Tel 44 (0)20 7589 4325
Fax 44 (0)20 7589 4325
Email:[email protected]



Samuel Purchas: The Map of China

Map: SEAS5159
Cartographer: Samuel Purchas
Title: The Map of China
Date: 1625
Published: London
Width: 12 inches / 31 cm
Height: 15 inches / 39 cm
Map ref: SEAS5159
The first printed map of China with information taken directly from Chinese sources.

This map of China, issued in Samuel Purchas’s “Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes” is of paramount importance in the study of the European cartography of China.

It is sourced from a manuscript map obtained by Captain John Saris, the English factor in the city of Bantan in Java. It is not clear as to how he obtained the map although it is believed it was given to him as part of a debt owed by a Chinese merchant. Saris sent the manuscript to Richard Hakluyt, the famous English writer and chronicler who in turn passed it onto his successor Samuel Purchas, who compiled, edited and published Hakluyt’s notes and partial writings after his death as “Hakluytus Posthumus” a five-volume collection of accounts of exploration and geography by European explorers with a particular emphasis on the English.

It is believed that this map was the first European map of China to be directly sourced from a Chinese map. The original manuscript was labelled with Chinese characters but Purchas removed these from the interior of the image, feeling that they would confuse his readership. He did leave the characters on the title and added an English translation. The map shows the country divided into provinces for the first time and the interior shows multiple settlements divided by size and rank.

Further research has shown that the map bears a close resemblance to the “Cao Map” of 1593 now known in only one example. Due to its first hand source, this map is geographically superior to the earlier map published by Abraham Ortelius in 1584, which was sourced from the manuscript provided by the Portuguese Jesuit Ludovico Giorgio. Despite its lesser accuracy, the success of the Ortelius atlas was so great that this map remained the standard model for Dutch maps of the country until 1655.

Finally, it has to be noted that this is also the first map to include illustrated borders on a map of China. These portray a Chinese lady and gentleman, most likely sourced from Hakluyt’s papers and Mattheu Ricci, one of the most famous European missionaries and the first to provide a western map of the world to the Chinese court.