Mapping Pan Gu

“[In] such a story one cannot make a map for the narrative, but must first make a map and make the narrative agree.”

JRR Tolkien

All the great stories have maps a beta-reader once told me. As with much of A Tiger’s Tale, its inclusion needed to reflect my understanding and so some research was required.

Chinese cartography began in the 5th century BC during the Warring States period when cartographers started to make maps of the Earth’s surface. Its scope extended beyond China’s borders with the expansion of the Chinese Empire under the Han dynasty. By the 11th century during the Song Dynasty highly-accurate maps drawn on grids were produced. During the 15th century, the Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He went on a series of “treasure voyages” to the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, and beyond and maps for areas outside of China were produced,

The Ming treasure voyages were the seven maritime expeditions undertaken between 1405 and 1433. The Yongle Emperor ordered the construction of the treasure fleet in 1403. The grand project resulted in far-reaching ocean voyages to the coastal territories and islands in and around the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and beyond. Admiral Zheng He was commissioned to command the treasure fleet for the expeditions. Six of the voyages occurred during the Yongle reign (r. 1402–24), while the seventh voyage occurred during the Xuande reign (r. 1425–1435). The first three voyages reached up to India’s Malabar Coast, while the fourth voyage went as far as Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. In the last three voyages, the fleet traveled up to the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa.

A Selection of Historic (& less than historic) Maps Referenced.

One map was of particular interest.

Chinese map of the world dated 1763, claiming to be a reproduction of a 1418 map of Zheng He's (1371-1433) voyages
Chinese map of the world dated 1763, claiming to be a reproduction of a 1418 map of Zheng He’s (1371-1433) voyages.

In Gavin Menzies ‘ 2002 book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (William Morrow) he claims that the Chinese Treasure Fleet which Admiral Zheng He helmed, sailed to the Americas in 1421 and left behind ample archaeological and genetic evidence of their journey. Menzies’ claims were roundly criticized by researchers and historians but that did not keep him from writing several book on the subject and ultimately founding the 1421 Foundation.

The aim of the 1421 Foundation is to galvanize support from academics and researchers from all corners of the Earth, with the view to re-writing the history of global exploration, proving that humankind has been crossing the oceans for thousands of years. The European “Voyages of Discovery” were some of the last of these great exploratory journeys: the European pioneers were standing on the shoulders of giants – maritime explorers predominantly from Asia – who bravely led the way before them.

I did not read the book but the potential apocrypha behind such a map made an interesting source around which to fashion a map to my own fictional world. In revisiting the reference sources for this piece I discovered that Gavin Menzies (b. 08/18/1937) passed away peacefully on Easter Day April 12th 2020. I could have thanked him for the inspiration.

Sign up for more!

Leave a Reply