Matteo Ricci’s map and the centre around China

An unattributed version of the 1602 Kunyu Wanguo Quantu of Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was a Jesuit, an omniscient one: author, translator, theologian and mathematician. He was the first Westerner to translate Confucius into a European language and, most likely, the first Westerner to be admitted into the Forbidden City. His conversation and intellectual dialogues with Chinese intelligentsia are documented and well known.

An unattributed version of the 1602 Kunyu Wanguo Quantu of Matteo Ricci


Ricci was also a great cartographer whose work is still influencing mapping and map making today. But, maybe, the most interesting aspect of Ricci’s cartography is the Globe centred on the seas off China, and not on Western Europe. In this regard Ricci’s maps are almost unique.

A famous world map by Giulio Aleni, based on Ricci’s map, from the archives of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Rome. Thanks to the Centro Giulio Aleni for pointing out to the distinction between this map and Ricci’s

First of all, Ricci was a real savant: he tried to understand, to respect and to live according to the Chinese culture. In Chinese, the endonyme of the country is Zhongguo, “The Middle Kingdom”. China is, to her inhabitants and for the surroundings, the “central country” and the central culture of the world. It was difficult to convince the Chinese that the Axis Mundi passes in Europe. After all the centre of the world is where we want it to be, and for the Middle Kingdom it is there, in China.


Another intersting aspect would be the knowledge of relativity: Ricci knew that the centre is a construction: the maps are but viewpoints after all.

An ultimate question can be deduced: where is the centre of the world? The answer can be easy: it is where we want it to be. It is clear that centrality, in this regard, is a construction. We construct our centre where we want ourselves to be.

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jack Keilo ( Jacques Keilo ) (November 20, 2013). Matteo Ricci’s map and the centre around China. Centrici. Retrieved July 25, 2024 from

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1 Response

  1. Mr joseph bampton says:

    I received this reply from the British Library with reference to a map I own.

    Dear Mr Bampton

    Thank you for resending the much clearer images. Your map is a woodblock-printed map entitled Yochi zu 輿地圖 or Yochi no zu 輿地之圖 (Picture of the World) which was created by Harame Sadakiyo 原目貞清. It is based on Matteo Ricci’s world map and was published in Kyōhō 5 [1720]. Sadakiyo also used the surname Kumazawa 熊澤 and both forms can be found on the map, along with the date of publication in image IMG_20200812_155615.jpg

    There are versions online and it is mentioned in several works on Japanese cartography. For example it is mentioned in:

    I hope this information is helpful.

    Yours sincerely

    It would seem that it is quite rare and needs a value. Can you suggest contacts that I may approach?
    Kind regards, Joseph Bampton.

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