D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi

Northwest Rectangle

                                                     Northwest Rectangle  


Fresco of ploughing at Dunhuang Grottoes, Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581 CE)

The story of Prince Kalyanamitra who was sad to see the plight of his people. In this scene he witnesses ploughing.

First Day Cover of May 21,1988 from collection of D. Carlton Rossi


Tyr, Russia: (特林) Tèlín: Coordinates: 52°56′N 139°46′E

Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal (贝加尔湖) Bèi jiā : Russia: 53° 9′ 24″ N, 107° 23′ 1″ E

Qinghai Lake (青海湖): 37° 0′ 0″ N, 100° 8′ 0″ E

Quanzhou, China (泉州 ) 24° 55′ 0″ N, 118° 35′ 0″ E

One will immediately notice when examining the above meridian co-ordinates that they do not all match up. It is true that there is a consistency across the 53rd line of latitude where the Lake Baikal (Kun) line runs across to Peng through the center of the compass. However. when one follows the longitudinal line from Lake Baikal at 107 degrees it is found that it deviates from the Qinghai Lake coordinates at 100 degrees by seven degrees. This deviation is even more marked when one goes south from Peng at 139 degrees east down to Quanzhou at 118 degrees east. Again, if one runs a latitudinal line from Lake Qinghai at 37 degrees north to the east that it does not match up with Quanzhou at 24 degrees north which is close to the Tropic of Cancer.

There are several minor reasons for the lack of consistency in coordinates. One is that an image on The Selden Map may not be drawn accurately by modern standards. This holds particular significance for Lake Qinghai. The size of the lake has actually shrunk from the time of the Ming Dynasty. On The Selden Map it resembles a gourd. It has one river in the west supplying it.

The second reason leading to an inconsistency of coordinates is that most modern maps use different scaling systems to project lines of latitude and longitude of a globe onto a flat surface. In the seventeenth century it was known that the Earth was round. However, it seems that the Chinese preferred to think of it as flat with respect to map-making.This coincided with their belief of a square earth and round heaven. As an aside, the poet wonders if there is a relationship in scale between the rectangular Selden Map, the mid-size Northwest Rectangle and the smaller set of empty rectangles at the top of The Selden Map.


                                Map by Matteo Ricci  1602

Thirdly, Chinese geographers did not have a precise system of measuring co-ordinates. In 1602, Emperor Wanli asked Mateo Ricci to plot the co-ordinates of five major cities. For our purposes it will be shown that Xian and Beijing are the most relevant in terms of longitude with respect to The Selden Map.

There is a simple explanation though as to why modern, positional co-ordinates differ to a small or large degree from those outlined in the Northwest Rectangle of The Selden Map. The poet did not utilize them in the establishment of the Northwest Rectangle. He relied solely on The Selden Map. In other words, the modern co-ordinates were not applied retroactively, but only consulted subsequently in order to be illustrative for his readers.

Initially, the poet drew his poems. He was able to draw up a set of cardinal directions that went back thousands of years--at least to the time of Huangdi. At the center could be either the emperor in terms of dynastic importance and relations to heaven or the void with respect to a competing religion or philosophy such as Daoism or Buddhism which appeared later.

The poet became aware that Chinese zodiacal animals were evident and comprised a full set of twelve. He then extended this concept to apply to characters from Journey to the West involving four animals and one monk. These again may reflect directions placing Buddhism at the center with its emphasis on the void.

More complex themes of slaying the dragon were introduced in his poetry. These involved archetypes. The western powers such as the Spaniards, and Dutch wanted to slay the dragon by monopolising trade routes and through thorough colonization by recruiting Chinese citizens to inhabit Taiwan and other islands in the South China Sea. The Portuguese found an opening in what is modern day Macao.

With the rediscovery of The Selden Map the emphasis has been placed on the Maritime Silk Road which comprised the East and South China Sea. The South China Sea came to the forefront though because of China's reef enhancement program in this area. As a result, the North and West Seas were neglected.

If the seas are considered as a group of four then one can conceptually integrate the old Silk Roads with the Maritime Silk Roads as undoubtedly happened on a practical and real basis. To a great extent this integration was accomplished through two diametrically opposed systems. Remember that the Emperor's edit forbade travel outside the empire, but at the start of the Tang dynasty the monk Xuangzang left Changan for his journey west. On his return, Xuanzang was welcomed by the same emperor because contacts led to increased trade and expansion of the empire. Buddhists built temples along the Silk Roads. Later, they built temples along the eastern fringe of China bordering the East and South China Seas. The city of Nanjing on the coast became an important Buddhist and trade center.

Ultimately, though, we are talking about directions. With its compass rose The Selden Map is perceived to reinforce the concept of the north-south Maritime Trade route. It is also called the Maritime Silk Road. North-South orientation was important during the latter part of the Ming Dynasty. This explains to some degree why The Selden Map is drawn rectangularly with a vertical orientation.

However, a regular compass has four cardinal directions. The West-East orientation should not be neglected because it was the foundation of the whole trade route system. Heaven and magnetic pole on The Selden Map may have been North, but trade, pilgrimmage and territorial expansion had been Northwest until the Maritime Silk Road supplemented, surpassed and surplanted it. Therefore, the horizontal Northwest Rectangle is a hidden compass on The Selden Map.

The upshot is that if any nation tries to establish supremacy in the South China Sea in terms of trade and territorial expansion then they cannot solely rely on force. It is not enough to express it as a "sacred mission" which really means a nationalistic one. Ultimate success relies on a spiritual element. It establishes trust. Merchants could trust accomodation at Buddhist temples. If it wasn't heaven it was at least a haven. Eventually, many merchants converted to Buddhism and so did the Emperor. A solid expansion of trade and prosperity over a period of centuries was the result.

One can win over the mind and body with propaganda and force respectively, but one cannot elevate the soul or civilization to a higher plane unless one draws on feeling and faith of individuals whether singly or collectively. It is not enough to fill the void simply for the reason that it is not being used. It serves a higher purpose other than utility.

The reader may recall that mention was made of the fifteen degree angle that is projected from the center of the compass rose to the ruler. It pointed to two measurements on either side of what was identified as an infinity symbol. Normally, one would stop at the ruler, but what if those lines were extended?



Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

Before this topic is discussed though the poet will draw a line from the center of the compass rose to the infinity symbol. This line (2) on the map will then be extended. It is curious that the line just bypasses Beijing which is circled in red. Now, the Emperor resides in Beijing. The implication might be that the Emperor approaches infinity, but is tantalizing apart from it. The second line in the middle (1) goes directly to true South and touches the right side of Beijing on the small scale of this illustration. The third line on the left (4) touches the left side of Beijing if the lines are drawn correctly.

The Ming emperor's presence is tangible as seen from the outline in yellow. Beijing is found in the emperor's hat which flies with two wings. He controls the wind through breath or qi coming out of his mouth to the province of Shaanxi. The area below the image may be construed as the Yellow Emperor's robe which is shaped like a bell. His role is to strike the right tone or kung. For all intents and purposes the emperor is China.



Courtesy of the Bodleian Library

Attention will now be focused on the right side (3) of the fifteen degree angle which goes through the ruler. With respect to the ruler the reader will notice that it meets the eastern boundary of the four seas, Northwest Rectangle. That eastern boundary runs South to Taiwan where the East China Sea meets the South China Sea. It may be significant that when the right side (3) of the angle is fully extended it meets a right angle at Taiwan. Before it does so, though, it must pass through Quanzhou. On the other hand Line 2 goes through the infinity symbol down to Guangzhou which is just outside of the rectangle. Line 4 appears not to meet anything significant in the rectangle. However if extended a great distance it passes Hue and much further on the city of Palembang as illustrated on Batchelor's Selden Map rediscovered.

The poet believes that there may be more to the highlighting of Taiwan than meets the eye other than Jade Mountain or a point where the seas meet. There appears to be an image of an Arab with traditional headscarf. In all probability others have noticed the image because it is prominent on the Bodleian site; although, it is not identified nor commented upon. It may have significance though in light of spectroscopic analysis of the watercolour painting which suggests that "Overall the binding medium and pigment use appear to be more consistent with a Persian or Indo-Persian tradition than that of Chinese, Japanese or European in this period." (The Origins of the Selden Map of China)


                                     Taiwan as an Arab

The poet is not suggesting the cartographer/painter or trader comes from Taiwan. Rather, the poet employs subtlety in his argument. He pays attention to the direction the Arab is facing. His contemplative gaze is directed to Quanzhou (ultimately Mecca). He presumably lives in Quanzhou where he worships, works, trades and has contacts.

D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi


revised February 12, 2018

The Riddle of Xian