Event Detail


Tartary from Marco Polo to the Enlightenment: Guided Map Exhibition Tour at HKUST

Julian Stargardt & Marco Caboara
Friday, 31 Mar 2023
The Hong Kong Chiu Chow Chamber of Commerce Ko Pui Shuen Gallery of HKUST

Julian Stargardt, RGS-HK Honorary Secretary, leads a tour of this fine exhibition of rare maps from the Library Special Collections, including the rare opportunity to see maps not on public display.  These maps offer stunning visions of China and Central Asia as it evolved over three hundred years of European cartography, from the 15th to 18th centuries, from maps based more on fantasy than fact with fabulous monsters, to maps so precise they can be hardly improved upon by modern GIS. 

When Marco Polo and other medieval European travellers went to China, they relied on the received knowledge of travellers and old reports from antiquity. In the 13th and 14th centuries the Silk Road was controlled by the Mongols. When Mongol control of China collapsed in the late 1300s the Silk Road trade to Western Europe diminished and less new information about China reached Europe for centuries. Some of Europe’s oldest printed maps, dating from the early 1500s show “Tartary”, being Central Asia and Northern China, inhabited by monsters and with Kublai Khan still in command.

The first Portuguese travellers came to southern China by sea in the 1510s, and gathered information, but it took Europeans several more decades to draw maps that resembled China’s real shape and names. At the eastern and northern borders of European maps of China, though, the names from antiquity and from Marco Polo were still used for centuries.

In the 1700s, with a new scientific approach to exploration and the freer circulation of knowledge, the Kangxi Emperor ordered a detailed survey of his empire, helped by Jesuit scientists, who covertly sent the resulting maps back to Europe, resulting in a large Atlas of “Greater China”. Thus, the “modern” era of western mapping of China was born.

Julian Stargardt is originally from Australia and was educated in the United Kingdom. He read Law at the University of Kent. Julian is a Senior Research Associate of the University of Sussex Centre for World Environmental History. Before settling in Hong Kong over 28 years ago, Julian held positions with Cambridge University's Scott Polar Research Institute and the United Nations. He is a published author on geography, history, economics and law. Julian played an important role in the preparation of “Regnum Chinae” a recently published authoritative scholarly work on early European maps of China by HKUST's Dr Marco Caboara.

Julian is well known for his work in dispute resolution, both arbitration and mediation. He helped write the HKIAC Mediation Rules, and he was involved in the preparatory work for the current Companies Ordinance. He advises on economic, social, political, legal, security and climate risk and has participated in the COP series of UN world environmental conferences. He is a Life Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Members of the RGS, their guests and others are most welcome to attend this event, which is HK$200 for RGS Members and HK$300 for guests and others. Return transport by minibus or 7-seaters from Central is included for an additional $150.

The opinions expressed in this event are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of the Royal Geographical Society - Hong Kong.

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