Friday, March 26, 2021

The Interactive Mao Kun Map

The Mao Kun map is the earliest Chinese map to accurately map Southern Asia, Persia, Arabia and East Africa. The map was first published in the 17th century in the military treatise Wubei Zhi. The introduction to the map in Wubei Zhi suggests that the Mao Kun charts are based on documents from the expeditions of Zheng He, suggesting that the map dates back to at least the 15th Century. 

The Mao Kun map is also sometimes known as Zheng He's Navigation Map. The map is a long strip map charting the sea route from the Ming capital in Nanjing to the East Coast of Africa (the map is arranged from right to left, starting from Nanjing and finishing in Hormuz.).

The Mao Kun Explorer is a fantastic interactive map which displays and synchronizes the 17th Century Mao Kun strip map with a modern day map of the world. The original map contains over a hundred place-name labels. These labels have been made interactive on the Mao Kun Explorer. Click on one of these Chinese place-name labels on the Mao Kun map and you will be shown the location on the modern map. A small information window will also translate the Chinese place-name label into English.

Superimposed on top of the Mao Kun map is a small inset map which allows you to view the modern day countries that the Zheng He expeditions passed through. Click on this inset map and both the modern map and the Mao Kun map will pan to the selected country.


The Mao Kun Explorer was inspired by Professor Anthony Barbieri's Interactive Zheng He Sailing Map. This interactive version of the map was created by Professor Barbieri of the University of California, Santa Barbara. His map also includes translations of the Chinese place-names on the original Mao Kun map. 

If you hover over the place-names (highlighted in red on the map) you can read the English translation. If you click on a highlighted place-name you can view the selected location on Google Maps. All these translated and mapped locations are also available from a drop-down menu, which provides a quick way to find a location on the map. A small inset map runs along the top of the map to show where you are currently looking on the huge strip map.

The dotted lines on the Mao Kun map are sailing routes. The Chinese text along these routes provide sailing instructions, including compass points and distances. The sailing instructions are more detailed in the Chinese waters, presumably because the cartographer had a greater knowledge of these. The map as a whole is also more accurate in Chinese territory and becomes less complete the further west it goes.

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