Has the Ricci Map Been Altered?

china-center

This Taipei Times article suggests that some copies of the Ricci map—Matteo Ricci’s 1602 map of the world produced for the Chinese emperor—have been altered, possibly to support (or at least not contradict) the present-day Chinese territorial claim to the Spratly Islands (and the nine-dash line). In particular, the article claims, the James Ford Bell Trust’s copy of the map has been altered:

Part of the legend reading “between the 15th and 42nd parallels” had been erased, with ocean patterns painted over the erasure. […] Whether this is a recent defacement done to obliterate evidence that China’s historical primacy in the South China Sea is a modern fiction, or an ancient one done to eliminate an error, is a subject for further research. […] Nonetheless, several other 16th century copies of the Ricci-Li map exist in Europe, South Korea and Japan, and all display the legend intact.

To be honest, the article isn’t so much making a case as it is casting some aspersions. It has an agenda: to shoot down the argument that China’s claims to the Spratly Islands are supported by the historical record. The Ricci map—like so many other maps caught up in territorial disputes and conspiracy theories—is simply a means to an end. [WMS/Leventhal Map Center]

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.