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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Did China Discover America? And, if so, so what?

Reuters reports on an historian's theory that China may have discovered America before Columbus here:
Menzies, author of the bestseller "1421: the Year China Discovered America," says Admiral Zheng He led a 'star fleet' of 30,000 men aboard 300 ships to the American continent in the 15th century to expand Ming China's influence.

Zheng, says Menzies, drew up maps later used by Columbus to reach America in 1492 while searching for a new route to India. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan also sailed with the help of Chinese-drawn maps in the 16th century, he adds.

"None of the great explorers discovered anything new. They all had master maps that were charted by the Chinese," said Menzies, a 67-year-old former British submarine commander who spent about 15 years researching his 490-page book.

The government-funded Singapore Tourism Board is one of several groups backing the June 10 to September 11 outdoor exhibit at the Marina Promenade, which organisers say will unveil "new information and evidence" in support of the theory that Zheng landed in America before anyone else.

The "1421 Exhibition", organised partly by Menzies himself, will also include details of a naval base which Zheng is believed to have established in Canada at a geographical site known as "Nova Cataia" or "New Cathay", said one organiser, Pico Art International.

Singapore will also stage celebrations this year marking the 600th anniversary of Zheng's maiden voyage through Southeast Asia, when he arrived in the port of Malacca, on the west coast of modern-day Malaysia, as the emperor's envoy.

The festivities will pay tribute to a man renowned in Chinese history as the country's greatest naval commander.


But whether Zheng -- a Muslim eunuch known to have sailed as far as southern Africa -- beat Columbus to America by a comfortable 71 years is bitterly debated.

If true, it would rewrite history books and cause deep soul-searching in American schools.

"It's rubbish," said Geoff Wade, a senior fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. "There is no evidence to back it up."
Mr. Wade needs to learn to express his opinion and not hold back.

Perhaps the Chinese territorial claims will now expand to Canada, California and South America. However, they get an argument from the Vikings...

Update: For a debunking of one Chinese "first" myth, see this. (Hat tip: Arrgggh!!!)

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