Wednesday, August 10, 2005


How did British historian praise Zheng He's voyages?


People's Daily
August 06, 2005

A British historian's obvious praise of ancient Chinese voyagers' merit and the ensuing downplay of western navigators' contribution has caused a stir among western historians.

Gavin Menzies, former submarine commander in Britain's Royal Navy, made the fascinating argument that the Chinese, represented by Zheng He the navy explorer, discovered the Americas a full 70 years before Columbus.

Not only did the Chinese discover America first, but they also, according to him, established a number of subsequently lost "colonies" in the Caribbean.

Furthermore, he asserted that the Chinese circumnavigated the globe, desalinated water, and perfected the art of cartography.

In fact, he believed that most of the renowned European explorers actually sailed with maps charted by the Chinese.

Though most historical records were destroyed during centuries of turmoil in the Far East, he managed to cobble together some feasible evidence supporting his controversial conclusions.
In March 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China. The mission led by Zheng He was "to proceed all the way to the ends of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas" and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony, Menzies once wrote.

Lost in China's long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan, according to Menzies.

Menzies' interpretation of the Chinese adventure on the high seas has been hotly debated in academic circles.

Some echoed his views, while others despised them.

The debate made more people turn an eye to Gavin Menzies, who was born in 1937 and lived in China for two years before the Second World War.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1953 and served in submarines from 1959 to 1970. As a junior officer he sailed the world in the wakes of Columbus, Dias, Cabral and Vasco da Gama.

While in command of HMS Rorqual (19681970), he sailed the routes pioneered by Magellan and Captain Cook.

Since leaving the Royal Navy, he has returned to China and the Far East many times, and in the course of researching he has visited 120 countries, more than 900 museums and libraries, and every major sea port of the late Middle Ages.


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