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The Kangnido Map


The Kangnido Map of 1402: A Non-Eurocentric Worldview

Many of the early maps we have been discussing were based on the Eurocentric perceptions of the world held by their makers. The Kangnido Map of 1402 provides a different vision of the world, one which is not centered on the Mediterranean Sea or the continent of Europe.

In the annals of cartography, the Honil Gangni Yeokdae Gukdo Ji Do, commonly known as the Kangnido Map, stands as a testament to the sophisticated worldview held outside of Europe prior to the Age of Discovery. Completed in 1402 by Korean scholars Kwon Kun and Yi Hoe during the Joseon Dynasty, the Kangnido Map is not merely a geographical representation, it is a historical narrative that encapsulates the geopolitical and economic prominence of Korea and China of that era. It also depicts the great expanses of water being plied by seagoing merchants of the era in search of new resources and commerce.

Measuring an impressive 220 cm by 280 cm, this paint-on-paper map is one of the earliest surviving maps from East Asia, along with the Chinese Da Ming Hun Yi Tu. It is a cultural treasure reflecting the collective knowledge and perspectives of Korean intellectuals on the global stage in the early 15th century, providing a visual chronicle which is in sharp contrast to the West’s predominant Eurocentric views of the time. 

The Kangnido delineates the Old World from Africa and Europe in the west to Japan in the east, asserting a view that centers on East Asia, a region that was at the forefront of global trade and commerce during this period. Unlike European maps of the same period, which often depicted Jerusalem at the center, the Kangnido Map underscores the significance of Chinese and Korean kingdoms, depicting their role in both the economic and political landscapes of the time.

The Kangnido is the oldest known extant world map of Korean origin, and one of the oldest extant maps focusing primarily on Asia while also depicting other land masses and continents as they were known to its makers. The map is oriented north. Western land masses are depicted as quite small, with Asia depicted as the largest of the continents.

A small Africa is featured, with an exaggeratedly long Arabian Peninsula alongside. The southern tip of Africa is drawn quite accurately and a long river in southeast Africa is thought to be the Orange, in modern-day South Africa. Africa is labeled with some thirty plus place names including Cairo and Mogadishu. Anatolia, Turkestan, Persia, Arabia and Egypt are delineated in some detail.

The Mediterranean is present along with the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb region of northwest Africa. Over 100 toponyms are used in Europe, with Alumangia (Latin Alemania) denoting Germany. Later extant copies of the map show that they were updated frequently with results of land surveys along with information from maps of foreign origin. 

The Kangnido Map had been drawn before Bartolomeu Dias rounded the tip of southern Africa in 1488, before the voyages of European navigators and merchants reestablished commerce with the Orient by sea routes such as the Roman Empire had enjoyed for nearly 700 years. The sea routes and knowledge of the Romans would not have disappeared in the East with the sudden collapse of the centuries-long maritime trade when Egypt and its Red Sea port was lost to Arabic invaders. Indeed the extent of Roman Indian Ocean trade is no doubt reflected in many of the details of this map. Another seven centuries would pass before Europeans, cut off from land routes to the East by the Ottomans, would again set sail to India - ushering in the European Age of Discovery. 

The map depicts a connected world where well-established networks of trade routes crisscrossed great expanses of water and known lands. It features new port cities and urban centers which resulted from this ongoing maritime commerce. These networks flourished not only on the exchange of material goods such as silk, spices and ceramics, but also on the exchange of ideas, including scientific, religious, cultural and philosophical interactions.

A remarkable achievement of its time, the map offers a glimpse into the part of the world where Asian dynasties reigned supreme, before Europe was to rise as a colonial power. It challenges conventional narratives of history and geography that have long been taught solely from a Western perspective. The Kangnido Map is both a cartographic creation and a scholarly work featuring an Eastern world perspective rather than Western centrality, demonstrating that the world was interconnected long before the term 'globalization' found its place in our lexicon.

 Western portion of the Kangnido Map

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