Saturday, January 01, 2005

1421 BOOK

I'm reading a really interesting book by Gavin Menzies called "1421" which proposes that the Chinese conducted a series of voyages of discovery that included America, both polar regions, Australia, and just about every nook and cranny in all 7 oceans in 1421... a hell of a long time before good old Columbus sailed the oceans blue. Fascinating thesis, and powerfully presented by Menzies.

Of course, it is all speculation. The Chinese got out of the exploring business because the old Emperor fell and was replaced by Mandarins who didn't want to spend any money on ships so the voyagers came home to a country that didn't particularly care if they had discovered Rhode Island or not.

Anyhow, I asked my resident historian if there was anything to it. Dan Gilmartin is one of smartest guys I know, teaches the stuff at UCF (don't blame him for being a Democrat... he can't help himself.. it's his heritage). Here's the email exchange:

--- Bob Baird wrote:

Dan --

I'm in the midst of reading "1421" by Gavin
Menzies, a book asserting that the Chinese
discovered the Americas in the early 1400s and
even colonized S. America. I've aleady come
across some websites resisting Menzies' thesis
but he is putting together a strong argument.

I was wondering if you had heard of this and
what you thought of it. You know me. Playing
sailor. But the ships of the 1421 fleet were
three hundred feet long and 125 feet wide! and
travelled in fleets of over a hundred support
vessels. Could the classical Chinese actually
have made this kind of trip? Menzies says that
one of them actually visited Antarctica and
another one made a northwest passage! Seems
impossible, but there you are.

Anyhow, whatcha think?


----- Original Message -----
From: Dan Gilmartin
To: Bob Baird
Sent: Saturday, January 01, 2005 6:35 AM
Subject: Re: Menzies

To be perfectly frank, my areas are U.S. and
European (medieval to modern) and I really don't
know. I've heard Menzies interviewed and read a
smattering here and there, and my conclusion far> is that there's a reason for peer review.
IMHO its right up there with the Irish claim that
St. Brendan discovered America and St. Patrick
chased the snakes out of Ireland. But, really, I
can't say that I know.


email of 1/1/2005:

Dan --

Well, I've always been interested in Henry the Navigator and the start of all that sailing looking for natives to subjugate and so on. I never thought it was such a strange deal to just keep sailing south till you turned the corner and then you would find the Indian Ocean and then the spice islands and endless wealth would be yours. Sort of like going to Jamaica to import their spices... same kind of get rich quick idea.... dangerous, dangerous... there be monsters at the edge of the earth you know... but the only thing stopping you was... that you might die. So what the hey? Let's go!

Menzies isn't a professional historian. He's a retired submarine captain for the Brits. As a dilletante in the business (meaning I read books without really knowing I'm doing in a sysematic and scholarly way) I have many reservations with anyone who allows an idea to become a matter of belief rather than a matter of evidence. Boring Bob here.

But it all makes a sort of sense if you accept the idea that the big change in Chinese politics kind of put the exploring racket out of business. The old emperor was out and the Mandarins were in and that meant that all those wasteful sailors could be left to drip dry at the edges of the new maps... and the only people who cared were the Portugese who wanted to get into the moving and storage business themselves.

I guess what I'm telling myself is that I buy a big chuck of Menzies' thesis. It probably will not ever be really verifiable until the anal Chinese rejoin the community of scholars... or at least allow us barbarians to catch up with their ancient historians... that IS scholasticism, which is something I have some experience at.... school folk being by definition conservative and slow to act...

I just figure that a herd of crooks like Henry and their ilk could very well have had a copy of a copy of a copy of the maps created by the Chinese and they figured... what the hell, let's go see if they're real or not. What's a few lives as long it isn't our own?

If nothing else, the 1421 book is a hell of a read. I recommend it to you.



Anyhow, that exhausts my scholarly resources. Like I said... the book is a good read. I recommend it to anyone.