Mapping the World in Medieval China
Lecture by Hyunhee Park
Given at Pace University on March 3, 2017
This talk looks at the extent of geographic and cartographic knowledge of the world that existed in medieval China. The Chinese developed advanced cartographic techniques beginning no later than the third century, yet early extant maps from about 1100 CE merely portray China. Only the ascent of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century fostered a new sense of geographic understanding among Chinese that rendered this narrow geographic self-perception obsolete and encouraged the creation of maps offering an expanded image of China’s geographic place in the world.
To realize this new understanding of China, geographers and cartographers needed additional information about the world beyond their borders, much of which they obtained from the Islamic world through Muslim scholars working at the Yuan court. The talk also explores the contacts and transfers of knowledge between medieval China, the Islamic world, and Europe, before the European Age of Exploration began in the late fifteenth century.