Did the Chinese arrive before Tasman in 1602

Did the Chinese arrive before Tasman in 1602

The annals of exploration are replete with stories of discovery and conquest, of intrepid explorers daring to venture into the unknown. One such narrative that has ignited both interest and debate is the proposition that Chinese explorers may have mapped New Zealand before the arrival of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. While this theory is not universally accepted, it offers a fascinating alternative viewpoint on the history of exploration.

The Accepted Account

According to the widely accepted account, the first Europeans to sail past but on set foot on Aotearoa New Zealand were the members of Abel Tasman’s Dutch expedition in 1642. This voyage marked the inaugural appearance of New Zealand on a global map. Approximately 130 years later, English navigator James Cook circumnavigated New Zealand, producing the first comprehensive map of its coastlines.

The Chinese Exploration Hypothesis

In contrast to the conventional narrative, a number of researchers suggest that Chinese explorers might have arrived in New Zealand before Tasman. This hypothesis primarily hinges on the analysis of the Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (KWQ), the first world map published in the Chinese language in 1602.

In her book, “Chinese Global Exploration in the Pre-Columbian Era: Evidence from an Ancient World Map,” Sheng-Wei Wang posits that the KWQ was derived from Chinese maps crafted by explorers from the Ming dynasty, specifically the “Treasure Fleet” commanded by Admiral Zheng He. Wang’s analysis implies that Chinese seafarers might have explored Australia, New Zealand, and potentially even Antarctica by the 1420s, well before their European counterparts.

Kunyu Wanguo Quantu
Kunyu Wanguo Quantu

Controversies and Debates

While the Chinese exploration hypothesis offers an alternative viewpoint, it’s crucial to note that it lacks widespread acceptance among historians. There is no solid evidence suggesting that the Chinese reached New Zealand before Tasman. Critics contend that these claims often rely on incomplete information and speculative interpretations. Although Tasman’s records of sighting Aotearoa New Zealand are not conclusive either as he never set foot on land.


The history of exploration is a complex weave of narratives, discoveries, and debates. The theory that Chinese explorers mapped New Zealand before Tasman provides an intriguing perspective, yet it remains a subject of ongoing research and discussion. As historians continue to probe the past, our comprehension of these early voyages of discovery may continue to develop.

Does this put the credibility of the name “New Zealand” into jeopardy as Tasman was the 3rd explorer to find Aotearoa New Zealand? Does this give Kuramārōtini the naming rights to the entire archipelago over and above the cartographer Joan Blaeu.