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."
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.
Zheng sailed west and definitely was in Arab world and E Africa, but no evidence he ever entered the Atlantic or Mediterranean. Or sailed East, across Pacific to America.
And Columbus' last European port was Galway, Ireland where he picked up an Irish navigator who had already been to the "New World". The Irishman turned out to have been the first one to reach and step on the shore with the landing party.
And, I don't want to hear that he was just looking for a pub!
Back to the topic, I know all that stuff about the Chinaman is true because I saw it in the Prince Valiant comic strip a year or two ago.
I didn't know Zheng He was a commie back in 14th century. Thanks for the scoop.
In brief, they are different than other brown birches - a lot different!
Maybe I'm making a mistake. I just made that assumption. It may still be the Club Med? Do you know for sure? It's been a while since I've been down there.
Good morning JudyB. This is Luzia, the oldest dated (11,500 years old) human skeleton ever found in the Americas (Brazil). Now, there is a new one Arlington Springs Woman (Santa Rosa Island, Calif.) who has tenetively been dated at 13,000 years old who may take the top slot as earliest 'in the Americas' shortly. (I don't see any Asian features on Luzia)