Pseudoscience: Gavin Menzies: 1421 The Year China Discovered The World

On 21 July 2004 on PBS, there was a two hour program about Zheng He. Zheng He was a Muslim eunuch in the service of the Ming Emperor of China. Zheng He commissioned, built and commanded a Chinese Imperial fleet that sailed through the Strait of Malacca, and into the Indian Ocean to Calicut, possibly East Africa, and other countries.

They also reviewed Gavin Menzies proposal that Zheng He sailed all the way to America, and even established colonies there, as told in his book, 1421: the Year China Discovered the World, and on his 1421.tv web site.

The basic idea that China had a seafaring fleet that roamed far and wide, and explored lands that have never visited by the Chinese before is very plausible, and there are lots of evidence for it.

It is sad though that Menzies had to delve into the realms of pseudo-science, and held on to outrageous claims that lack evidence, such as:

  • that the Chinese settled North America, based on the flimsy evidence that Verrazano said the natives represented Asians. Of course to a person living in a monoculture five centuries ago, it is easy to confuse Native Americans with Asians. The features are similar after all.
  • that the Bimini underwater walkway is man made, and formed of the ship ballast, and having man made cement pieces, despite the expert opinion that this is a natural geological formation.
  • that the Newport Tower was used to measure longitude, despite the fact that this notion was not invented up to two centuries later.

When faced with these facts, Menzies was likable and civil. However, he held on to the belief that he will be proven right eventually. He quoted as evidence that his web site gets thousands of visits, and thousands of emails by enthusiasts!

It is sad that well meaning and energetic people get caught into their own pseudoscience preconceptions, and start discarding the evidence against them.

In 2005, China and Singapore were celebrating 600 years of Zheng He by holding exhibits.

Links and Resources

  • Friends of Admiral Zheng He, based in Singapore, maintain that he reached East Africa and the Red Sea, but do not venture to speculate beyond that.

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Comments

1421

Khalid makes a couple of points regarding potential holes in the theory.

Longtitude - a whole appendix of the book is devoted to this subject and indeed using the Chinese methods the process was repeated at an eclipse in the Pacific and shown to be very accurate. The Chinese had been very good astronomers for 500 years before the voyages were made

The Bimini rocks - apparently some of the rocks are not native to the area. A plausible case is made for some of the rock to be ship ballast and the reason for building them is that they are slipways for re-launching repaired ships

It is not clear whether Khalid has read the book but is relying on the TV program. The book has exhaustive detail and whilst I read everything with a pinch of salt I do think that there is much better than evens chance Menzies is correct in most of what he writes. The number of coincidences that would be required for some things to occur independently in different parts of the world does provide a problem to be explained. I cannot do justice to it all but it is certainly worth reading.

Debunking 1421 hypothesis by Gavin Menzies

Here is a list of resources on debunking the 1421 hypothesis by Gavin Menzies.

Wikipedia has an article dedicated to the 1421 hypothesis, which lists some detailed criticism, specially about the Chinese discovering Austrialia.

An extensive site called the "1421" myth exposed.

An article by Geoff Wade describing 1421 as a fairytale and fiction.

Salon has an article describing the book as an "object lesson in amateurish research, slapdash editing and publishing greed".

Robert Finlay writes in the Journal of World History with the title
How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America
.

A book review by John Wills mentions the PBS program, and how Menzies is cross-examined on camera, politely but firmly, and several times has to admit that he may be mistaken on a particular point.

Bill Hartz says in Gavin's fantasy land: "it is not really a history, it's a poser, and belongs on the fiction list".

A Spanish site called 1421 A Chinoise story lists some details from Spanish archives and sources.

The Language blog has an article about the linguistic portion of the evidence. There is also an update on that article.

The Australian has a Junk history article.

On AllEmpires.com, there is an article called Chinese Columbus: fact or fiction?

A site on Debunking Gavin Menzies.

--
Khalid Baheyeldin

errors

Gavin Menzies has some very creative interpretations and some pretty convincing evidence, especially finding Chinese genomes in people at various points along the routes he proposes for the Chinese fleet. His knowledge of currents and winds is far beyond that of a typical history scholar. But even an average reader like me found several glaring errors in the book "1421."

First, he referred to huge waves encountered at sea and proposed they might have been tsunamis. Wrong. Tsunamis are barely detectable on the open sea, though they travel at incredible speeds. The long wave type "feels bottom" in shallow water and rises in response. Like surf does.

Second, he wrote of Maya people on the west coast of Mexico. Nope. They live now, and lived then, on the Yucatan peninsula and into the highlands of Central America. Nauatl speaking groups lived on the west coast, and still do.

Finding only these two rather glaring errors caused me to be suspicious part way through "1421" of the quality of his other findings, and to expect some of his facts and research may not have been of the highest integrity.

And yet, I think he may be onto something. Recall that in the 50s real scholars scoffed at the crazy idea of plate tectonics. New ideas challenge old thinking, shake up staid and serious people. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. I want to see more DNA comparisons before I decide.

Barbara Shaw in Eugene, Oregon

Mensies training/career was

Mensies training/career was as professional mariner?
Might he have more 1st hand knowledge of tsunamis than you find in Eugene?

Menzies speculative history as pseudoscience

Except for a few specific points, I don't even think that Menzies would disagree with you much. He knows that many of his points are insufficient to be accepted by science. His prose and the speculative nature of his historic recounting composes the special appeal of his books. He makes compelling if not always perfect arguments. As ling his does not set historical research backward very far and possibly even leads to a regime of new historical truths being discovered, I am all for it. In fact, his work has pointed me to some actual evidence of certain aspects of history of which I was previously unaware, not that it was unknown to historians following academic tradition.

DNA

I recently read Menzie's latest book on this subject and I have to say the ongoing DNA evidence is proving him more right than wrong. I have no idea if this comment section is still running or if anyone is reading it...but I am having a hard time locating currently the same kind of rabid debunking of this theory that was ultra-prevalent 5-10 years ago.

What is of even more interest to me is the Minoan culture and the copper mines in Michigan. Also the remains of a culture on the Florida coast being dated well before the first clovis point.

It's a real long term problem among established establishment true believers....not being able "to objectify their own objectivity", as Jeremy Narby so aptly pointed.

Anyway....the official story of America sold to elementary students is really far off and borderline brainwashing.