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1421: The Year China Discovered America?

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  Quote coolstorm Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: 1421: The Year China Discovered America?
    Posted: 25-Nov-2004 at 03:51

http://www.pbs.org/previews/1421/#

1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA?, airing on PBS Wednesday, July 21, investigates a theory that could turn the conventional view of world history on its head: the startling possibility that a daring Chinese admiral, commanding the largest wooden armada ever built, reached America 71 years before Columbus.

The documentary examines the mystery surrounding China's legendary Zheng He and the spectacular Ming fleet of treasure junks he commanded in the early 15th century. The special provides a history of the known journeys of Zheng He's fleet and an account of new information uncovered by Gavin Menzies, a former British submarine commander who has spent nine years trying to prove that Zheng He reached America decades before Columbus. Menzies, author of the best-selling book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, has assembled evidence that he believes substantiates his theory.

The first part of the documentary presents 15th-century China as an emerging super-nation with an armada of treasure junks that dominated the Indian Ocean. At the behest of Chinese emperor Zhu Di, Zheng He sailed this fleet to far-flung outposts throughout the eastern hemisphere, established major ports and extended the commercial reach of "the Middle Kingdom" far beyond its previous bounds. The first segment recounts this story through re-enactments, extensive location filming and innovative computer graphics imaging models of the fleet itself.

1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA? then investigates the major historical mystery that arises from Menzies' theory: Could this incredible and intrepid fleet have shown the European explorers the way to the west - reaching America's shores decades before Columbus? Menzies seeks to prove his extraordinary theory by retracing the steps he believes the Chinese took from Africa to Europe to the Caribbean and along the eastern coast of the United States. The program examines the evidence behind his theory, then puts it to the test, drawing together historical accounts, archaeology and information from consultations with contemporary historians, archaeologists and scientists. The results are often dramatic and - like Menzies' theory itself - highly controversial.

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  Quote Dragon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Nov-2004 at 10:01

Having read Menzie's 1421 cover-to-cover, I'm astonished that some of his findings aren't being taken seriously by the majority of the academic community.  It seems many of his theories are somewhat supported, and should at least be discussed by historians.

I myself believe it is certainly possible that the Chinese could have circumnavigated the globe before Columbus, it is a (sadly common) Eurocentric view that European must have been the first to do it.

I've read Menzie's theories . . . does anyone have anything to disprove his arguements?  Or to back them up further?

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  Quote Kids Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Nov-2004 at 10:58
I agree that many of his hypothesis are made without historical accuracy, but with speculation. People have to keep in mind that after all this is not a scholar's work, nor as an academic research work.

It is rather interesting to see that his book has created a wave of nationalist and patriotic feeling in mainland China as well as across all Chinese community in Asia; Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore. The writer has invited several times to several conferences in China, and there is even a planning of reconstructing of Zheng He-ship's project in Fujian province and in Taiwan. Despite this Zheng He phenomenon in mainland China, most of prominent Chinese scholars did criticize the book, and some even attack this book as being exaggerating Zhen He's achievement for the writer's personal fame.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Nov-2004 at 12:54
I think it's quite sure Chinese visited the Americas, and perhaps other continents as well. But I don't think all this happened 1421-1423, as Menzies states.
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  Quote Gubook Janggoon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Nov-2004 at 13:57
I watched a bit of the PBS special...they spent most of the time debunking Menzie's theories and attacking him...
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  Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Nov-2004 at 17:57
This fantasy book again? I think there already are a couple of threads about them. Let me check if they weren't deleted by proboards.

Couldn't make a search. Try this link instead:
http://www.kenspy.com/Menzies/review1.html

And a review, written by Lousie Levathes, author of When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433, a book which opposed to Menzie's is based on written and archaeological evidence and a must-read for anyone interested in the Treasure Fleet. It's a bit hard to read, but I couldn't be bothered to partion it.


The title of Gavin Menzies' book, published last year in Britian, is a tease meant to challenge the conventional understanding of the New World's "discovery." The date puts the event more than 70 years ahead of Christopher Columbus's fabled voyage. The notion that the Ming Treasure Fleet may have wandered into the Americas is particularly strange, especially to readers accustomed to the image of China as the insular "sleeping dragon" of the Asian continent. Is the question of who got here first worth fresh consideration? Certainly the last 10 years have produced a remarkable re-evaluation of the voyages of the Treasure Fleet, once considered insignificant trade ventures. In fact, the fleet's seven voyages (1405-1433), brainchild of the third Ming emperor, Zhu Di, brought most of the city-states in the Indian Ocean basin under nominal Chinese control. Chinese influence and culture spread rapidly throughout the area; a host of innovations and new knowledge, from glass blowing to Arab medical arts, as well as enormous profits, flowed back into China. Stories of the exploits of these voyages are meticulously recorded in three eyewitness accounts: one by Ma Huan, a translator on the last four voyages; another by Fei Xin, a senior officer; and the third by Zheng He, admiral of the fleet, who left two stone tablets, one inscribed in 1421 and the other in 1431. The official Chinese histories of the period also describe the voyages in considerable detail; some of the most complete such accounts appear in the multivolume Ming shi (Official History of the Ming Dynasty). And, remarkably, a 16th-century copy of the navigation charts used by Zheng He, showing all the ports of call and the sailing routes on the seven voyages, has survived. The most spectacular voyages were the first (1405-07), during which a fleet of 317 ships with a crew of more than 27,000 men exploited the lucrative trade in silks, porcelains, spices and precious stones as far west as India, and the last (1431-33), which ventured into the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and down the East African coast. But these are not the voyages that interest Gavin Menzies, a retired British submarine captain. He is interested only in the sixth, which is reported to have left China on March 3, 1421, and returned on Sept. 3, 1422. It was a hastily organized trip with the sole purpose, according to the Zheng He tablets, of conducting "the ambassadors from Hu-lu-mo-ssu [Hormuz] and other countries, who had been in attendance at the capital for a long time, back to their countries." This was a courtesy voyage, the gesture of a generous emperor, escorting home the ambassadors who had come to the dedication of Beijing's Forbidden City on Feb. 2, 1421. Zheng He's lieutenant Hung Pao was in command, and he made several stops in Indonesia before going on to Malaysia, India, Ceylon, Hormuz and Aden on the Arabian peninsula, and finally the city-states of Brava and Mombasa in East Africa. All of this is in the Chinese records. It is therefore quite astonishing that Menzies, who writes that he worked "without Chinese records to help me," launches into an elaborate, highly speculative, 500-page tome about the sixth voyage of the Treasure Fleet and what happened during what he calls the "missing years" of 1421-23. Ignoring the Chinese sources and Zheng He's chart and for whatever reason adding a year to the length of the voyage Menzies asserts that between 1421 and 1423 the Chinese fleet circumnavigated the globe, established colonies from California to Peru, charted Australia, the Arctic and Antarctica, and fixed the absolute position of the North and South Poles. And, oh yes, he claims that along the way Zheng He's navigators also figured out how to calculate longitude 400 years before the Europeans did. Menzies thus argues that on this expedition the Treasure Fleet traveled more than 44,000 nautical miles instead of the usual 4,000 to 6,000, yet accomplished this in the same amount of time that the other trips took two years. Re-supplying the enormous fleet at sea serious business that took the Chinese three to six months on other voyages does not particularly concern Menzies. Although the fleet had 20 water tankers, it could not stay at sea for more than 30 days at a time. In his re-creation of possible routes on this round-the-world sixth voyage, he repeatedly has the Chinese crossing open bodies of water for more than 30 days. Had the Chinese followed these routes and not stopped for months to resupply, as was customary, the fleet would have run out of food and water long before it returned to China. On what does Menzies base his fantastic conclusions about the sixth voyage? He looks at several early-16th-century European maps and an ambiguous 15th-century Korean chart (which may or may not depict Africa) and concludes that these early maps are so good that fleets must
have ventured from the Artic Circle to the Southern Ocean and explored the shorelines of the major continents before Columbus's epic voyage to the New World in 1492. If it was not the Portuguese and the Spanish, then whose fleets charted the world, in particular the Southern Hemisphere? "Those fleets can only have been Chinese," Menzies asserts. Menzies' map analysis is difficult to follow; the details do not appear clearly
in the photographs provided in the book. But Patricia Seed, a Rice
University history professor who specializes in 16th-century navigation and cartography, has studied the maps Menzies uses including the Piri Reis (1513), Jean Rotz (1552), Cantino (1502) and Waldseemueller charts (1507) and says they are all based entirely on Portuguese sources, not Chinese maps. The maps are also dated after the voyages of Dias, Columbus, da Gama and Cabral, who claimed Brazil for Portugal in 1500. If the Chinese had indeed charted the whole world before the Europeans,
where are the maps? Were they all lost? The 21-foot-long navigation chart that Zheng He had on board during his voyages is bordered on the west by East Africa and on the east by Japan. The northern boundaries are India and the Arabian peninsula and the southernmost point on the map is Timor in Indonesia. Zheng He's map does not include Europe. The Chinese knew about Europe from Arab traders but had no desire to go there because
Europe offered only wool and wine commodities of low esteem in Ming China. Like Columbus's sailors who believed that if they ventured too far west they would fall off a flat Earth, Zheng He's sailors feared that beyond the charted regions of their map lay a vast morass, a swamp, in which the great treasure ships would get hopelessly stuck. Menzies' assertion that the Emperor's "master plan was to discover and chart the whole world" fails to consider the Confucian view, strongly held at the time, that discouraged ventures into the unknown: While his parents are alive, the son may not take a distant voyage abroad; if he has to take such a voyage, the destination must be known. Menzies' other set of arguments to support his speculation about early Chinese circumnavigation centers on much-chewed-over evidence of possible Asian contact in the New World before Columbus: round stones with holes found off the coast of California that could be Chinese anchors, Asiatic chickens in Mexico, New World traditions of lacquer work and jade carving that are reminiscent of Asian crafts. As the late British sinologist Joseph Needham wrote in Trans-Pacific Echoes and Resonances; Listening Once Again, and as J.L. Sorenson and M.H. Raish's excellent bibliography Pre-Columbian
Contact with the Americas Across the Oceans makes clear, the periods of possible Asian New World contact occurred in the 6th or 7th centuries B.C., again around the time of the birth of Christ, and as late as about the 8th century A.D. Menzies does the scholarship in this area a disservice in his book by jumbling the time periods and mixing well-documented work with ill-researched or incomplete studies. Most scholars agree that
if there was contact by what is now China, Japan or Indonesia, it was brief and, contrary to Menzies' theories, did not occur as late as the Ming dynasty in the 15th century or involve the Treasure Fleet or the establishment of colonies. These early seafarers used large sailing rafts or outrigger canoes and, like the Polynesians, navigated across the Pacific by the stars. Menzies also does a disservice to scholarship on the Treasure Fleet itself. He exaggerates the size of the largest ships in the fleet, and says they were flat-bottomed boats that carried stones as ballast. Zheng He's ships had keels running along the bottom that the Chinese called "dragon bones"; water, not ballast, was flooded into water-tight compartments to steady ships in a high sea. Menzies fantasizes that the fleet carried concubines and that babies were born at sea; the Chinese records make no mention of women on board. It appears as though Menzies has read none of the primary Chinese language sources. Menzies
concludes that he has "found the evidence to overturn the long-accepted history of the Western World," yet he acknowledges that some of his theories require "some leaps of the imagination that are not, as yet, backed by hard evidence." Ground-breaking history or flight of fancy? In the end, Menzies is his own severest critic. He seems unsure of what he has accomplished in 1421, and so are we.


Edited by Styrbiorn
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  Quote JanusRook Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Nov-2004 at 19:49
This book was one of the best fantasy novels I ever read.
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  Quote Jalisco Lancer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 08:31


another teory about if the aztecs are the lost tribe of Ysrael, UFOs , etc ?
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  Quote JanusRook Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 09:29

Something like that, if you haven't read the book Jalisco I'd recommend it, it's very fancifal.

They say that mexican chickens are actually chinese chickens and that certain indian tribes have "unique" asian DNA.

I just love the age of exploration though, when there was still some mystery on this earth.

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  Quote vagabond Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 13:53

that certain indian tribes have "unique" asian DNA.

But that would be true even if you ascribed to the most conservative of the ice age - land bridge theories as well. 

They (PBS) want the most controversial theories presented because controversy makes good headlines.  Makes bad science and history - but good headlines.  I recently saw another PBS "History" "Documentary" recently where they discussed Clovis and Folsom points and one of their theorists made the assertion that European DNA found in certain tribes in North America today is there due to contact with the Lascaux cave painters who traveled across the Atlantic in their canoes and brought their spear point technology with them.  Gosh - like there has never been another chance for European DNA to mix with Native American?  I want to know who kept this tribe in a bubble for the past 500 years and allowed no contact.

I think that the west coast arguments for contact with Asia are much more probable than any of Menzie's argements.  His research is thin and his conclusions are sometimes really out there.  The west coast artifacts have not been fully explained - and probably will not be - but offer better possibilities for speculation.

BTW - JL - I think the Mexican chickens were brought by the aliens who dropped off the lost tribes  - I have seen the pictographs on the pyramids and am sure that I remember a series of reliefs of aliens bringing chickens.  Isn't that why they call it "Chicken Itza"? 

In the time of your life, live - so that in that wonderous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it. (Saroyan)
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  Quote Jalisco Lancer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 14:05
Originally posted by JanusRook

Something like that, if you haven't read the book Jalisco I'd recommend it, it's very fancifal.


They say that mexican chickens are actually chinese chickens and that certain indian tribes have "unique" asian DNA.


I just love the age of exploration though, when there was still some mystery on this earth.



Chickens ?
The chicken was introduced to Mexico by the spaniards.
The only livestock in Mesoamerica was the wild ducks, guaxolotl ( turkey ), but it was no any chicken before the spaniards arrival.

Hi Vagabond:
That was funny ( Chicken Itza ).
Check the controversial cover of the sarcophagus of the Mayan King Pakal at Palenque:
http://www.horizonarts.com/pacaltomb.htm

Regards
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 14:45
Chickens ?
The chicken was introduced to Mexico by the spaniards.
The only livestock in Mesoamerica was the wild ducks, guaxolotl ( turkey ), but it was no any chicken before the spaniards arrival.

One of the evidences for Menzies assumption that the Chinese visited the Inca Empire, was that there was a word for chicken in Quecha (Huallpa if I'm not mistaken). That was strange, because there were no chickens in America.
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  Quote JanusRook Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 17:03
Man you guys are making me want to read that book again. In fact I'm putting it on the book club list.
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  Quote Slickmeister Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 17:09

I saw the same program, I do not doubt in the least  that the Chinese visited the Americas in 1421.  The program was really interesting.

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  Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2004 at 17:22
Originally posted by Slickmeister

I saw the sameprogram, I do not doubt in the least that the Chinese visited the Americas in 1421. The program was really interesting.


Did you see the second show where they completely debunked the so called theory?
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  Quote Mr Bobo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Nov-2004 at 01:31
It seems quite believable that the Chinese had a presence in the Americas before Columbus, but from only going on whats posted here its hard to make a decision.

Even so Coloumbus wasnt even the first European to travel to the Americas anyway, what about the vikings who where there around 1000 AD; in 985 Bjarni Herjolfsson, a Norse settler in Greenland, was blown off course and sighted a continent west of Greenland, but he did not go ashore, About 15 years later Leif Eriksson (son of Erik the Red) explored the new continent. For the next ten years a number of voyages were made from Greenland to the new land, which the Norsemen called "Vinland".
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  Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Nov-2004 at 02:31
Originally posted by Mr Bobo

It seems quite believable that the Chinese had a presence in the
Americas before Columbus, but from only going on whats posted here its
hard to make a decision.

Even so Coloumbus wasnt even the first European to travel to the
Americas anyway, what about the vikings who where there around 1000 AD;
in 985 Bjarni Herjolfsson, a Norse settler in Greenland, was blown
off course and sighted a continent west of Greenland, but he did not go
ashore, About 15 years later Leif Eriksson (son of Erik the Red)
explored
the new continent. For the next ten years a number of voyages were made
from Greenland to the new land, which the Norsemen called "Vinland".

Actually voyages were made from the Greenland colonies for centuries after the first discovery, mostly to collect lumber, which was quite non-existant on Greenland and Iceland. The last reference, iirc, is from 1347 when a ship sailed to Markland (Labrador coast) with exactly that purpose (unless you consider the expedition king Magnus Eriksson's presumably sent out real, but that has never been verified).
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  Quote Dragon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Dec-2004 at 07:24

There is no doubt that the Vikings landed in Lanse-Aux-Meadows, Newfoundland sometime around 1000 CE as there have been a number of Viking settlements found there along with probably a thousand artifacts.  I myself visited the site this past summer.  Its really interesting. 

The question here is, however, could the Chinese have done even some of what Menzie's suggests?  Or, as is suggested in the review above, did the Chinese make contact with the Americas even before 1421? The question is a very important one, because if China made contact with the Americas before Europeans, perhaps that is something that can be taken out of the list of European "discoveries" (or rip-offs, like the printing press or gun powder) thereby hopefully reducing some of the sickeningly Eurocentric history out there . . .



Edited by Dragon
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  Quote coolstorm Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Dec-2004 at 07:31

"The question here is, however, could the Chinese have done even some of what Menzie's suggests? "

the chinese were certainly capable of doing that with their treasure fleet.

but america was undeveloped at the time.

the chinese did land in west africa, india, java, lots of islands on the pacifics and indian ocean.

they, however, set up no colonies and didn't claim land because they felt that they had already achieved the most satisfactory civlization. it wasn't the chinese culture to occupy foreign land. they basically went for a tour and brought some foreign animals and items to china.



Edited by coolstorm
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  Quote Liang Jieming Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Dec-2004 at 00:36
Biggest contribution this book has made, in my opinion is that it started people thinking again, questioning accepted norms and helped raise awareness of other possibilities.  Even if it all turns out to be fiction at the end, it's value in making us sit up and take a good hard at ourselves again, is worth it's weight in gold.

Just look at how many people are suddenly interested in history because of this book. 

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