The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu

I’ve been reading an article in Edge Magazine, How To Get Rich, by Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs and Steel). He investigates more deeply into the differences between cultures, and the effect this has had on their history and dominance, as he did in GG+S; this time with economic might in mind.

For example, he notes that the Chinese, in the middle ages, were a sea-faring nation of astounding skill, exploring most of the coasts of Asia and Africa for trade. They were on the verge of rounding the Cape of Good Hope (and, in the words of Diamond, “colonising Europe” ;) when a new emperor with an anti-Navy bias took power, and recalled them. Since the entirety of China’s empire was ruled solely by one power, the emperor, that was that. (Compare with Columbus, who could “shop around” the many superpowers of Europe until his trip across the Atlantic was funded.)

Then, this morning, a pertinent link arrived via Kyle Moffat of forteana: an ancient Chinese map of Africa is now on show in Cape Town (BBC).

The Chinese map, covering more than 17 square metres, was produced in silk. It is thought to be a copy of a map sculpted into rock 20 or 30 years earlier. …

The Da Ming Hun Yi Tu, or Amalgamated Map of the Great Ming Empire, is a unique snapshot of history. Created in China in 1389, and clearly showing the shape of Africa, more than 100 years before Western explorers and map-makers reached the continent.

BTW, worth noting that I came across the Diamond article from a link in Clay Shirky’s guest-blog at Boing Boing. Clay, as usual, is throwing up lots of reading material, which I just don’t have time to read ;) so I’m syncing it all to my Palm with Sitescooper. Come on Xerox, where’s that electronic paper!?

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