Did the Chinese discover America?

It could well be. I wouldn’t be at all surprised, considering how magnificent their culture and intellect were, not to mention their skills in shipping and exploration, before they decided to look inward. So what happened?

The Discussion: 26 Comments

So now we can look forward to lectures about how “America province” is forever a part of the Motherland and how all this talk about independence is destabilizing, and probably the fault of the Japanese?

January 14, 2006 @ 10:28 am | Comment

Boo, I was thinking the same thing. How long until China comes to liberate the US and reunify it with the Mainland.

January 14, 2006 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

I feel sure that in the hypothetical described above, whites would be repatriated to Europe, blacks to Africa, and hispanics to Central or South America.

Stuart.

January 14, 2006 @ 12:39 pm | Comment

Ahem. The Chinese did not discover America any more than the Europeans. The Americas had already been populated for tens of thousands of years by early migrants from Siberia.

January 14, 2006 @ 1:45 pm | Comment

Menzies has come in for a lot of criticism for the 1421 book, so I’m not too sure about the whole thing.

Has anyone noticed that a lot of rivers have been drawn on that map? Are they supposed to be real? If so doesn’t that make it very unlikely that the map is real?

January 14, 2006 @ 2:49 pm | Comment

Menzies was discredited widely by academics everywhere, including those of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

January 14, 2006 @ 4:55 pm | Comment

There are several threads on H-Asia about this book and everyone agrees that Menzies’ book is bullshit. Menzies’ work is utter bullshit. The map in question dates from 1763, and purports to be a copy of a 1418 map. We have only the cartographer’s word for it that he copied a 1418 map for the data.

Nonsense! The cartographer is lying, and Menzies is making money off the gullible.

Michael

January 14, 2006 @ 5:29 pm | Comment

schtickyrice and Michael are right. No professional historian takes the book remotely seriously.

The only one who actually thinks it’s even worth time debunking is Robert Finlay in the Journal of World History: “How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America”, http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jwh/15.2/finlay.html

Here’s one typical paragraph:

“Menzies flouts the basic rules of both historical study and elementary logic. He misrepresents the scholarship of others, and he frequently fails to cite those from whom he borrows.1 He misconstrues Chinese imperial policy, especially as seen in the expeditions of Zheng He, and his extensive discussion of Western cartography reads like a parody of scholarship. His allegations regarding Nicolรฒ di Conti (c. 1385โ€“1469), the only figure in 1421 who links the Ming voyages with European events, are the stuff of historical fiction, the product of an obstinate misrepresentation of sources. The author’s misunderstanding of the technology of Zheng He’s ships impels him to depict voyages no captain would attempt and no mariner could survive, including a 4,000-mile excursion along the Arctic circle and circumnavigation of the Pacific after having already sailed more than 42,000 miles from China to West Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines (pp. 199โ€“209, 311).”

January 14, 2006 @ 8:56 pm | Comment

I dunno – if the BBC says it, that’s good enough for me.

(Kidding.)

January 15, 2006 @ 12:09 am | Comment

I bought that book thinking I could read it on the plane, and forgot it at home!
I think it’s very probable that China ‘discovered’ America before or around the same time as Columbus ‘discovered’ America. China probably came to the west coast though, so they could have been there at the same time and never have known it. Menzies points out what he calls ancient Chinese ruins on the east coast, but I think it rather unlikely that they made it over there. I mean, look how long it took for Europeans to get to the west coast.
Either way it’s fairly clear that the Native Americans came from Asia, and by China’s definition all of Asia is it’s property, so I guess if you look at it that way China did discover America first.
This also helps me with my Taiwanese independence argument. I like to compare Taiwan/America to China/England(Europe). America used to be Europe, but now it’s not. Taiwan used China, but now it’s not. If America used to be China, but now it’s not, then it only helps Taiwan if you follow that line of thinking. ๐Ÿ™‚

January 15, 2006 @ 1:28 am | Comment

Yes, I follow your line of thinking! But trust me, Hu Jintao will not.

January 15, 2006 @ 1:41 am | Comment

First, Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Europe.
Then, the Great Wall is visible from the Moon.
Now, America was first discovered by the Ming fleet.
What next? Jesus spoke Chinese?

January 15, 2006 @ 2:57 am | Comment

At least they had the good grace to leave you with a seat for taking a dump and an inclination towards oral hygiene.

Stuart.

January 15, 2006 @ 3:55 am | Comment

Menzies’ book deserves a place on every library’s shelf …

… right alongside Charles Berlitz’ “The Bermuda Triangle” and Erik von Daniken’s “Ancient Astronauts” (about how space aliens helped the Aztecs, etc).

I only hope that Menzies’ laughable claims don’t tarnish the amazing historic achievements of Zheng He and all the Ming Chinese engineers, shipbuilders, navigators and sailors who designed, built and manned the amazing Treasure Fleet.

Anyone interested in the Treasure Fleet should skip Menzies’ fantasies and instead pick up Louise Levathes’ engaging and carefully-researched “When China Ruled the Seas”.

January 16, 2006 @ 12:26 am | Comment

Menses book falls under the category of pseudo-history because it tortuously twists facts into a suppositional argument that betrays logic. The issue has nothing to do with the Chinese potentiality for making the travel, the point is that Chinese historians themsleves find no rationale for Zheng making such an expansive world tour (in addition to it not having been completed).

If Menses had focused on Zheng He’s travels to Africa (an amazing feat in itself), discussed the importance of the trade between Arabs, Indians, and Chinese, then he would have illuminated a fascinating historical topic to those of us in the West. From this, he might have framed a supposition that some one may have traveled West.

However, to claim that Zheng He arrived in the America’s in 1421 does a disservice to the credibility of historiography (particularly to Chinese scholars) and is even more incredulous then the old arguments that the phoenicians must have traveled to Central America because of the existance of pyramids in meso-america.

The present discussion of a 1418 map seems to only muddy the suppositional issue. If the great Zheng He discovered the America’s in 1421, then how could he have made such a detailed map in 1418. If he didn’t, then who did? This in turn calls upon historians to uncover who was greater than Zheng He.

How could Chinese scholars have missed all this? How could such detailed geographic knowledge simply disappear but then reappear as a copy in 1763? If the copy is real, the knowledge must have been evident in another source: where are these other sources?

January 17, 2006 @ 7:20 am | Comment

Given how thoroughly discredited Menzies’ arguments have been, I find it a little depressing that he has managed to garner such a tremendous amount of publicity (and in turn managed to sell loads of copies of his illogical, poorly researched book.) Further proof that in the realm of popular history a sexy idea sells better than a realistic one.

January 17, 2006 @ 8:46 am | Comment

I agree Liu. Mr. Menses has the right to put to paper what he wants, but to call his theories historical proof really stretches the imagination and ignores the importance of evidence and methodology.

His central position and approach recalls the blurred telescopic conclusions drawn by those who claimed that the face on Mars was proof that aliens once resided on that planet. These books also sold plenty and are appealing to those not interested in appreciating the complexty of true scientific scholarship.

What is important here, is the supposed 1763 map (a copy of 1418) appears to be more of a European design from that of the late 17th century. Two points that stand-out are the fact that this cannot be a 14th century Chinese design which appear quite different in method. Second, the error of California being seperated was distinct to many British and Dutch designers of the same period.

Mr. Menses has anticipated this argument and has recently contended that the “Europeans ” actually copied this 1763 map. However, many Spanish and Portuguese maps of the late 16th century show California in its proper place. So, I am wondering how and why some mapmakers of the 17th-18th century would have used an outdated Chinese map and not a more reliable and up to date Spanish map.

While I am not an expert in cartography, I would wager that if this is a true dated map (1763), then it is copied from European designs (more readily available in China at that time) and perhaps someone added the 1418 date recently to give credence to these “new discovery” theories. Or, it is a total fake, and I am sure that it will be analyzed as such by the experts.

If it is true, what we are looking at is a copy of a 1418 map that applied advanced cartographic methods that some how leaped into Europe in the 17th century. In addition, it would mean that surveys and travels must have been going on a hundred years or more before 1418 as this map could not have been done on one single voyage.

If the above is true, then I am wondering why the Admiral Zheng had such a difficulty ascertaining support, funding, and legitimization for his voyages.

January 17, 2006 @ 5:40 pm | Comment

H-Asia just saw posted a great takedown of this map. I’ve reproduced it on my blog:

Michael

January 17, 2006 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

Don’t links work? Here’s the link from my blog:

1421

Michael

January 17, 2006 @ 7:28 pm | Comment

Thanks Michael!

The material in this site substantiated my suspicions, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

Dr. Gong clearly highlights the most obvious problems with the 1763 map, but it appears that Mr. Mensies remains obstinate in trying to defend this “find” as proof of his theories.

January 18, 2006 @ 5:15 am | Comment

I have new up dates at that link, to a genuine map from the period, and a new letter that shows that the map is not an 18th century lie but a 21st century fake.

Michael

January 18, 2006 @ 4:15 pm | Comment

Michael,

Again you provide excellent sources from Mr. Wade and Dr. Pang that directly address the issue of this fraud.

Personally, I wanted to wait until the Chinese looked at the details before condemning this map as a modern fraud, though I was very suspicious. The fact that some of the Chinese characters (not to mention anchronistic phraseology) reflect modern error and ignorance of past usage clearly shuts the door on this issue .

In addition, I am in absolute concurrence with points 6, 7, and 8 of Dr. Pang’s rationale. 1) the map does not in anyway represent 14th century Chinese mapping techniques (compare this supposed 1763 map with the 1780 Jingban Tianwen Quantu map).

2) Admiral Zheng He was not motivated to circumnavigate the globe and nowhere is it stated as such.

3) Even Mensies argued that Zheng commenced his voayges in 1421 and there was simply no way that he could have completed a full mapping of the globe in one or two voyages (even splitting the fleet) with the comtemporaneous technology and huge ships).

4) Assuming, the map was completed by 1418 would have taken several generations of soujourners and mapmakers (with advanced knowledge).

The riches and knowledge would then have been well entrenched in at least several generations of intellectual circles, in turn driving new motivations for travel (what happened to all this knowledge). This simply did not occur.

While I am not interested in destroying Mr. Mensies creative mind, or in discouraging people from seeking answers to some of our past puzzles, I am concerned with the misuse of the historical method by those not trained in historical methodology.

January 18, 2006 @ 6:52 pm | Comment

I have a few posts on this subject, which I welcome all to read and comment on.
Link 1
Link 2

January 19, 2006 @ 12:01 am | Comment

All you detractors. How ignorant you are. Have you not read the definitive research on this?

Check out:

http://www.1421heresy.com

January 19, 2006 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

Thanks Steve,

The links you provided appear to slam the door on this fraud. However, like the Shroud of Turin there will be many who simply refuse to accept the evidence but would rather spend time on pressing twisted half-truths.

Dr. Wade (along with many Chinese scholars) does not an excellent service to all of us interested in historical veracity. It is becoming apparent that such frauds fit into the anti-intellectual movement now targeting historians (as with science and evolution)

I have recently checked out the new site promoting Mr. Andro Anatole’s book (1421: The Heresy, Sept. 2005, AuthorHouse). While I have yet to read his book, I know I can wait until it is on sale at a dusty book mart for $1.00.

The pathetic thesis in Mr. Anatole’s book, a self-proclaimed writer and expert in a wide number of fields (yet I could find no other writings by him), rests on a conspiratorial theory directed at world historians who, he claims, have deliberately omitted the real truth behind China’s circumnavigation in 1421. Like the X-Files, the truth is out there.

Again, this latter book does not match the “supposed” copy and construction of a 1418 map, nor the fact that the Vikings had already arrived in the Americas circa 1000, but again who cares about dates and prior events when you can rely on the non-historian to present the truth (ie, most historians are pledged to distorting the truth).

January 19, 2006 @ 7:22 pm | Comment

what?

February 2, 2006 @ 3:44 pm | Comment

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