14 January 2006

Further support for a Chinese Columbus?

I came across this news story, which leads further credence to the idea that the Chinese discovered America prior to Columbus. I've read Menzies' book 1421 and find his argument very plausible. Menzies points out the Europeans had maps showing what looks like the Americas (and various other "undiscovered" lands) in the decades prior to the Columbus voyage. While the northeastern Canadian coast was probably known to the Norse and perhaps to some Basque cod-fishing fleets, this knowledge wouldn't explain how maps could show Australia and South America as well. We do know that a giant Chinese fleet was sent out in the early 1500s. It'll be interesting to see if further evidence for an early Chinese discovery turns up in the years ahead.

A map due to be unveiled in Beijing and London next week may lend weight to a theory a Chinese admiral discovered America before Christopher Columbus. The map, which shows North and South America, apparently states that it is a 1763 copy of another map made in 1418.
If true, it could imply Chinese mariners discovered and mapped America decades before Columbus' 1492 arrival. The map, which is being dated to check it was made in 1763, faces a lot of scepticism from experts. Chinese characters written beside the map say it was drawn by Mo Yi Tong and copied from a map made in the 16th year of the Emperor Yongle, or 1418. It clearly shows Africa and Australia. The British Isles, however, are not marked.


The map was bought for about $500 from a Shanghai dealer in 2001 by a Chinese lawyer and collector, Liu Gang. According to the Economist magazine, Mr Liu only became aware of the map's potential significance after he read a book by British author Gavin Menzies. The book, 1421: The Year China discovered the World, made the controversial claim that a Chinese admiral and eunuch, Zheng He, sailed around the world and discovered America on the way.

Zheng He, a Muslim mariner and explorer, is widely thought to have sailed around South East Asia and India, but the claim he visited America is hotly disputed. The map is now being tested to check the age of its paper and ink, with the results due to be known in February. Even if it does prove to have been drawn in 1763, sceptics will point out that we still only have the mapmaker's word that he copied if from a 1418 map, rather than from a more recent one.

4 comments:

Colin said...

I didn't manage to read Menzies' whole book, as he seemed a little too focused on a) gaining viewers for his TV show and b) arguing that his research was legitimate, even though he wasn't a formal historian (he seemed a bit defensive in that regard). Still, good book, and the argument is pretty solid. It would definitely be interesting to see if the theory gains more generalized acceptance.

Karlo said...

I'm not too worried about his historian credentials. He seems to have extensive knowledge of the oceans, currents, and so on. He's probably in about as good a position as anyone to write such a book.

Sanshinseon said...

What happened there in early-15th-cen China -- and then what DIDN'T happen afterwards (Chinese conquest of SE Asia, S Asia and Australia, maybe even more) -- is one of the most fascinating topics in world history, IMHO. Let's hope that more evidence surfaces...

Karlo said...

I wouldn't be surprised if more evidence didn't surface. I suspect though that such evidence is often dismissed out of hand. I've heard of Chinese pottery being discovered at early sites in the Americas and Australias with researchers concluding that something must be wrong.