This is the earliest surviving Chinese globe, and dates from the early 1600s. It was not made by the Chinese but by two European missionaries, Father Nicolo Longobardi and Manuel Dias – they actually signed the globe using Chinese versions of their names, Yang Ma-no and Long Hua-min. Both men introduced important Western geographical ideas into China, and the globe helped them to do this.
The globe is inscribed with a number of complicated geographical and astronomical concepts. These include an explanation of the theories of latitude and longitude, and a description of the way eclipses of the sun and moon prove that the world is round.
In fact, the Chinese already had a great tradition of map-making. The inscription on the globe pays tribute to this by referring to terrestrial magnetism – the magnetic force that pulls a compass needle to the north. The Chinese were aware of this force 40 years before it was understood in the West. However, most Chinese maps of this period show China at the centre of the world, and do not show a great awareness of other countries and continents.