Mr Selden's Map of China : The Spice Trade, a Lost Chart and the South China Sea, Hardback

Mr Selden's Map of China : The Spice Trade, a Lost Chart and the South China Sea Hardback

4.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


In 1659, a vast and unusual map of China arrived in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

It was bequeathed by John Selden, a London business lawyer, political activist, former convict, MP and the city's first Orientalist scholar.

Largely ignored, it remained in the bowels of the library, until called up by an inquisitive reader.

When Timothy Brook saw it in 2009, he realised that the Selden Map was 'a puzzle that had to be solved': an exceptional artefact, so unsettlingly modern-looking it could almost be a forgery.

But it was genuine, and what it has to tell us is astonishing.

It shows China, not cut off from the world, but a participant in the embryonic networks of global trade that fuelled the rise of Europe - and which now power China's ascent. And it raises as many question as it answers: how did John Selden acquire it?

Where did it come from? Who re-imagined the world in this way? And most importantly - what can it tell us about the world at that time? Brook, like a cartographic detective, has provided answers - including a surprising last-minute revelation of authorship. From the Gobi Desert to the Philippines, from Java to Tibet and into China itself, Brook uses the map (actually a schematic representation of China's relation to astrological heaven) to tease out the varied elements that defined this crucial period in China's history.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 256 pages, Illustrations
  • Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Asian history
  • ISBN: 9781781250389



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Timothy Brook uses an obscure Ming map of China in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford to present an interesting account of the English lawyer John Selden whose chief achievement was in arguing "mare clausum" for England against Hugo Grotius' open seas policy ("mare liberum"). In practice, the Dutch were quite willing to restrict the freedom to trade of others and applying force to be the only traders. Likewise, Selden's mare clausum was intended to backup English maritime strength and not any nation's right to control its own sea territories. China and the United States are currently engaged in a similar diplomatic battle over who controls the waters between the different countries in South East Asia. John Selden would be quite familiar with the issues but not the technologies used to press one's advantage.Besides an account of Selden, Brook also highlights the contribution of the first Chinese visitor to England who annotated the map together with the librarian who was struggling to learn the basics of the Chinese language and writing. Timothy Brook thus achieves to present and integrate different fields of scholarship and different parts and cultures of the world. Highly recommended.

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