And now for a non-Western view of the pre-Modern world, we turn to the Da Ming Hun Yi Tu, or Amalgamated Map of the Great Ming Empire. It was created around the year 1389, but the author is unknown.
The map is disorienting at first, because we are used to seeing Europe prominently displayed on world maps created around this time. But in this map, China is in the center, reflecting its position as the “Middle Kingdom”. It is drawn far more accurately than any European map at this time, with an incredibly detailed coastline and topographical features. To the East, we can see the Korean peninsula and part of the island of Japan, as well as Taiwan.
Traveling West, the rest of the world is a bit more cramped, though there is still a good degree of accuracy even if the scale is off. The first peninsula after mainland China represents Malaysia, and the next one represents Arabia. India, for some reason, is not shown as a peninsula, but it occupies the area of land in between the two. After Arabia, the final peninsula in the southwest is Africa, which is actually rendered far more accurately than European maps rendered it at the time. For example, this map shows that the source of the Nile is a large inland lake. Remember also that this map was created almost 100 years before Europeans had successfully sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.
Finally, we have poor little Europe, compressed into a strip of land in the northwest so that it is not even recognizable. It is rare to see the continent of Europe so marginalized, the same Europe that would soon catch up to China’s cartographical skill and use that knowledge to colonize the rest of the world. But it’s always interesting to see the world from a new perspective!