“Next unto this, is found the great China, whose kyng is thought to bee the greatest prince in the worlde, and is named Santoa Raia.” And thus the word “China” entered the English language.
Readers of Richard Eden’s The Decades of the Newe Worlde would further learn, through information that had come from “a Moore that was in the Islande of Timor” that “the sayde kynge hathe threescore and tenne crowned kynges under his empyre, and hathe a porte in the sea named Canthan; and two principal cities named Nauchin and Connulaha where he remayneth hym selfe, and hath ever foure of his chiefe princes lying abowt his pallaice on every syde, towards the Easte, Weste, Northe, and South givinge dylygente attendaunce what is doone in everye of theyr quarters.”
Not quite as helpful as a Lonely Planet guide, granted, but this was published in 1555, and was a translation of works written in Latin by Italian historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera (1457-1526), who in turn based his writings, on Spain and its explorers, on primary source documents, including letters sent by Christopher Columbus.
Decades influenced 16th-century European attitudes towards the New World of the Americas, in particular, and Eden (1520-76), employed by the earl of Northumberland to produce publications that would prod Tudor England towards global trade, and thus challenge the Spanish empire, would translate other geographical works, making him something of an olde-worlde Bill Bryson or Michael Palin, albeit without the first-hand experiences.
His translations capture the excitement of the age, as new horizons opened to Europeans. But Decades – which introduced readers to the Southern Cross constellation as well as China – also tells us much about how explorers and colonisers treated the people they encountered, describing tribes folk as empty vessels waiting to be civilised by the newcomers. The Chinese, though, were held in higher regard: “These people of China are whytte menne, appareled as we are, and eate they meate on tables as wee doo.”
Described as “a great rarity, and one of the high points of sixteenth-century travel literature”, a copy of the book – five have come up at auction over the past 30 years – will be displayed (and can be yours for about US$225,000) by Douglas Stewart Fine Books at China in Print, Asia’s leading international fair and exhibition for rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs and ephemera, which runs for three days from November 30, at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, in Central. Admission is free of charge. Visit chinainprint.com for more information.
And who exactly was that Ming-dynasty “kyng” Santoa Raia?
Sorrye, he remayneth a mysterye.