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The Super Map


This large floor-area interactive installation features a projection of Kunyu Quantu (World Map) on the floor, in which images of the hemispheres take up the entire center of the display. In fact, it looks like you can literally globetrot the world in any direction from the center. Visitors can move about freely and experience the feeling that the Kangxi Emperor had when he saw the map more than 300 years ago. The interactive display uses an element of drama to convey the contents. When the visitor enters the area, he or she is immediately immersed in an all-encompassing star-filled night. From the conversation between Ferdinand Verbiest and the Kangxi Emperor, the visitor can come to understand the features of Kunyu Quantu. What follows is an atmosphere of the universe, which is what the ancients experienced with astronomy, presenting a geographical survey of time and space. Then there is also the theater of beasts, in which the creatures portrayed on the map come to life through animation right before your eyes.

Art Appreciation

Kunyu Quantu(New window)

Kunyu Quantu
Great Universal Map
Ferdinand Verbiest
1674 CE
National Palace Museum

Kunyu Quantu was completed in 1674, its maker being the Belgian Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest. The Kangxi Emperor was famous for his voracious appetite for learning, requesting several missionaries active at the time to provide contemporary knowledge on matters pertaining to astronomy, calendar studies, geometry, and world geography. In the late Ming and early Qing dynasty, Jesuit missionaries with Western discoveries pertaining to geography arrived in China. With their experience in cartography, they brought the latest (17th century) geographical concepts of the world, with Kunyu Quantu being Ferdinand Verbiest's tool for explaining to the Kangxi Emperor about Western knowledge on world geography at the time.

The entire work consists of eight vertical hanging panels assembled to form a screen. The first and end panels contain explanatory texts, while the second to fourth depict "North and South America" and the fifth to seventh panels portray "Asia," "Europe," and "Libya" (or Africa). Also included are "Magellanica" and "New Holland," referring to Antarctica and Australia. In terms of the history of Chinese geography, Kunyu Quantu is the only surviving one that features both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, allowing Chinese then to understand that that the Earth is a globe. Thus, Kunyu Quantu is not only an important window for the emperor in understanding the world, it also represents a crucial stage in the gradual import of Western studies to the East during the seventeenth century.

Two features of the contents of Kunyu Quantu stand out. First, the beginning and end panels as well as the blank spaces around the map were engraved with fourteen explanatory panels, the texts surrounded by ornamental frames of various shapes. The scroll decoration of the frames around the texts for the map part uses Chinese designs, while those of the first and last panels feature European designs. The contents of the texts reflect Western astronomical and cartographical theories and knowledge of the world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including that the Earth is round, there is no "center" of the world, and information about tides and earthquakes. It thereby differs from the traditional Chinese world view of a "square earth and round sky" under the heavens.

The second feature is that the blank areas of the maps include illustrations of sailing ships and more than ten exotic land and sea creatures, showing the Chinese at the time how large the world is while satisfying their curiosity. The "exotic" creatures illustrated by Verbiest include such land animals as the giraffe, chameleon, and beaver from various continents. As for sea creatures, fewer are illustrated and most are from the oceans, such as the whale.