Skip to comments.Explorer From China Who 'Beat Columbus To America'
Posted on 03/04/2002 3:24:49 PM PST by blam
Explorer from China who 'beat Columbus to America'
By Elizabeth Grice
HISTORY books in 23 countries may need to be rewritten in the light of new evidence that Chinese explorers had discovered most parts of the world by the mid-15th century.
Next week, an amateur historian will expound his theory - backed up by charts, ancient artefacts and anthropological research - that when Columbus discovered America in 1492, he was 72 years too late.
And so were other explorers, such as Cook, Magellan and Da Gama, whose heroic voyages took them to Australia, South America and India.
Instead, according to Gavin Menzies, a former submarine commanding officer who has spent 14 years charting the movements of a Chinese expeditionary fleet between 1421 and 1423, the eunuch admiral, Zheng He, was there first.
According to Menzies, it was Zheng He, in his colossal multi-masted ships stuffed with treasure, silks and porcelain, who made the first circumnavigation of the world, beating the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan by a century.
Menzies will present his findings at the Royal Geographical Society on March 15 before an invited audience of more than 200 diplomats, academics, naval officers and publishers. Their initial reaction, based on an outline of his thesis, ranges from excitement to scepticism.
But if the number of acceptances - 85 per cent - is anything to go by, he will not be ignored.
He originally intended to write a book about the significance of the year 1421 around the world. While researching it in Venice, he was shown a planisphere, dated 1459, which included southern Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.
Yet the Cape was not "discovered" as a sea route by Vasco da Gama until 1497. On the planisphere was a note in medieval Phoenician about a voyage round the Cape to the Cape Verde Islands in 1420 - and a picture of a Chinese junk.
Menzies felt he was on to something.
Using Chinese star charts and maps that pre-date the expeditions of Cook, Magellan, de Gama and Columbus, he has reconstructed what he believes is the epic voyage of Zheng He.
He says his knowledge of astro-navigation helped him to work out that the Chinese, using the brilliant star Canopus to chart their course, had sailed close to the South Pole.
He determined their latitude and went on to find literary and archaeological evidence to show that the Chinese had effectively circumnavigated the world.
Menzies, 64, admits that his greatest fear was being ridiculed.
He said: "When I started, I was terrified people would think I was a crank. But although my claim is complicated and stands history on its head, I am confident of my ground.
He added: "What nobody has explained is why the European explorers had maps. Who drew the maps? There are millions of square miles of ocean. It required huge fleets to chart them. If you say it wasn't the Chinese, with the biggest fleets and ships in the world, then who was it?"
Admiral Sir John Woodward, who served on submarines with Menzies in the 1960s and will be at his lecture, describes him as a brilliant maverick.
He said: "I was his teacher on a commanding officers' qualifying course and he was the cleverest, sharpest and best I had seen. He is not some mad eccentric but a rational man, good at analysis - and he certainly knows all about charts."
Chinese ocean-going supremacy in the first half of the 15th century is not in question.
The expeditionary junks were three times the size of Nelson's Victory and dwarfed the 16th century ocean-going European caravels. Under his patron, the Yong-le Emperor Zhui Di, Zheng He made seven great voyages to bring foreigners into China's tribute system.
When he returned in October 1423, China was in political and economic chaos. The treasure fleet, now considered frivolous, was mothballed, admirals pensioned off and shipyards closed.
Although most of the records of Zheng He's voyage were expunged, a few maps and star charts survived.
Menzies believes they were taken to Venice by a merchant traveller, Nicolo da Conti, who had joined one of the Chinese junks in India. In his travel book published in 1434, da Conti claims to have sailed to China via Australia - 350 years before Captain Cook.
Menzies argues that, on his way through Venice in 1428, the King of Portugal's eldest son obtained the salvaged maps and incorporated them into a map of the world.
The most controversial part of his theory is that copies of parts of this mappa mundi were used by da Gama, Magellan and Cook. Some of these still survive in museums: Patagonia (1513), North America (1507), Africa (1502) and Asia and Australia (1542).
The letters and logs of the European explorers - including Columbus - certainly acknowledge that they had maps, says Menzies. "They knew where they were going before they set out."
Using his knowledge of winds and tides, Menzies has located what he believes are nine Chinese leviathans wrecked in the Caribbean in December 1421.
Pictures of the hull ballast on the seabed show stones identical in shape and size to those found in a Chinese treasure ship recently excavated in the Philippines.
Menzies declines to name the uninhabited island because he believes some of the ships may still contain treasure and he wants to investigate them.
Gillian Hutchinson, curator of the history of cartography at the National Maritime Museum, is not persuaded that there is a provable link between the Chinese maps and those the Europeans used.
She says: "It is possible that Chinese geographical knowledge had reached Europe before the Age of Discovery. But Mr Menzies is absolutely certain of it, and that makes it difficult to separate evidence from wishful thinking."
Diplomats of the countries whose early history may be affected by his thesis are reacting with a surprising degree of warmth.
Gregory Baughen, first secretary at the New Zealand High Commission, says: "It sounds exciting. We're all ears. Chinese artefacts have been found around the coast for some time."
Luis de Sousa, press councillor at the Portuguese Embassy, says: "Magellan is in all the books and his descendants carry his name with -+pride. But if the Chinese circumnavigated the world first, which is quite possible, then let's give them their 15 minutes of limelight."
Zheng He's ship (400ft) compared to Columbus's (85ft).
Might be something to it.
Zheng He (1371-1435), or Cheng Ho, is arguably China's most famous navigator. Starting from the beginning of the 15th Century, he traveled to the West seven times.
For 28 years, he traveled more than 50,000km and visited over 30 countries, including Singapore. Zheng He died in the tenth year of the reign of the Ming emperor Xuande (1435) and was buried in the southern outskirts of Bull's Head Hill (Niushou) in Nanjing.
In 1985, during the 580th anniversary of Zheng He's voyage, his tomb was restored. The new tomb was built on the site of the original tomb and reconstructed according to the customs of Islamic teachings, as Zheng He was a Muslim.
At the entrance to the tomb is a Ming-style structure, which houses the memorial hall. Inside are paintings of the man himself and his navigation maps. To get to the tomb, there are newly laid stone platforms and steps. The stairway consists of 28 stone steps divided into four sections with each section having seven steps. This represents Zheng He's seven journeys to the West. The Arabic words "Allah (God) is great" are inscribed on top of the tomb.
Might be something to it.
George Carter agrees with your friend.
Chinese who could sail around the world could also have sailed up the Mississippi!
But, I digress and leap ahead of my story. The Sioux Indian sign language uses the human body to configure ideographs virtually identical to the Shang Dynasty characters. As late as 1541 people speaking several Sioux dialects lived in the vicinity of Cahokia. Witnesses at Pacaha's Town (Terre Haute, or "quaking earth") report that no one lived in the Great Plains at the time because there were too many buffalo.
OK, now back on track. The Chinese presence at Cahokia is apparant. There is a variety of brown (or river) birch that lives in Southern Indiana. It grows straight with little prompting and does not break up into clumps. People from Korea have reported to me that they have an identical, and very useful, type of brown birch growing in Korea, but all the others break up into clumps, just like here. I have often wondered who brought the seeds for those birch trees to the Ohio Valley.
The Zuni Enigma
Did a group of thirteenth-century Japanese journey to the American Southwest, there to merge with the people, language, and religion of the Zuni tribe?
For many years, anthropologists have understood the Zuni in the American Southwest to occupy a special place in Native American culture and ethnography. Their language, religion, and blood type are startlingly different from all other tribes. Most puzzling, the Zuni appear to have much in common with the people of Japan.
In a book with groundbreaking implications, Dr. Nancy Yaw Davis examines the evidence underscoring the Zuni enigma, and suggests the circumstances that may have led Japanese on a religious quest-searching for the legendary "middle world" of Buddhism-across the Pacific and to the American Southwest more than seven hundred years ago.
Nancy Yaw Davis holds an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Washington. Author of numerous articles, she has long researched the history and cultures of the native peoples of North America. Her company, Cultural Dynamics, is located in Anchorage, Alaska, where she lives.
At L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, are the remains of a 500 year old Viking colony.
Which is also nothing to the point.
Neither venture had any but the most transient effect on history.
What about the Irish, Ogam, petroglyphs found in a cave in West Virginia's, Wyoming County in 1983. These Irish/Runic writings are dated about AD 500 to AD 800. The story of these findings were printed in the State of West (by God) Virginias magazine, "Wonderful West Virginia".
Ancient Irish legends have always told of "St. Brendans Fair Isle", far off to the West.
If you ask me, and I know you aren't, the ChiComs are a bit late in their boast.
Don't ya' know.
Should have said 1,000 year old Viking colony.
The Adena People
The Adena folk were unusually tall and powerfully built; women over six feet tall and men approaching heights of seven feet have been discovered.
It would seem that a band of strikingly different people of great presence and majesty had forced their way into the Ohio Valley from somewhere about 1000 B.C. - Robert Silverberg
Sure! An I'll be drinkin' a pint to the brave Welsh Prince, as well.
(Chinese discover world...what a load o'Commie Cr*p.)
The Chinese fleets and ships mentioned in the article are very impressive, but they are a good example of "prestige politics" rather than serious commercial or scientific exploration. The fleet was sent out to overawe China's neighbors and to extract "tribute" (diplomatic gifts) to "prove" that China was the central kingdom and all other lands were tributaries of the central kingdom.
Naturally, when the Chinese emperor (or rather, the bureaucrats) got tired of financing this boondoggle, that was the end of the fleet. On the other hand, European exploration tended to pay for itself, and opened up new and greater possibilities for trade, conquest, and colonization, thereby forever changing the world and leading to the world we know today.
Had the Chinese fleets never sailed, history as we know it would have hardly been any different.
The Vikings were my first thought as I began to read this article.
Nah...couldn't be. He didn't have the stones for it.
Interesting but whoopdedoo, as far as who got here first. The Phoenicians were here 3000 years before that. Not to mention there were Hebrews here just before Christ in 107 BC.
Now if he could bring them to the surface, then he really got a story.
I've never heard of Medieval Phoenician before and can hardly imagine what it could refer to. Phoenicia, the seagoing empire of Eastern Med coastal cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos with their various colonies, had left the stage before the Roman Empire was an Empire.
There was also a clay tablet found in South America ( can't remember the source ) that had cunieform writing on it.
Lastly, the infamous Piri Reis map, which depicted the Antarctic continent as recently verified by satellite.
As Fluellen says in Henry the Fifth, Act IV, Scene VII, "There is a river in Macedon; and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth...and there is salmons in both." Therefore Alexander the Great visited England?
Yup. But, I'm behind in my reading.
He went a lot of places.
He was a muslim and he is the basis for Sinbad the Sailor.
There is probably a group of people on the east coast of Africa who are descended from a ship wreck of Zheng's fleet.
His accomplishments say a lot about the stupidity of the Chinese emperors since. After his voyages they banned such sea travel and destroyed his ships and any ships that could travel the world.
Check out the story of coins found by pipe diggers 100 feet below the surface in Illinois in 125 million year old clay. Very strange if true.
Think about it. A lot of people never made a report back home. One thing that every explorer who ever did report back home could report the same thing, "We Found People."
So did the American Indians and look what happened to them.
I do wish they would not describe things in that manner, for example, my garden is planted in 1.2 billion year old dirt. (See what I mean) Now, I really do have some 7,000 year old wood.
There's another one I haven't read: The Classic of Mountains and Seas by Anne Birrell.
Plus, there's another book written by a Chinese missionary who documents a lot of it. I can't remember his name - my son in Maine has the book.
That's why I find it so amusing when people say the Olmnec heads are negroid. As far as I am concerned, they have Asian features.
Very often the researches of educated amateurs uncover more information and understanding than the work of specialists limited by unproved theories that have hardened into 'fact.' For instance, Henrietta Mertz' little-known but perceptive book Pale Ink examines texts of some ancient Chinese voyagers, and by careful analysis shows them to provide exact descriptions of the topography of western America, especially California and Mexico. She identifies Quetzalcoatl with one of the early navigators.
These Chinese writings are the precis of previously condensed versions of yet earlier works written by the very persons who set sail in various expeditions -- from hundreds of years B.C. to the early centuries A.D. -- and reached the Pacific shores of the Americas. The original accounts have disappeared because every now and then the Emperors of China would order a drastic reduction of the vast accumulation of literature. Those items worth preserving were reduced to the bare essentials; in the process the genuine travelogs were so constricted that the meaning was lost to later generations who assumed that the reports of unfamiliar landscapes and strange peoples were mere fables, figments of someone's imagination.