Bodleian's Selden Map on display in Hong Kong

20 March 2014

Selden MapBodleian Libraries’ Selden Map will be the highlight of a public exhibition at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.


This special exhibition, Mapping Ming China’s Maritime World – The Selden Map and Treasures from University of Oxford, tells the story of the maritime world of the late Ming-era China (mid-17th century). It features highlights from celebrated Chinese collections held at the University of Oxford. The Selden Map will be on display alongside other related treasures from the Bodleian and from Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Collections from the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, as well as items from local renowned collector Dr K L Tam will also be featured. Most of the objects are displayed to the public in Hong Kong for the first time.

The Selden Map of China is the earliest map to show shipping routes linking Ming-era China to markets in South Asia and beyond. It is also the first to depict China as part of a greater East and Southeast Asia, and not the centre of the known world. It has recently benefited from extensive conservation work and recent research that has shed new light on the map. Dating from the late Ming period, it shows China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Southeast Asia and part of India. It was bequeathed to Oxford in 1659 by John Selden, the London lawyer and historical and linguistic scholar. Other exhibits from Oxford will include the well-known manuscript rutter, or manual of compass directions, Shun feng xiang song, as well as the Zhi nan zheng fa (The True Art of Pointing South).

This exhibition is jointly organised by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries. The exhibition is also timed to coincide with the University of Oxford’s first Alumni Weekend in Asia, taking place in Hong Kong 21–23 March, which will be hosted by its Chancellor Lord Patten of Barnes and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton.

Oxford is one of the western world’s leading centres for the study of China, with the largest number of academics working on China anywhere in Europe. A dedicated new building to house the University’s China Centre will open in 2014.

The Bodleian Libraries’ Chinese collections date back to the earliest period of the Library’s history. Sir Thomas Bodley himself was instrumental in building up the collection. The Bodleian now holds as many as a quarter of all the extant Chinese books that arrived in Europe in the seventeenth century.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is the home of Hong Kong’s maritime heritage past, present and future where we place Hong Kong’s maritime story into its local, regional and international context.

Free E-books and Digital Manuscripts

To mark the Hong Kong exhibition, the Bodleian Libraries are releasing three digital resources: an e-book and two digitized manuscripts. These are freely accessible online worldwide:

  • The Selden Map of China: A New Understanding of the Ming Dynasty by Hongping Annie Nie both in English and in Chinese
  • The so-called 'Laud Rutter', which came to the Library with the manuscripts of William Laud in 1639. It is a manual of sea routes with compass bearings, and was probably produced during the 16th century.
  • Another rutter, with much the same content, but written at least a century later. It is appended to a collection of military works (including Sunzi's famous 'Art of war') whose preface is dated 1675.

Academic Symposium

An international academic symposium will be held by the Hong Kong Maritime Museum 7-8 June 2014 to discuss the latest research into this important period in Chinese maritime history, followed by the publication of the symposium proceedings at the end of 2014.

Public Lectures

A series of public lectures will be arranged during the exhibition period. The first lecture in the series is ‘The Selden Map: Reinterpreting China’s relationship with the world’, presented by Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian and Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Director of the Oxford China Centre.

Back to top