China’s Global Power: The Selden Map (circa 1619) of East Asia

Selden 1619THE PHILIPPINES AS DRAWN IN AN EARLY 17TH CENTURY CHINESE MAP (with English translations of 16 locations with Chinese character place names). Around January 2008, an early 17th century Chinese map of East Asia was “rediscovered” in the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.  One wonders what lessons the Selden Map’s cartographic history can tell us given China’s current projection of her “power” in East Asia including Southeast Asia. However, scholars who studied the Selden Map concluded that this beautiful map signified, not so much military power, but more of merchant power.  The formerly insular China traded with her neighbors while wary of the sea powers of Europe. After all, the Spanish, Portuguese, and English ships still ruled the seas. Robert Batchelor, who first noted the historical significance of the Selden Map, wrote an extensive paper on the map’s history. The full article can be downloaded for free using the link below. You can also read about Robert’s personal account of his first encounter with the Selden Map (which includes very good additional reading materials chosen by Robert himself). selden color Honkping Annie Nei (2014) in The Selden Map of China: A New Understanding of Ming Dynasty, concluded that the Selden Map showed that the Ming Dynasty “…was not an inward looking and isolated  agrarian country…” but “…was outward looking, seafaring, and capitalist” (p.54). Interestingly, the author cites the Philippines as the source of sweet potatoes brought to China by a Chen Zhenlong, Chinese trader from Fujian. Chen also convinced the Chinese officials to plant the sweet potatoes during the 1594 famine in Fujian and thus helped saved the population from hunger. A full online edition of the book is available for download below.

Timothy Brook, another scholar who fell in love with Selden’s map, published two books on the subject with the most recent being Selden’s Map of China: The Spice Trade, a Lost Chart and the South China Sea (2014). His earlier work was Mr. Selden’s Map: Decoding the Secrets of a Vanished Cartographer (2013). TImothy’s latest book explored the debate between Selden and Dutch jurist de Groot about the legal treatment of the seas – is it open to all, which no country can claim, or that all nations can lay claim to it? (see for an introductory review of the book).
Note: Jarius Bondoc, in his Philippine Star October 22, 2014 article, China’s Own Ancient Maps Disprove Beijing Sea Claim, referred to the Selden map as one of his proofs to China’s baseless claim

Robert Batchelor (2013). The Selden Map Rediscovered: A Chinese Map of East Asian Shipping Routes c.1619. (Source: Robert Batchelor (2014) John Selden’s Map of East Asia (The Selden Map of China).   (Source: Honkping Annie Nei (2014). The Selden Map of China: A New Understanding of Ming Dynasty. Source:

~ by Martin Gaerlan on April 21, 2015.

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