Gavin Menzies has authored several books pushing his theory that Chinese sailors discovered America and the ‘New World’ several decades before Columbus, and is a respected voice in the bullshit-history community. His latest book claims that ‘the Chinese have been sailing to the New World since 40,000 BC across the Pacific Ocean,’ because if you’re just going to make everything up, why not go big?
Poking holes in Menzies’ theories is so easy and fun that there are entire websites set up explicitly for that purpose. Also, with book titles like 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance Menzies seems to be egging them on.
His new book, titled Who Discovered America? hinges significantly on a map found in a second-hand bookshop in Beijing and on the names of some Peruvian towns, as the Daily Mail reports:
The [map], he says, is an 18th century copy of Admiral Zheng He’s 1417 map. Mr Menzies argues that it clearly shows North American rivers and coasts, as well as the continent of South America.[…]
Mr Liu had the map authenticated by an appraiser from Christie’s Auctions, who said that the document was ‘very old’ and was not a newly-made fake. After Mr Liu brought the map forward, Menzies also had a team of historians analyze every word on it. He concluded that it was originally written in the Ming Dynasty – a Chinese period that lasted from 1368 to 1644.
In the region of the map that Mr Menzies believes refers to Peru are written the inscriptions – ‘Here the people practiced the religion of Paracas’ and ‘Here the people practice human sacrifice’ – clear references peoples known to have inhabited Peru at the time.
The map is further corroborated, Mr Menzies says, by the Chinese names of numerous towns and regions in Peru.
He says old Peruvian maps show places with names like Chawan – Chinese for ‘land prepared for sowing’ and Chulin – ‘wood or forest.’
Ko-Lan – a remote Peruvian town at the bottom of a ravine translates to ‘difficult passage.’
Menzies’ beloved map, however, has some fairly glaring issues, as (real) historian Geoff Wade points out:
- It is a dual-hemisphere map, a cartographic tradition exclusively European. California is represented as an island, copied straight from European maps of the 17th century. China is placed at the centre of the map as it was in early Jesuit maps of the world produced in China. It is based on a rough copy of a Jesuit map of the world.
- The eunuch Zheng He is referred to as Ma San-bao. No one would have dared to use his original name given that the emperor had assigned him the surname Zheng.
- The amount of non-coastal detail (including riverine systems extending thousands of miles from the coast) indicate that these maps could not have been produced by maritime voyagers. The information in the maps was obviously amassed over time by cultures who had travelled widely. It fits perfectly within the history of European cartography, but is a complete anomaly in Chinese cartography.
- The Himalayas are marked as the highest mountains in the world. This fact was only discovered in the 19th century.
Fear not! Menzies has an air-tight response to the fact that his
bullshit theories may not exactly add up:
Mr Menzies says the idea that man was able to cross the Pacific Ocean around 40,000 BC isn’t nearly as dramatic as it seems.
‘If you just go out in a plastic bath tub, the currents will just carry you there,’ he told MailOnline. ‘They just came with the current, it’s as simple as that.’
Menzies’ previous books have been on the New York Times Bestseller’s list, which is some pretty high praise for a “Chinese historian” with no historical background and no Chinese language skills, and who has been generously described as a “psuedo-historian” and ungenerously described as an author whose “book’s central claims [are] uniformly without substance.”
[Image by Liu Gang, via Daily Mail]