Sunday, June 16, 2013

1421, did the Chinese do it first

1421 by Gavin Menzies is a controversial book.  It reads entirely believably; he does not sound like a nutcase. The thesis is that the Chinese sent huge "treasure fleets" out to map the entire world in the years 1421-23 and, indeed, they did just that. Menzies offers ample evidence, including extant and very accurate maps.  This thesis made quite a splash several years ago when the book first came out. I remember articles it Nantional Geographic.

I didn't read the book until just now because it's very big but I am always curious about ideas that set the given  history on its heels. I am inclined to believe the Eurocentric view of history is flawed. The books, and a couple of subsequent books by Menzies have caused a lot of controversey and the popular opinion from what I gather looking at Google is that many commentators think he is flakey. The feats he ascribes to four Chinese admirals, each in charge of a huge fleet, become so encompassing that skepticism sets in.  Yet, his "evidence" seems convincing.  At this point in our political thinking we begrudge the Chinese superiority in almost anything.  (I personally despise many policies of the current leaders.)

I think Menzies' book is worth reading and pondering. Few of us have the historical background to make an informed judgement about the historical accuracy; but it sounds reasonable to me. He grasps at many incidental archeological tidbits and pulls them together to make his case--that is suspiciously like some of the  "far out" books I read in the '60s and '70s.  But I am convinced that much, much more is to be known about pre-modern civilizations. 

Only this week, I'm reading of a huge city in Cambodia now "discovered" because of laser mapping from helicopters.  Similar lost cities have been found in the Amazon and Central America.  Technology is beginning to eat away at the hubris of the colonial period that still is a part of European and American history. The Europeans did not come to a savage, uncivilized pair of continents and bring superior cultures. They came to plunder and pillage.  If the Chinese came out of curiosity and perhaps to set up colonies we should make a place for their feats in out history. 

3 comments:

Jonas said...

I agree with you completely, June. The Eurocentric history we were taught in school bears little resemblance to actual world history. We've ignored a number of "inconvenient truths" (such as the genocide perpetrated in the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium).

It's been said often enough that history is written by the victors. A world history written by the victims would be far more compelling, instructive and sobering.

zippiknits said...

That is going on my list of must reads.

China was once so self sufficient that they really didn't think much of what the other part of the world were up to, and just did what they wanted to do.

Actually, when Chinese citizens answered the call to come here for work in gold fields, etc, the Emperor sent a fleet out a few years later to see how his subjects were being treated. He certainly knew exactly how to get here. :-)

June Calender said...

Jonas, when the victims can write their history civilization will had changed dramaticallly.

Zippiknits, that is a very good point. Menzies says there were Chinese colonies along the Pacific coast, California to Peru, at very early dates -- could be true.

Thanks for both your comments.