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

by Timothy Brook

eBooks of the Month History

Mr Selden's Map of China The Spice Trade, a Lost Chart & the South China Sea Synopsis

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.

Mr Selden's Map of China The Spice Trade, a Lost Chart & the South China Sea Press Reviews

'The quest is fascinating and picaresque, a sort of cartographical Tristram Shandy with a sure-handed narrator steering us from Ming dynasty China to pre-Civil War Oxford to the Spice Islands of South-East Asia.' -- Rana Mitter Sunday Telegraph


'The great charm of this book lies not only in its illustrative, erudite detail but in the serendipity that regularly seizes Brook and adds spice to a spellbinding story.' -- Iain Finlayson The Times


'A fascinating look at the story behind the map.' -- Sally Newall The Independent


'Mr Selden's Map of China is a picaresque journey, laced with asides, yet each digression contains a jewel of insight... Alternating between early modern and modern history, England and China, biography, science and culture, Brook holds us spellbound, just as he did in his earlier compelling series of interwoven tales of China and the west, Vermeer's Hat (2008).. Brook has brought an entire, largely unknown, set of cross-cultural exchanges vividly to life.' -- Lisa Jardine Financial Times

If you loved this, you might like these...

Letters from Alice
Travellers in the Third Reich
Our Uninvited Guests
Heretics and Believers A History of the English Reformation

All versions of this book

ISBN: 9781781250396
Publication date: 05/02/2015
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Format: Paperback

Book Information

ISBN: 9781781250396
Publication date: 5th February 2015
Author: Timothy Brook
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 256 pages
Genres: eBook Favourites, History,
Categories: Historical geography, Asian history,

About Timothy Brook

Timothy Brook was Shaw Professor of Chinese at Oxford when he first saw the Selden Map, and is now professor of history at the University of British Columbia. The author of eight books on Chinese history, his most widely read book is Vermeer's Hat [9781846681127].

More About Timothy Brook

Share this book