Saturday, February 18, 2012

1421 by Gavin Menzies

1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies tells the fascinating tale of a voyage all but lost to history. Using his skills as a sailor, and combining impressive detective skills, Menzies tracks down the voyages of four great Chinese fleets given the mission to "proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas."

Menzies begins with the discovery of a Venetian map dated 1424 with what appears to be Caribbean islands, yet it would be another 7 decades before history records the first European "discovering" these lands. His curiosity is greatly aroused and he begins his extensive search for how this information came to be known. He subsequently finds other maps, carried by these famous European explorers with the lands they are about to "discover" already on them! His initial research leads him to China as the only possible power on earth at the time with the wherewithal to circumnavigate the globe.

Menzies uncovers a story of the great emperor Zhu Di who, after securing his throne in China sets out to bring the whole world in subjugation. While his ships journeyed to the great unknown, Zhu Di was disgraced and died. China closed to the outside world and destroyed all records of the voyages. With no official records to consult, Menzies was left with fragments of documents and maps with lands that should not be on them.

Using the fact that the square-sailed ships would have had to travel with the wind, and his knowledge of the tides and trade winds, Menzies recreates the journeys of the four fleets. Along the way, he discovers fascinating evidence that the Chinese did in fact reach the "New World" long before Columbus ever stepped foot in a ship. Evidence includes native tales told to the Spaniards and Portuguese of previous visitors dressed and acting like medieval Chinese, statues and buildings built in the Chinese style in existence before the Europeans arrived, Chinese technological breakthrough known to the American natives at the time the European explorers arrived, and most fascinating of all, traces of Chinese DNA found in the natives of the Americas. One memorable snippet includes the journal of a sailor sailing with Magellan who claims the famous discoverer of the Straits that bear his name seemed to know exactly where the straits would be found. The seaman calls it a miracle, but Menzies attributes it to a map Magellan must have had in his possession made with Chinese knowledge. These "treasure maps" would have been held in the highest of secrecy knowing their value to competing nations was enormous!

Since his book was published, Menzies has uncovered more corroborating evidence as well as scholars with the same thesis. The footnotes and the accompanying website provide overwhelming proof that it was in fact the Chinese, not our vaunted European Explorers who deserve the credit for sailing into the great unknown, charting the lands beyond the sea, and, for a very few, living to tell about it.

1 comment:

  1. That books sounds so interesting! I want to read it! Caleb and I just finished studying all of that and there was definitely no mention of the Chinese discovering the "New World"! :)