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1421: The Year China Discovered America (P.S.) (edition 2008)

by Gavin Menzies

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2,148703,034 (3.27)52
Member:ElAlce
Title:1421: The Year China Discovered America (P.S.)
Authors:Gavin Menzies
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2008), Paperback, 672 pages
Collections:Your library
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1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies

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Bought at the Foreign Language Bookstore in Shanghai, 120RMB.
  Susanna.Dilliott | Apr 23, 2014 |
Yeah, right. I was underwhelmed. ( )
  bke | Mar 30, 2014 |
The author's thesis is that when the Europeans "discovered" the New World and the Pacific, they were following in the footsteps of the Chinese. From 1421-23 huge Chinese fleets circumnavigated the globe, leaving settlements, transporting plants and animals from one part of the world to another, learning how to determine longitude and constructing detailed and accurate charts.



The book is the story of this retired British submarine commander's painstaking -- one might say obsessed -- reconstruction of these fleets and the accumulation of evidence, including archaeological, DNA, and folklore. Apparently the legends of the treasure cities of South American refer to Chinese settlements.



I'm not able to evaluate all the evidence, but I think one thing is clear: the Europeans did not sail into "terra incognita," but had seen or had in their possession accurate maps showing where they were going. At the very least, the role of China in the discovery and charting of the world must be evaluated and taken into account. A great read.
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
This book has some merit, in that we can reliably say that the Ming explorations of the 1420's covered the Indian ocean and may have gone so far as Australia. His further gathering of evidence is quite controversial, and some of them such as a sailing ship passage of the North-east passage taking only one year, when the WWII German attempt in a steam ship took the better part of two years, seemed far-fetched. (was that a pun?)
some of the rest, could lead to the conclusion that he has conflated a lot of other Chinese voyages, some accidental, into his one grand scheme. And that's where I,m standing on this idea of his. But it's readable prose, and entertaining to a degree. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Mar 4, 2014 |
It's rare that I would waste space blasting a book. Life is short and time is a scarce resource. I'd rather just drop a book unworthy of finishing and move on to a new one. This time, though, I think 1421 merits further explanation because of the sensational success it has experienced worldwide.

Simply put, 1421 is junk history posing as "real history." Gavin Menzies has spun a fantastical and interesting tale out of the very real events surrounding the massive Chinese treasure fleets of 1421. His thesis--that the Chinese discovered the New World in the 1420s, mapped it, and that it was their maps that European explorers used when sailing for the New World (including, he argues, Columbus).

Built by a Ming emperor to gather in tribute from the ends of the Earth, the fleet was one of the last acts of imperial hubris. Shortly after it set sail, the emperor died. His son, in replacing his father's policies, had the fleets destroyed upon their return, along with records gathered during the voyage. Starting with that sparse introduction, Menzies proceeds to gather bits and pieces of evidence stretching from China itself to the Indian subcontinent, from the Congo to Patagonia and beyond, and levies the evidence to tell a tale of the massive Chinese fleet charting the New World the greater part of a century before Columbus set sail in 1492.

It is an extremely interesting and, if it were true, a ground breaking discovery and thesis. Perhaps it is true. But likely, it is not.

As I started reading it, the first question that came to mind for me was this: in the almost six centuries since these events happened, why has no one else suggested that the Chinese arrived first? Menzies explanation is that historians generally lack the skill set necessary to uncover the truth, a skill set that he has as a former captain in the British Navy. Unlike most historians, Menzies argues, he can read a chart, understand what he's looking at, and glean from these 15th century charts things that no historian would otherwise notice.

Yeah. It's a little bit of a stretch. I would be surprised to find that no historian has ever had the skill set to learn maritime charts and understand how to read them (heck, Theodore Roosevelt when only an undergraduate student at Harvard, researched and wrote a book of naval strategy -- "The Naval War of 1812"--that became a classic and a text book used by both the US and British navies for decades after it was published). That being said, I gave Menzies the benefit of the doubt. I've long been intrigued with China and its history, and I think I wanted to believe that history as we have been taught might not be true. How interesting would it be for America to have been discovered by the Chinese?

As I read, though, red flags continued to pop up. Out of only sparse details, Menzies would assert "conclusive proof" that his theories were finding relevance. Finally, over two hundred pages in, I decided to check into what critical review might have said about his methods and evidence. I reasoned that if Menzies is correct, or even has a good theory, then the academic community would support his findings with further research. I went to the internet.

Critical acclaim was anything but what I found. In addition to finding entire sites dedicated to debunking Menzies myths, I also found that historical lectures had been given explaining and demonstrating that what Menzies proposed was just that--a proposal. Be it even true, the evidence was not there, not was the reasoning clearly logical.

For example:

--Menzies claims that Chinese anchors have been found off of the coast of California, but fails to document them.
--1421 says that Chinese DNA is found in North America natives, but fails to account for the influx of Chinese immigrants in the 17th century.
--Menzies finds what he claims are chickens unique to Asia living in Peru, but fails to note that Peru exported millions of tons of silver to China and brought back silk and porcelain (and presumably other things, like, for example, chickens) throughout the heyday of the Spanish during the 16th through 17th centuries.

And that's just to start.

Historian Kirstin A. Seaver says, in disecting claims about the Chinese in Vinland:

"The study of history is likely to reward anyone willing to undertake it in a quest for better understanding of who they are, how they became what they are, and what they might hope to become. The manufacture of a history that never existed rewards only those who make money by deceiving the public."

If 1421 is true, Menzies has not found the evidence to support it. If it is false, it's junk and a waste of time to read. Further, it perpetuates a falsehood that makes the acquisition of real history--real, boring, dry and factual history--that much harder to grasp. ( )
1 vote publiusdb | Aug 22, 2013 |
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This book is dedicated to my beloved wife Marcella, who has travelled with me on the journeys related in this book and through life.
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On 2 February 1421, China dwarfed every nation on earth.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006054094X, Paperback)

On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China. Its mission 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.

When it returned in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. 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. Also concealed was how the Chinese colonized America before the Europeans and transplanted in America and other countries the principal economic crops that have fed and clothed the world.

Unveiling incontrovertible evidence of these astonishing voyages, 1421 rewrites our understanding of history. Our knowledge of world exploration as it has been commonly accepted for centuries must now be reconceived due to this landmark work of historical investigation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:50 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China "to the ends of the earth". When it returned in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in China's long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that the Chinese had reached America seventy years before Columbus and had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. They had colonized America before the Europeans and had transplanted in America and other countries the principal economic crops that have fed and clothed the world.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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