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GONZALEZ DE MENDOZA Juan Histoire du grand royaume de la Chine, situé aux Indes orientales, divisée en deux parties : Contenant la première la situation, antiquité fertilité… dudit royaume. Et en la seconde, trois voyages faits vers iceluy en l’an 1577, 1579 & 1581 avec les singularitez plus remarquables y veues & entendues ; ensemble un itinéraire du nouveau monde & le découvrement du nouveau Mexique en 1583.


Paris, Nicolas du Fossé, 1589

Stout 8vo (174 x 107 mm) 12 nn.ll., 112, 323 num.ll., 25 nn.ll. (24 index and 1 errata). Contemporary vellum, flat spine with manuscript title, no ties.


1 in stock

Alden & Landis, 589/28 ; Brunet, II, 1662; Cordier, Sinica, 13 ; voir Löwendahl, 26 ; Palau, 105509 ; Sabin, 27780 ; Lust, Index Sinicus, 23 ; Western Travellers in China : Discovering the Middle Kingdom, no. 10 ; G. F. Hudson, Europe and China, p. 242 ; D. F. Lach, Asia and the Making of Europe, I, 330 ; C. R. Boxer, South China in the Sixteenth Century, XVII.

First French translation by Luc de La Porte of the first description of China by a Westerner since Marco Polo. New edition, entirely reprinted, it follows the original 1588 translation letter by letter, including the foliation errors.

The groundbreaking treatise on China by the Spanish Augustinian Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza (1545-1618) is considered “the most comprehensive and popular book on Ming China to appear in Europe” (Lach, I.ii, p. 330). Although substantially based on Cruz’s earlier book on China, it became “one of the outstanding bestsellers of the sixteenth century … It is probably no exaggeration to say that Mendoza’s book had been read by the majority of educated Europeans by the beginning of the seventeenth century. Its influence was naturally enormous, and it is not surprising to find that men like [Michel de Montaigne,] Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh derived their notions of China and the Chinese mainly, if not exclusively, from this work. Even travelers who had visited Asia, such as Jan Huighen van Linschoten, relied mainly on Mendoza’s Historia for their accounts of China…” (Boxer, xvii). 

Mendoza led a mission to China in 1580 on behalf of King Philip II of Spain. The embassy landed in Vera Cruz, Mexico, in the summer of 1581, but due to political instability in the Philippines, the group went no further. Mendoza returned to Spain in 1583 and went to Rome, where Gregory XIII commissioned him to write, in the words of a contemporary reader, “a history of things known about the kingdom of China” (Lach, I.ii, p. 473). Originally written in Spanish, Mendoza’s treatise was first published in Rome in 1585, and was soon widely translated and reprinted.

The first part of the History describes China’s geographical boundaries, natural products, religious beliefs and ceremonies, political structures, education and maritime activities. A section on language contains, according to Brunet, the first published examples of Chinese characters in a Western book (f. 75). The second part covers the approach to China from the Philippines, reporting on the activities of missionaries (in 1577, 1579 and 1581) on the mainland and in the islands.

The final part deals with Martin Ignacio’s voyage (c. 1550-1606) from Spain to China via the Canary Islands, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Mexico, the Ladrones and the Philippines. The present French edition also contains a great deal of information – prominently announced on the title page of the book – about Antonio de Espejo’s famous expedition to New Mexico in 1583, information that does not appear in all the first editions of Gonzalez de Mendoza’s work. Gonzalez de Mendoza went on to become Bishop of Lipari (1593), Chiapas (1607) and Popayán (1608). The translator of this first French edition, the Parisian jurist Luc de la Porte, also translated the Letters of the future Saint Juan de Ávila (1499-1569) (Paris, Fizelier, 1588) and Horace’s Œuvres poétiques (Paris, Fizelier, 1588). Michel de Montaigne seems to have read Mendoza in this translation by Luc de la Porte: in 1588, the philosopher added to his Essais a passage on the extreme antiquity of Chinese innovation (“Des coches”), scolding Europeans for being so late in their (supposed) invention of artillery and printing (see Pinot, p. 194).

A very fine copy, well preserved in its original binding.

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