Article ID: CBB403328137

Historical Chinese efforts to determine longitude at sea (2022)


High-level Chinese cartographic developments predate European innovations by several centuries. Whereas European cartographic progress -- and in particular the search for a practical solution to the perennial "longitude problem" at sea -- was driven by persistent economic motivations, Chinese mapmaking efforts responded predominantly to administrative, cadastral and topographic needs. Nevertheless, contemporary Chinese scholars and navigators, to some extent aided by experienced Arab navigators and astronomers, developed independent means of longitude determination both on land and at sea, using a combination of astronomical observations and timekeeping devices that continued to operate adequately on pitching and rolling ships. Despite confusing and speculative accounts in the current literature and sometimes overt nationalistic rhetoric, Chinese technical capabilities applied to longitude determination at sea, while different in design from European advances owing to cultural and societal circumstances, were at least on a par with those of their European counterparts.

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Authors & Contributors
Grijs, Richard de
Zhang, Yang
Morfouli, Meropi
Wells, William
Jiajing Zhang
Jacob, Andrew P.
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Sciences
Ziran Kexueshi Yanjiu (Studies in the History of Natural Sciences)
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Mariner's Mirror
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Tinta da China
IOP Publishing Ltd
Presses Universitaires de Rennes
Harper Collins
Longitude and latitude
Nautical astronomy
Instruments, navigational
Maps; atlases
Picard, Jean-Françoise
La Hire, Philippe de
Lacaille, Nicolas Louis de
Galilei, Galileo
Dawes, William
Cook, James
Time Periods
18th century
17th century
19th century
16th century
Qing dynasty (China, 1644-1912)
Ming dynasty (China, 1368-1644)
United States
Beijing (China)
Nanjing (China)
South Africa
Royal Observatory, Cape of Good Hope
National Maritime Museum (Great Britain)

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