A Moment of Humility

I just finished reading Small Sea Travel Diaries which is an English translation of Yu Yonghe’s journal and essays from his trip to Taiwan in the 17th century by Macabe Keliher. It’s a quick read and different parts of the book will be interesting to different readers. Some of my favorite parts of the book were to be found in the appendixes following the main journal entries. At one point, for example, the author displays an interesting sense of humility about what is traditionally thought of as the Middle kingdom.

The place we all live we call the great Zhonghua Kingdom [中華大國]. But people have never seen big [大], still they just say “big.” We do not know if this “big” has any proof, and we are not really in the middle. The body of the sky is round, and people within the universe all wear the sky on their head while their feet walk on the land. How can we not be in the middle? If we insist on being in the middle of heaven and earth, then we can only be standing under the North Star. This point is like the axle of the wheel, like the navel of a grinding wheel, like the heart of a person; these points can just about serve [as the center]. The heavens pivot is to the north of the northern desert, far away from the prints of Yu.

China’s area is vast, but if considering it from the heavens pivot, it lies to the southeast, and everything further southeast is all ocean…1

  1. Yu, Yonghe, trans. Macabe Keliher Small Sea Travel Diaries (2004) SMC publishing, Taipei, 2004, 203.  

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