This is the earliest surviving Chinese globe, and dates from the early 1600s. It was not made by the Chinese, but by two European missionaries, Father Nicolo Longobardi and Manuel Dias – they actually signed the globe using Chinese versions of their names, Yang Ma-no and Long Hua-min.
Both men introduced important Western geographical ideas into China, and the globe helped them to do this. The globe is inscribed with a number of complicated geographical and astronomical concepts. These include an explanation of the theories of latitude and longitude, and a description of the way eclipses of the sun and moon prove that the world is round.
The Chinese already had a long and esteemed map-making tradition. One inscription on the globe pays tribute to this by referring to terrestrial magnetism – the magnetic force that pulls a compass needle to the north. Chinese scientists were aware of this force about forty years before it was understood in Europe. Chinese maps traditionally showed China at the center of the world. They called China “the middle kingdom” for a reason. Far-away continents and countries were generally unknown, or downplayed. This globe does not downplay China, but simply puts it in context with other continents and countries.