This beautiful Chinese globe dates from the early 17th century. Made by Dias and Longobardi, under their Chinese names, its existence clearly illustrates the extent to which western ideas concerning geography had penetrated the East.
This is the earliest surviving terrestrial globe made in China. It is one of the most important relics of the penetration of western geographical ideas into China, which had its own rich cartographical traditions. That penetration was led by the Jesuits. Father Nicolo Longobardi (1559 - 1654) was Superior General of the China Mission and Manuel Dias (1574 - 1659) was also a Jesuit. This globe probably played a particularly important role in winning acceptance for European theories since it is said to have been in the Imperial Palace in Beijing before its arrival in England in the last century.
The globe, which is painted in lacquer on wood, is signed by Dias and Longobardi using their Chinese names. The map is drawn on a scale of 1:21 million. The world is depicted in some detail and is relatively up-to-date for its time, showing European discoveries in New Guinea dating from as recently as 1606. Some of the numerous inscriptions attempt to convey European astronomical and geographical concepts in terms that would have been familiar to well-educated Chinese.
The process of influence was, however, to some extent mutual and one of the inscriptions refers to terrestrial magnetism: a phenomenon that, 40 years before it came to Newton's attention, was already well-accepted in China.
- Article by:
- Peter Whitfield
- Science and nature
Peter Whitfield shows how British Library maps chart the evolution of man's understanding of the earth and cosmos.