Yi-tong." That is to say, this map was drawn by someone named Mo Yi-tong in 1763, and it was partially based on a "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" drawn in the 16th year of the Yong-le reign (1418) during the Ming dynasty. The map has the following notation: "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map." This means that all those with red borders were from the original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". On the "Overall map of the Geography of all under Heaven" there are found the words: "In the 13th year of the Yong-le reign (1415), I followed the senior envoy, the eunuch director Ma San-bao, and others to Bengal and other barbarian lands all the way to Hormuz and such countries, to read the royal proclamations and confer rewards. In the 16th year (1418), I returned to the capital." As these words have a red border, it can be assumed that these were on the original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". The words "I followed the senior envoy, the eunuch director Ma San-bao, and others to Bengal and other barbarian lands all the way to Hormuz and such countries, to read the royal proclamations and confer rewards" certainly refer to Zheng He's voyages to the Western Ocean. The "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" was thus seemingly drawn on the basis of Zheng He's voyages to the Western Ocean, and the "Overall map of the Geography of all under Heaven" copied the "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". Thus, the "Overall map of the Geography of all under Heaven" reflected the scope of the activities of Zheng He in his voyages to the Western Ocean. What surprises people is that the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is "an almost complete world map", "including not only all the major continents (as well as the South Pole, the North Pole and Greenland), with red-bordered annotations on both the American and Australian continents." From this we can conclude that Zheng He's fleets truly did conduct a global circumnavigation. These were the basic claims of the person who revealed details of this map.

 This news attracted the attention of the global media and researchers, and we were all waiting to catch a glimpse of this ancient map, hoping that this newly-discovered and important historical source would powerfully promote the deeper development of Zheng He research. On 12 January 2006, we finally had more news: The British journal "The Economist" had published a colour photo of this map. It noted that the map was going to be unveiled in Beijing and London on 16 January.

Although the photograph of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" published in The Economist was not large, and the characters could not be clearly seen, the basic shape of the various continents of the globe could be observed very clearly. On closer examination, the map proved to be a great disappointment: Its origins lay certainly not in any Chinese map from the age of Zheng He, but rather in European world maps of the early 17th century.

The "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is a transversal projection world map, and we only have to have a glance through the many world maps published in Europe from the 1630s to the middle of the 1700s, such as the world maps of the family of the Dutchman Johan Blaeu, to easily see that this is completely copied from a European map. The only difference is that on the European maps, Asia is placed on the right side and America is situated on the left side, whereas on this map China is in the centre. We know that at the end of the 16th century, when Matteo Ricci was translating maps published in Europe into Chinese-language maps, such a rearrangement was made for the first time. (It needs to be pointed out here that people generally believe that Ricci made this change to accord with the Chinese view that China lay at the centre of the world. However, Ricci himself said that all countries in drawing their maps place their own country at the centre of the map). This way of drawing maps initiated by Ricci was followed by later missionaries who came to China, such as the "Complete map of the 10,000 countries" by Jules Aleni (1582-1649) and the "Complete Map of the Earth" by Francois Sambiasi (1582-1649). It became a model, extending even up until today.

In 1760, three years before the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was drawn in 1763, the French missionary Michel Benoist (1715-1774) drew his "Complete Map of the Earth" as a present for the Qian-long emperor in commemorations of his 50 years on the throne. Somewhat earlier, the Belgian missionary Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) had also drawn a "Complete Map of the Earth". These two maps spread quite widely and copies of them are still available to us today. Of these two world maps, that of Benoist copied the maps published in Europe exactly, with Asia on the right of the map and America on the left. However, the world map drawn by Verbiest was like the world map done by Ricci. The form of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is identical with that of Verbiest's "Complete Map of the Earth", with the exception of some differences in the area of the two poles and Australia. This can only mean that the map on which the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was based was a more accurate European map later than Verbeist's.

From a cartographic point of view, there were three main preconditions for drawing a map like the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven". 1) There must be a belief that the world is a globe and not a flat plane. 2) In order to represent the globe as a flat plane world map, there needs to be knowledge of and methods for projection. 3) There must have been a very clear knowledge of the actual geographical situations of the various continents of the globe, or else they could not have been represented so accurately on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven". In the history of Western cartography, we can find the progress of the development of these three preconditions. The "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" reflects the results of the development of European cartography, and particularly the major achievements following European overseas explorations and the development of cartography.

Conversely, in the China of Zheng He's time, these three major preconditions did not exist. We only need to compare the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" with the "Navigation Maps of Zheng He" to know this. No only in the time of Zheng he, but actually throughout China's history (excluding those maps influenced by Ricci and other Western missionaries), there is no map which portrays the world as a globe and projects this globe onto a flat plane. The traditional geographers in China could not produce a map like the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven". The map does not belong to an ancient Chinese cartographic tradition, but rather to a European cartographic tradition.

Of course, some might at a stretch claim that even though in the extant Chinese texts we have not found precursors and successors of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven", that this does not mean that there was no source for these in the past, and it is completely possible that these may all have been lost. And also that it is completely possible that soldiers who accompanied Zheng he's distant voyages might have included some geniuses who discovered extremely advanced map projection methods and drew these maps. And that the accuracy of the shape of the continents on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" shows that not only were Zheng He's fleets the first to circumnavigate the globe, but that they also conducted geo-surveys of a huge scale. As the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" clearly states the "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" on which it is based came from the actual voyages of Zheng He. Thus, the key here is to determine whether or not the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" has any links with the Zheng He voyages. If this map clearly has links with the Zheng He voyages, then the scientific history of China and the rest of the world needs to be rewritten, as must even the final chapters of the history of human civilization. If the map is not linked with Zheng He, we cannot ascribe the map to Zheng He, and we can assign the account of Zheng He travelling around the globe to the realm of fairytale. In brief, if the 1418 map truly existed, Menzies' 1421 story of China discovering the world in 1421 will be supported!

The "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" on which the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was based no longer exists, and we have no knowledge of its original form. At the top of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" are the words: "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map." This means that all those with red borders were from the original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". This is an essential pivot intimately tying together the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven", the "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" and Zheng He. It is also the only thread for us if we want to resolve the crucial issues. Although the annotations which have been revealed so far are not numerous, we only need to take one example to be able to powerfully affirm that that important statement on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" that "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" is not correct, or at least show that some of those within red borders could not have been on any "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". This example comes from a space between Asia and Europe and above there is an annotation within a red border. "The people in this place have deep-set, round eyes and wrap their head in a cloth. They have loose clothes and long trousers. When women go out, they must cover their faces, with offenders being punished." In eastern Europe, there is another annotation in a red border which notes: "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'."

Even those with only a little understanding of history will know that the term "shang-di", which is used by Chinese Christians as the name of God, appeared long ago in pre-Qin (pre 220 BCE) Chinese works. For example, it appears in the "Book of Odes" (Zhou-song: zhi-jing)  At the end of the 16th century, after Matteo Ricci and other Western missionaries came to China, in order to propagate their religion to the Chinese, they had to find a Chinese term by which to translate the name for their highest power (in Latin: Deus). They investigated all sorts of possibilities, first using a phonetic representation -translating "Deus" as "Duo-si". However, it was difficult for Chinese people to accept this method of representation. After the missionaries became more familiar with Classical Chinese texts, they found some terms in the Confucian texts which were very suitable -"tian-zhu" (Lit: Lord of Heaven) and "shang-di" (Lit: The Emperor on High). In his "The Real Purport of the Lord of Heaven", Ricci clearly stated: "Our Lord of Heaven is the Shang-di of the ancient texts" and "Reading the ancient texts, one comes to understand that 'shang-di' and 'tian-zhu' are but different names for the one thing." Of course, what "shang-di" meant to Chinese people prior to the Qin dynasty (pre 200 BCE) and what it meant to the European Christians in using it to represent Deus, was completely different. That is to say, the use of the term "shang-di" to represent the Christian God began at the end of the 16th century and prior to this, the correlation between this term and this concept did not exist. The use of the term "shang-di" on the Eastern Europe portion of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" shows that this annotation could not have derived from a map of the period of Zheng He. During the Tang dynasty, when the Nestorian sect of Christianity entered China (in the 7th century CE), the Chinese called the religion the "Jing religion" In the 9th century, when Emperor Wu-zong (814-846 CE) of the Tang dynasty persecuted Buddhists, Nestorianism was also harshly attacked and it gradually withered away.

During the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368 CE), Christianity in China was called the "Ye-li-ke-wen" (Mongol term: Erkeun or Arkaim) religion. It was only in about 1625, when the "Stele of the Spread of Da-qin (Eastern Roman Empire or Syria) Nestorianism in China" was discovered in Xi-an, that people first knew that Christianity had been in China during the Tang dynasty. After the discovery of this stele, it was given great attention by the Western missionaries in China as well as European scholars and a great amount of research was conducted upon it because it proved the long-term existence of Christianity in China. That is to say, the identification of Nestorianism as a form of Christianity was something which happened after 1625. At the time of Zheng He, Nestorianism had long ceased to exist, and certainly no-one knew that the Nestorianism of the Tang dynasty was a form of Christianity. This proves that the annotation "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'" found on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" could only have been created after 1625, and certainly could not have come from the age of Zheng He.

The note on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" says that "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map". However, through our analysis of the annotation "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'", we have shown that the suggestion that this was from the original map cannot be accurate. Thus there are annotations in red borders on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" which actually did not come from any "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" of the Zheng He period, but are instead from some time after the end of the 16th century. The statement "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is not something which can be believed. If the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was directly copied by Mo Yi-tong from an original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court", the annotation "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" shows that Mo Yi-tong was deceitful. If Mo Yi-tong was just copying a "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" drawn by someone else, then the annotation "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" would have been added by that person and Mo Yi-tong was deceived. To sum up, the annotation "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'" is a cast-iron proof that the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" has nothing to do with Zheng He. The sub-text of the statement is that Christianity is a belief in various parts of the world and China should accept Christianity as its religion. Such an idea would certainly have come from the pen of a European missionary.

We can see in the few annotations on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" which have been revealed the vestiges of European missionaries in China. On the west coast of America, there is an annotation which reads: "The local people of this place have black-red skin and on their head and at their waist they wear feathers. They are practiced in cannibalism." One just has to look at Aleni's "World Atlas" ( "Zhi-fang wai-ji" (of 1623 -gw) which notes of North America that "The men and women all wear feathers and capes of tiger and bear fur" of look at the "Map of the Complete Geography of all Under Heaven" where it is noted on the southern part of Africa that "The skin of the people here is the colour of black lacquer, their teeth are white, their lips red and their hair curly." Or one can look at Aleni's "World Atlas" where it is noted that "There are many countries here. The people are all of variants of black colour. As you move northwards, they become lighter, and as you move southwards they become darker, with some even the colour of lacquer. However, their teeth and eyes are extremely white. Here, as in Verbeist's (1623-1688) "Illustrated Explanation of Geography", one can see similar types of descriptions.

Our analysis of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" indicates that it is in the form of a European map, with annotations similar to those of the Western missionaries who came to China. There is no evidence of anything to do with Zheng He. We believe that, following the complete unveiling of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven", this assessment will be completely verified.

Carbon 14 dating can only determine the age of the ink and paper. If this is indeed a map from the Qian-long period, it will be good news as many maps from that time have been destroyed by natural and man-made disasters. The non-historical nature of the annotations within red borders cannot but cause us to have grave doubts about this map. The map not only reflects the influence of Western culture on China after the great geographical discoveries, but also a proof that only a very few advanced Chinese people studied Western culture at that time. In the long stream of Chinese history, what is evident by its lack is this spirit of actively studying those cultures which are different from ours. If we use this valuable map to weave a modern fairy-tale about "Zheng He discovering the world" it will be a violation of the real significance of this map, contrary to the spirit of Zheng he's voyages to the Western Ocean and also contrary to the global trends of our times.

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