A New York Times / AP report today informs that a 1602 map by Matteo Ricci, the first map in Chinese to depict the Americas, is now on display at the Library of Congress until April, and will be traveling to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts after that.
This map, one of a number of copies, but reportedly one of only two contemporary 17th century copies in good condition, was held in a private Japanese collection for a time, and purchased by a US organization this past October for $1 million, making it the second most expensive rare map ever sold.
Produced not by the Chinese but by an Italian Jesuit, the map, known sometimes as the “Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography” for its rarity, is roughly 5 ft x 12 ft, and depicts China, the so-called “Middle Kingdom”, at its center.
I, for one, always get a kick out of seeing how different countries and regions are named in Chinese and Japanese (when the Japanese use kanji, that is), and how they are reprsented in general. Though the United States may be アメリカ in Japanese today (using the purely phonetic katakana characters to spell out a-me-ri-ka), the country or the continent can often be seen on older maps spelled out as 亜米利加 (using a number of kanji purely for their sound and not for meaning), from which comes the abbreviation often used today of 米国 (lit. “rice country”) to mean the US. The 亜 in 亜米利加 is the same “A” as is used at both ends of “Asia”; the 利 and 加 (‘ri’ and ‘ka’ of ‘amerika’) are also used in “Africa”. It’s perhaps the kind of stuff that would only be appreciated by those with a bizarre affection for kanji, but I for one find it interesting.
After being digitally scanned by the Library of Congress, and displayed at the Minneapolis Institute, the map will be making its home at the University of Minnesota. Lucky them.