He, the Chinese navigator – Did he "discover" America?
The following is a log of events since Gavin Menzies delivered his lecture to Royal Geographical Society in London, about evidence of Zheng He reaching the Americas 70 years before Christopher Columbus. The word "discover" is incorrect. The native in the Americas have discovered and lived there for thousands of years. Columbus may be the first European to reach the Americas. However, evidence has shown that Zheng He's armada beat Columbus by 70 years, In addition, there is some evidence that the early native Americans may have some cultural relationship with Chinese Shang dynasty. In any case, Gavin Menzies' book has linked many interesting cultural puzzles that were formerly inexplanable. It is well worth reading.
[I wrote the following letter to Columbus Dispatch: But it was not published.]
Dear Dispatch Editor,
The British submarine engineer and historian Gavin Menzies made an astounding seminar on March 15, 2002 to the Royal Geographical Society in London, with evidence to support his theory that Zheng He, the Chinese navigator in Ming dynasty, beat Columbus by more than 70 years in discovering America.
Using evidence from maps drawn dated before Columbus’
trip that clearly showed America,
and astronomical maps traced back to Zheng He’s time, Menzies is confident
that the Zheng He should be honored as the first discoverer of America.
I have translated directly from the official Ming History
some of the background information to share with the readers. Some of the dates
and dimensions of the ships reported by other sources are slightly different.
Zheng He (1371-1433 AD), an eunuch
in Ming dynasty, built a
total of 1622 ships and made at least 7 major excursions between 1405 AD and
1430 AD, reaching Somalia and probably Europe (France, Holland and Portugal).
In each trip, he led a troop of 27,800 people on more than 300 ships. In
each trip, 62 major ships of this fleet were employed, each about 475 ft long
and 193 ft wide, holding 1000 people per ship, dwarfing Columbus’ Santa Maria
(75 ft x 25 ft) more than 6-fold.
The countries and territories covered and recorded in the
official Ming history includes Java, Sumatra, Vietnam, Siam, Cambodia,
Philippines, Ceylon, Bangladesh, India, Yemen, Arabia, Somalia, Mogadishu.
As a clear demonstration of his travel to Africa, among the souvenirs he
brought back to China were the giraffes and lions, indigenous animals of Africa.
The official history also mentioned “Franca” (which was
the territory to describe today’s France and Portugal) and Holland. The
Hollanders were described as tall people with red hair and beard, long nose, and
deep eye sockets. If he did meet with the Europeans in their native countries,
then the only way would be to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope before the
Suez Canal was a throughway.
Menzies indicates that he has found sunken ships of Zheng
He’s fleet in the Carribeans, but he refuses to disclose the location until he
publishes his book.
Unfortunately, Zheng He’s magnificent accomplishment was
later targeted by other courtiers as wasteful.
Most of his records were destroyed and building of ships with more than 3
masts were considered crimes punishable by death. So, a large part of his
excursion has no reports.
In Africa near Kenya today, there are tribes that are clearly Asian-looking. They also consider themselves as the descendants of Zheng He’s crew.
Siu-Leung Lee, PhD
News about Gavin
Menzies’s presentation at the Royal Geographical Society (March 15, 2002):
Background on Zheng He:
Official Ming History
20021003 email to Gavin
Dear Mr. Menzies,
I am back in US now. I would certainly like to receive a copy of your book. Please see my address below.
I need to bring up several points:
1. Some of the information
in Ming history could be erroneous. For instance, they thought Francas was close
to Malacca (part of Malaysia today).
2. The Ming administration
did not know of Portugal, Spain or Holland at the time of Zheng He.
3. Because of the political
struggle between Zheng He and the other Ming officials, much of the record of
his expedition was destroyed and not available any more. Only pieces are left as
described in my article you saw.
Franca (today’s France)
was described in the History of Ming as a country close to Malacca, which
is obviously a mistake. “Franca occupied Malacca during the period around
1514.” “In 1518, Franca sent a diplomat “Capitan Moor” and offered
tributes to the emperor of Ming.” These
were records much later than Zheng He’s expedition.
According to the notes written by contemporary historians, Franca were actually Portugal and Franks Portugese who assumed the identity of French because they thought France was a bigger country to deal with Ming administration. The occupation of Macau and other places in south China was by Portugese rather than French. Ming learned about the Franks through HuiHui people who called all Europeans Franks (just like they are still called westerners).
Hollanders (aka “Red-haired Foreigners”) were described as a people living close to Franca. Its name was not known as Holland at the time during Zheng He’s expedition. The people were described as “having deep eye sockets, long nose, red hair and beard. They have long feet and are usually tall.” They learned about China through the Francas (Portugese). In 1550 AD, the Hollanders attacked Lusong (the Philippines). This happened more than 100 years after Zheng He's trips.
The contact with Portugese
and Hollanders were not recorded in Zheng He's expeditions, but it does not mean
that he did not make it to Europe. The
record could have been destroyed. If
Zheng He just stopped on the east coast of Africa, it is unlikely that the
Europeans would think of traveling to India and China via the sea route.
China was known to the Roman Empire and there are relics of Roman
soldiers in Gansu. Previously, China was only known to Europeans by the land
route. (Whether Marco Polo really
reached China is still a question as his description missed some of the
important features of China.) Christopher Columbus's goal was China and he
thought the first place he found was India, which is the reverse of Zheng He's
route. So obviously he learned something about Zheng He's expedition and had
indirect contact. It is more than a
coincidence that Europe had the idea of looking for China via the sea route if
there was no prior contact.
If there is anything I can help, please let me know.
I received from Mr. Gavin Menzies a copy of his autographed book
"1421, The Year China Discovered the World". 520pp. Bantam Press. November 2002.
BBC news about Gavin Menzies' book: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/2349929.stm