China at center of world in 1602 map

Associated Press / January 13, 2010

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WASHINGTON - A rarely seen 400-year-old map that identified Florida as “the Land of Flowers’’ and put China at the center of the world went on display yesterday at the Library of Congress.

The map, created by Matteo Ricci, was the first in Chinese to show the Americas. Ricci, a Jesuit missionary from Italy, was among the first Westerners to live in what is now Beijing in the early 1600s.

Known for introducing Western science to China, Ricci created the map in 1602 at the request of Emperor Wanli.

Ricci’s map includes pictures and annotations describing different regions of the world. Africa was noted to have the world’s highest mountain and longest river. The brief description of North America mentions “humped oxen’’ or bison, wild horses, and a region named “Ka-na-ta.’’

Several Central and South American places are named, including “Wa-ti-ma-la’’ (Guatemala), “Yu-ho-t’ang’’ (Yucatan), and “Chih-Li’’ (Chile).

Ricci gave a brief description of the discovery of the Americas.

“In olden days, nobody had ever known that there were such places as North and South America or Magellanica,’’ he wrote, using a label that early mapmakers gave to Australia and Antarctica. “But a hundred years ago, Europeans came sailing in their ships to parts of the sea coast, and so discovered them.’’

The Ricci map gained the nickname the “Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography’’ because it was so hard to find.