In 1602 the Jesuit Matteo Ricci created a map of the world and presented it to the Chinese emperor. It was the first world map to combine the geographic knowledge of the west and east. It is now on display the Library of Congress. Go here for a Times review of the exhibition. A scalable version of the map is online at the Tohoku University Library in Japan.
Ricci was the first westerner admitted to the emperor’s court. He introduced European learning to China–along with the Christian religion. He had enormous respect for the culture of his hosts. He mastered the Chinese language and became proficient in Chinese literature, philosophy, and religion. His map placed China in the center of the world with Europe on the periphery. But Ricci subtly portrayed Italy and China as parallel superior cultures.