Saturday, March 27, 2010

Matteo Ricci: Chinese Mapmaker & Composer

Jīntián wǒ kànjiàn lǎo dìtú de Zhōngguó hé Měiguó. Today I saw an old map of China and America. (Changdi hopes she chose the right Chinese words and applied the correct grammar. She also apologizes for not capturing the importance of this particular map but her Chinese is limited.)

The Chinese Meetup Group of Washington, DC made a field trip to the Library of Congress to see the first map (dìtú 地图) in Chinese to show America, in fact, the Americas including such details as Cuba and Jamaica.

The world map, known as the “Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography,” was drawn by Matteo Ricci (October 6, 1552 – May 11, 1610), an Italian Jesuit priest, one of the founding clerics of the Jesuit China Mission. The Chinese call this six-panel map that measures 5 ft (1.52 m) high and 12 ft (3.66 m) wide Kūnyú Wànguó Quántú 坤輿萬國全圖. The Italians call it Carta Geografica Completa di tutti i Regni del Mondo, "Complete Geographical Map of all the Kingdoms of the World." This is the map that changed how China dealt with the world because it opened China for commerce with other nations.

Take note that the map is on display at the Library of Congress Jefferson building only until April 10, 2010. It is part of the ongoing LOC exhibition "Exploring the Early Americas." (Located on the second floor and all the way at the back of this exhibition, this map is not easy to find!)

When the map leaves DC, it will go to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and after that to its permanent home in the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota.

It’s also important to understand that in 1601 Matteo Ricci (the Chinese called him Lì Mǎdòu 利玛窦) was the first Westerner to enter Beijing’s Forbidden City and also the first Westerner to buried in Beijing. His remains are in a tomb the Beijing Administrative College but when he was buried there it was a Buddhist temple. Ricci learned classical Chinese but he was also a composer. Recently Changdi heard the Folger Consort play a piece of Ricci’s music.

Changdi was surprised that she could read many characters printed on this map!