Before discovery of a new sea route, Europeans had never drawn a map of China alone. Europeans drew many "maps of world" during classical era and during Middle Ages. The scale of these maps is mostly limited to Europe, North Africa and Asia, which is geographic range people understand in Asia and Europe. "China" on these maps is at easternmost point, and outline is very abstract, showing that Europeans were relatively unfamiliar with China at time.
Early map of world (restored version)
After discovery of a new sea route, Europe entered era of great navigation. More and more coastlines were explored, more and more land was discovered. As a result, scope of world map began to expand, and outlines of continents became clear. During 16th century various maps of world were constantly updated. By middle of 16th century, world map looked close to what it is now.
The Europeans did not draw a map of China until 1584, however. This map was drawn by Barbuda in Spain. It's called "The New Map of China". This map is held by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Library. The scale of map roughly includes Yinshan Mountains to north, Japan to east, source of Yellow River to west, and Indochina peninsula to south.
New map of China in 1584
Why were Spaniards able to draw a map of China at that time? First of all, it was development of Far East by Europeans, which deepened their understanding of coastline of Far East. As early as 1511, Portugal destroyed Kingdom of Malacca and has since monopolized trade between East and West. After that, Spain came to Far East. After decades of trading, Europeans explored Asia's coastline.
Secondly, a large number of missionaries arrived in China, and their activities in interior of China increased European understanding of China's interior. They also collected several Chinese books and introduced them to West, which contributed to development of Western Sinology. And maps drawn by Ming Dynasty will inevitably be collected by them and then distributed throughout Europe. In 1573, "Picture of Ancient and Modern Xingsheng" painted by Ming Dynasty was brought to Philippines (a Spanish colony).
Ancient and Modern Map: The first map of China's westward expansion
In 1574, Spanish monk Guido de Lavolaz, with help of Chinese translators, translated place names from a map into Spanish. In addition, he also noted names and numbers of Ming Dynasty's administrative institutions on earth, and introduced Chinese world concept and Chinese products.
In July 1574, second governor of Spain in Philippines, Guido Ravi Charles, dedicated this map to King Philip II of Spain, and this map became earliest map of China in Europe. Thanks to great geographical discoveries of Age of Discovery, Spain became center of European sinology, and this map has also become an important object of Spanish studies. In 1588, Spaniard Doza wrote The History of Great Chinese Empire.
Part of map of Indochina Peninsula is already very accurate
The "New Map of China" drawn by Spaniards is largely borrowed from "Map of Ancient and Modern Forms and Victory". We compared coastlines on two maps and found that Spanish used latest geographic knowledge to update outline of Indochina peninsula, but mainland China coastline collapse basically continued outline of "Ancient and Modern Xingsheng Map". . At that time, Spaniards were already on wane, and Dutch commercial dominance in Far East was just beginning. Thus Spain's depiction of outline of mainland China at time was not as accurate as map of world drawn by Dutch at same time.
For example, there are three large islands in East China Sea, two of which are marked as "Lekeyo", that is, Ryukyu. Confusion of knowledge of archipelago. People during Ming Dynasty believed that island of Taiwan was Little Liuqiu, and Ryukyu Islands were Great Liuqiu, but in fact, island of Taiwan was larger.
Ryukyu and Taiwan
The inside of map basically continues drawing method of Ancient and Modern Xingsheng Map, and some of lakes are enlarged, which is greatly exaggerated. As for source of Yellow River, it extends all way to northwest, and there is a lake there, which must be Lob-Nur. The ancient Chinese believed that Yellow River originated from Lop Nur in Western Regions, so in picture, Yellow River flows out of Lop Nur. At southern source of Yellow River, another large lake was noted. Half of ancient maps of Ming Dynasty are labeled "Shinshu Sea". It is a lake that has been recognized as source of Yellow River since Sui and Tang Dynasties. However, Qinghai Lake never appeared on a Ming Dynasty map, so there is no Qinghai Lake on map.
Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake
Source of Yellow River
While there is still a large gap in map's representation of China's interior, it is, after all, all of China's interior that Europeans could understand at time. For some time after that, Europeans drew maps of China based on this map, and even outlines of China in Kunyu Wangguo Quantu are also borrowed from this map. "Complete Map of China" and "Map of Ancient and Modern Forms" are models for exchange of geographical knowledge between China and West in era of great navigation.
In 2017, after appeal of Xiamen Haicang and thanks to efforts of many departments, film crew of key Spanish TV documentary "Zhou Qiyuan" entered General Archives of the Spanish West Indies for an interview and obtained "Images of Ancient and Modern Forms". High definition electronic version (Jinsha Academy volume). After 462 years, this map has finally returned to its hometown in a genuine, high-resolution version.