Menzies and the problem of the “Smoking Gun” document

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:23 am Print
1763 Chinese Map Claims to be copy of 1418 Map

Menzies’ thesis won’t die. Just when it seemed to be fading out (unless Menzies’ argument about Mongol exploration is really his next focus), along comes this map (discussed in more depth here; update: and with translations of the notations here, and much more discussion by actual map historians here) which claims to be a 1763 copy of a 1418 map of the world. The Economist story even cites it as a possible source for previously unexplained pre-Columbian maps showing (something vaguely resembling) the Americas!

Geoff Wade at the National University of Singapore (who has challenged Menzies before) provided a quick rebuttal to the Economist article, so I don’t have to

The map is an 18th century copy of a European map, as evidenced by the two hemispheres depicted, the continents shown and the non-maritime detailed depicted. It proves nothing other than the Chinese (and Japanese) were copying European maps. That your writer has contributed to the Menzies’ bandwagon and its continuing deception of the public is saddening. The support mentioned all comes from Mr Menzies’ band of acolytes and the claims have no academic support whatsoever.

He goes into some detail on both the maps and “experts” cited, and I’m sure H-Asia will be abuzz for a while on this topic.

There are two things that I find interesting about this, on first look.

First is that it would be an interesting exercise actually tracing the intellectual and cartographic lineage of this map. I don’t know much about cartography (is there a cartographic equivalent to “historiography” for writing about the history of maps?) but a map of this quality, if it existed in the 15th century, would have spawned imitations and copies pretty quickly. Contrawise, the number of European maps given to Chinese, Japanese or Korean mapmakers in the 18th century for copying must be a fairly finite number, and European mapmaking seems to be a pretty well-developed historical field: if it’s a 1763 copy of a more recent imported map, that should be something which might be traceable.

The second thing is that the direction in which you study this map depends a great deal, clearly, on what you already believe about this map. The articles cite claims that such a map could have been constructed in 15th century China but, as we historians know, that which is logical, possible or even plausible “ain’t necessarily so,” because history is not about logic. It’s about what happened. That cuts both ways, of course: I think Menzies’ thesis is bunk; most historians of China that I know of think it’s bunk; the evidence that we have against the thesis is much stronger than that which has been offered in support of it. But, just because it doesn’t make sense to us that the Chinese would visit the Americas and leave almost no trace in their own historical record doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t happen. It means that the evidence in favor of Menzies needs to be more than just suggestive; it needs to be clear, verifiable and reliable. This means that it can’t just be one piece of evidence.

I was actually just having this discussion with my World History class with regard to the document readings. One piece of evidence in isolation tells us almost nothing. It’s the accumulation and cross-referencing of evidence which actually allows us to critically and reliably read and cite documents. A map copy like the one cited here could be considered authentic if it came from a copyist known to have access to lots of old maps, if it bore traces of information which we could verify as being extant in the early 15th century, if it left behind its own imprint on later intervening maps (whose creators might credibly have had access to this one), if there were descriptions of world geography in China which resembled this image, etc. Absent those supporting materials, a map — or any other piece of evidence — is simply a single data point. As my father says, given only one data point, you can draw any line you want to….

Menzies’ supporters and believers will claim that the map is one more piece of evidence for his thesis; his detractors like myself, who find the evidence he’s already cited to be highly suspect, will continue to point out that this map is not, in itself, clear evidence of anything, though it does suggest avenues of investigation.

41 Responses to “Menzies and the problem of the “Smoking Gun” document”

  1. K. M. Lawson says:

    I just read this in the economist yesterday, and wondered what historians might have to say…
    i’ll be interested to hear all the map experts chime in…

  2. Alexander Akin says:

    I’m glad to see an energetic response forming after the credulous BBC and Economist coverage of this (perhaps commercially motivated?) promotion of the “missing link” map. I am writing a dissertation on late Ming cartography and find myself feeling depressed from time to time, knowing that the sensational claims of Menzies boosters will always get media attention while the more measured (and borrr-ing!) responses of actual historians will be ignored. I’ve written a letter to The Economist but would be shocked to see it published. In the letter I point out that their “expert,” Gunnar Thompson, has also published widely on such topics as Marco Polo’s secret missions to Canada and the ancient Egyptian colonization of Mexico.
    I plan to do a textual analysis of the sources for this map, but I need a clearer image on which the inscriptions are legible- does anyone know where I can find one? Feel free to e-mail me at “akin at fas.harvard.edu.”

  3. Alexander Akin says:

    One quick additional point- Geoff Wade’s rebuttal does contain one slight error, in that the concept of longitude had indeed been introduced to China during the Mongol period along with other aspects of Persian geographic theory, though its measurement and theoretical underpinnings may not have penetraded very widely. There are also plenty of early Chinese references to the sphericity of the earth, though it was only one of many theories about the shape of the world and was hotly disputed from many quarters. In general Wade’s reply is good, but the Economist may point to its length as a reason not to publish it.

  4. I’ve updated the post to include links to a Map-Hist List exchange (with a particularly useful bit, the translations of the notations, cited on H-Asia) on the map. This one is particularly amusing, and you can also see Matteo Ricci’s map of the world. John Day’s response to a Menzies’ defender is also an excellent primer on the Chinese/European map geneaology issue.

  5. This may sound selfish… but I really enjoy reading the discussions on H-Asia and here. Back in 2001, I took an undergraduate early China class that ended with the Ming. I enjoyed reading about the voyages of Zheng He and the Yongle emperor. So much, in fact, that when I got out of school I subsequently read the only two well-publicized books, one by Louise Levanthes and the Gavin Menzies book. I went to the roundtable at the AHA two years ago where historians ripped Menzies apart on stage. I have to be honest, I have learned so much more about a fascinating topic (and how historians analyze maps as sources) than I ever received in any class, just by following these discussions. However, I have not been able to find a good book or website that well represents Zheng He’s voyages and specific characteristics of each – I tried to do a project for a graduate history class for the web and couldn’t find much to work with. Assuming one doesn’t already exist, why don’t historians knowledgable on this subject collaborate and create a collection of essays for students to read on this subject?

  6. Steve says:

    Jonathan, you said:

    “I think Menzies’ thesis is bunk; most historians of China that I know of think it’s bunk; the evidence that we have against the thesis is much stronger than that which has been offered in support of it.”

    What specifically is the evidence against it?

    I ask this as an interested observer who is agnostic (at this point) on the Menzies thesis and looking for evidence to gain an informed view.

    Thank you

  7. K. M. Lawson says:

    Hey Steve, there is a great review of the Menzies work in the Journal of the History of Ideas, if I remember (can’t remember the issue) which gives a blow by blow attack from the perspective of a professional historian of Ming exploration. I remember the review left me with absolutely no doubt that the book is not only wrong in its thesis but the author guilty of massive intellectual dishonesty.

  8. Matthew Mosca says:

    I second Alex’s request for a link to a high-resolution image of the map, as well as his hunch that a textual study of the map will prove worthwhile. If the map is not ‘on the level,’ it seems to me that the textual portion of the map would be most difficult to tinker with. One would have either to borrow liberally from other old Chinese maps (which would be easily detected), or write it in classical Chinese, opening the way for subtle errors that a philologist might spot, especially one trained in historical geography. Supposing that the map is not genuine, I think it is safe to hypothesize that it was doctored with a specific end in mind: to impress on the reader’s mind that the author of the map had, in 1418, an accurate worldview. This would likely lead to anachronistic touches.
    One leaps out at me. The Menzies-related map terms the Indian Ocean “Xiao Xiyang” and the Atlantic simply “Xiyang”. The Chinese toponym “Xiyang” originally referred to a portion of the seas roughly southwest of China (The precise regions falling under the term “Xiyang” in the Song and Yuan periods have been studied. I am in Beijing at the moment, without abundant reference resources, but I recall discussions of the subject by Roderich Ptak and Miyazaki Ichisada 宮崎市定.) Zheng He himself famously “descended into the Xiyang” (xia Xiyang) 下西洋. He stretched the definition of Xiyang to include the Indian Ocean, all the way to the Arabian and African coasts. In the Ming the meaning was stretched but, crucially, not broken. The entire region covered by Zheng He (the historical Zheng He, I feel constrained to add, not the Menzies Zheng He) is generally referred to simply as the Xiyang, with no division. Matteo Ricci, searching for a name to distinguish his own home region, came up with “Greater Western Ocean” (Da Xiyang 大西洋), and simultaneously demoted the Indian Ocean to “Lesser Western Ocean” (Xiao Xiyang 小西洋). In other words, it was the Jesuits who first split the ‘Western Oceans’ (and determined which one got to be ‘Greater’). Until at least the late nineteenth century, as far as I am aware, this Greater/Lesser division continued in Chinese mapping. Even Chinese geographers comparatively little influenced by Jesuits adopted the Greater/Lesser Western Ocean model. Most famous among these is probably Chen Lunjiong 陳倫炯, who wrote the Haiguo wenjian lu 海國聞見錄. His map, if I recall correctly, places the Xiao Xiyang approximately where it is on the Menzies-supporting map. Notions of what exactly Xiao Xiyang indicated varied (some works, for example the early nineteenth century Hai lu 海錄, used the term exclusively for Goa), but the Greater/Lesser dichotomy continued. Western priests in China were described as coming from Xiyang in Qing documents, but this simple form does not seem to have caught on in maps and geographical texts. As far as I know (and here I am on thinner ice), describing Western Europe and the Atlantic as simply Xiyang with no prefix is, at the earliest, a late nineteenth century phenomenon, and testifies to the growing predominance of the European West. (Can anyone out there explain this process more specifically?) Simply put, all evidence suggests that in 1418 there was only one Xiyang, and it was a large region stretching to (but not beyond) East Africa. Dividing the oceans into two parts dates to the late 1500s, and making the Atlantic simply Xiyang dates to the late 1800s. The Menzies-related map therefore seems ahistorical and, one might add, ahistorical in a way that would strike the contemporary Chinese reader as ‘modern.’ It takes the outcome of a long process and places it at the chronological beginning of the process.
    The foregoing argument, of course, proves nothing in isolation. Still, access to a clear copy of the map may yield other, similar quirks that are susceptible to analysis. Even that will not convince true believers. George Orwell has a wonderful essay in which he describes a fictitious argument between himself and a man who believes the earth to be ovular. He demonstrates that if someone sticks tenaciously to the proposition that the earth is ovular, and has quick wits, it is quite difficult to prove them wrong. The same is probably true for the Menzies thesis, and for this map. Still, I look forward to hearing the conclusions of Alex Akin and other specialists.

  9. Lee Frank from Hong Kong says:

    Subject: High Resolution Map of 1418 Integrated Map of the World

    I happen to have a high res image of the 1418 map which takes 14Mbytes of storage. Please send me your email address.

    It is a pure speculation to comment the map, until you inspect the map in details.

  10. steve says:

    K. M.,

    Thank you for the advice. I will search for the materials you recommend. If you (or anyone else) has any more specific information on the issue where Menzies work is attacked, please email it to steve@beijinglives.com. Thanks much


  11. I have contacted Mr. Frank in hopes that he will allow us to put the image up here at Frog in a Well. And there’s a detailed translation and discussion of the text of the map by a Chinese historian here. Much of it seems to cover ground we’ve already covered, but the details are interesting.

  12. Joel says:

    Robert Finlay wrote a wonderful takedown of Menzies in Journal of World History 15 (2004). I blogged it here. The whole thing is on Project Muse, and the History Coop, too, I think, if you have access to either.

  13. Steve says:

    I have written my thoughts on this subject here:


    Any comments will be appreciated.

  14. K. M. Lawson says:

    Joel! Thank you! I was wrong, it wasn’t the journal of the history of ideas, but indeed the review you mentioned! Thanks for posting this!

  15. Matthew Mosca says:

    A link to a high-res version of the map has been posted on the H-Asia list, along with some detailed criticism. The link is: http://files.blog-city.com/files/N04/80559/b/1418map.jpg
    Upon inspection of the high-res version I have discovered that what I assumed to be Xiyang and Xiao Xiyang are in fact Xihai 西海 and Xiao Xihai, invalidating my comments above. My mistake. Xiyang is also given, but only for the South Atlantic west of Africa. That strikes me as more interesting, because I don’t believe I’ve come across similar high-Qing usage of the term Xihai for the North Atlantic, Xiyang for the South Atlantic, or Xiao Xihai in any context.

  16. You know what would be great — a link to that map and several others that were mentioned in the lengthy H-Asia post earlier. If anyone else has maps or links to maps that argue against the 1418 map, I’d love to take a look at the differences in cartography over the centuries.

  17. K. M. Lawson says:

    Thanks Matthew…great picture of the map, nice and readable…I also enjoyed the exchanges on H-ASIA about this… You can read the discussion logs online at http://www.h-net.org/~asia/

  18. It is extremely interesting to read about all the comments, especially from so many learned ones, talking about missing link maps and all, on a Website titled “Frog at the Bottom of a Well” without knowing about the conclusive thesis backed up by over 300 pieces of relevant evidence (European historical records and documents) from my book “The 1421 Heresy.”

    For those who are sincerely about what they say, and that are not averse to reading what they may not like while talking as if they are experts, check out:


    It is always easy to defend the orthodox, but do wonder why someone would be so stupid as to go against it if he does not tryly have something up his sleeve.

  19. Best line in today’s H-Asia digest came from Thomas Bartlett: “If Menzies had navigated his submarine by the same standards of cartographic evidence that he employs in 1421, he would long ago have been court-martialed in disgrace, or be resting in a watery grave.”

    I read the Finlay review that Joel mentioned today, and it’s quite devastatingly thorough. Don’t miss the footnotes: lots of good stuff there.

  20. I looked at Mr. Andro’s site: it contains no evidence to speak of, only testimonials (some by himself) for his book of the same title. I did find this review interesting for its citation of considerably earlier versions of Menzies’ thesis, and Mr. Andro’s own admission that “My book virtually sidesteps all factual details of the Zheng He voyages” doesn’t fill me with great confidence.

    I can’t tell if the anti-Menzies scholar he cites as “silent” on his book is Wade or Finlay; whichever one it is, he should send it to the other one.

  21. Geoff Wade says:

    Dear all,
    An excellent blog-site

    For those interested in a wonderful dismissal of 1421, try William Hart’z online article at:



    Geoff Wade
    Asia Research Institute
    National University of Singapore

  22. Geoff Wade says:

    Sorry Hart’z should read Hartz’

  23. Danny Yee says:

    Someone with more knowledge than me might like to improve the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1421_hypothesis
    – I’ve added links to the Finlay review and William Hartz’ site.

  24. Sharon says:

    This has been a tremendously educative post for a non-specialist; thanks everyone. Of course, those of us who live in Wales know that the Welsh discovered America in the 12th century (And that America is named after a Welshman)…

    You might note this sceptical piece about the map in The Guardian. (Not all the news media is credulous.) It’s also sceptical about the significance of the map even if it should turn out to be genuine: a passing encounter, subsequently forgotten, isn’t the same as ‘discovery’.

  25. Lee Frank says:

    Hi, Jonathan,

    Today (Feb 26, Sunday), at around 5:30PM, I saw Wang Lu Xiang, PhoenixTV’s history and culture commentator, interviewing Liu Gang, the lawyer and collector of the 1418 map. Wang Lu Xiang was seen citing the major arguments from the critics that the map must be a fake. I suggest some of you should get a transcripts of the interview, the replies and carbon dating results from Liu.

  26. Henry Jones Jr. says:

    Does anybody have any comments on Liu Gang’s refutation of critics of his map, released on 23rd March in Beijing? Seems pretty reasonable to me!

  27. Lee Frank says:

    Suggest you guys to take a look at the Asiawind website. The answers to Menzies’ Debunkers, point-by-point
    were interesting. Suggest Geoff Wade to do more research on his own, counting on the suggestions by the ill-informed Chinese historians and scholars are simply too risky.

  28. Interesting web site. Seems to provide a useful forum for exploring new ideas.
    Regarding the 1418/1763 Ming Map–
    I have been studying early voyages to the New World for the past 30 years with a primary foucus on ancient maps for the past 15. When I first learned about the Chinese Admiral Zheng He nearly 17 years ago, I was struck by the enormous resources that were available to the leader of the Chinese navy, the enormous ships, the tens of thousands of mariners and laborers involved in the logistics behind the seven expeditions between China, the Middle East, and Africa. It seemed to me that anybody with those kinds of resources, especially when you consider the cooperation of the Japanese, the Koreans, and the Muslims (who arguably had the best astronomers in the world) should have been able to explore the Americas and to make a map. So, I was never burdened with the doctrinaire belief that “no Chinese Map of the World could possibly exist.”
    When Gavin Menzies informed me that an ancient Chinese map of the world had surfaced (Liu Gang’s purchase of the antique map by Mo Yi-tong) in December last, and he requested that I examine a photograph to make an assessment of the age of the map, I was immediately able to place the document into the context of ancient maps of the Americas–of which there are many. The closest similarities that I noted were with the 1502 Cantino Map (which is reportedly a copy of the super-secret Portuguese King’s Map or Padrao) and maps by Gerard and Rumold Mercator (1541, 1569, and 1587). Some of the pertinent maps are illustrated at my web site http://www.marcopolovoyages.com. I was able to identify 11 significant geographical errors that I refer to as “diagnostic geographical markers.” I also noted that Mo Yi-tong had not copied directly from any known contemporary map–as the lack of England, Norway, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Antilles, as well as his “island California” easily distinguish his map from 18th century European maps. That is to say: Mo Yi-tong’s map is not a direct or updated copy of any known European map of the 18th century. One scholar has pointed out that the “island California” concept on Mo Yi-tong’s map is similar to a 17th century French map by Nicholas Sanson (1659), but one similarity does not indicate a copy when everything else on the two maps is so dissimilar. Marco Polo makes the statements in his Travelogue that he traveled 40 days east of Siberia (which would take him to Alaska and the Canadian Arctic) and that the Chinese sailed on yearlong round-trip voyages to countries across the ocean east of Japan–in other words to the West Coast of the Americas. Maps of some of these regions were found by the Marcian Rossi Family and donated to the Library of Congress–as reported by Leo Bagrow in a 1948 article in Imago Mundi (vol. 5)–and they are still in limbo after the staff in the Map Division have pondered what to do with documents that show Alaska and the West Coast two centuries before Columbus supposedly “discovered” America. Also keep in mind that both the Tartar Relation (and the Yale Vinland Map) included statements that “the Tartars confirm New Lands lying beyond the ocean to the east.” That would be, once more, a reference to the American West Coast made in about the year 1275 for the Tartar Relation and 1440 for the Yale map. Portuguese maps by Andrea Bianco show Florida in 1436 and Brazil in 1448. So, the picture is that the Portuguese had early maps of the world, particularly Africa and the Atlantic shores of the New World, long before their European rivals. Where did they get the maps? We can surmise that they obtained some geographical secrets from the Venetians as there are historical accounts of Niccolo da Conti (a Venetian) being in the Far East in 1421, and the Portuguese Prince Pedro was in Venice in 1428 where he presumably obtained a Marco Polo map. The Portuguese spy Pero de Covilha was also in the Far East between 1487 and 1493–so we thus have several avenues through which the Portuguese obtained geographical information that would have made it possible for them to make the incredibly accurate Africa on the Padrao in time for it to be copied again by the Italian spy Albert Cantino in 1502. However, there was one enormous mistake on Cantino’s map that he apparently copied from the Padrao that was presumably based on maps obtained by da Conti, Covilha, or da Gamma from the Far East–and that is an incredibly “long-neck” Africa whose land area in the region of the Isthmus of Suez between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea is about ten times too large–or over 1000 km. We don’t see this kind of mistake anywhere in European maps (aside from the few Italians who repeated Cantino’s mistake by copying from Cantino). But we see the same kind of mistake and a very similar accurate east coast of Africa on the Mo Yi-tong map. This is just one of eleven diagnostic markers that indicate the authenticity of the 1418/1763 Ming/Qing Map. It would have been impossible for Mo Yi-tong to invent such a monstrosity–particularly when there were no such “long-neck” Africas on any Jesuit map nor on any contemporary European map. As we have reasonable grounds for believing that the Portuguese obtained copies of the early Ming maps, and because the same errors on the maps by Cantino and Mercator are also in evidence on Mo Yi-tong’s map (without any inclusion of such modern features as peninsular California, Florida, England, or the Gulf of Mexico)–we have reasonable grounds for concluding that Mo Yi-tong’s copy in 1763 was an accurate reproduction of the early 15th century Ming geography.
    I have seen the map. It is brittle; and it smells old. I offered my assessment as a professional at no charge based on my detailed knowledge of ancient maps of the Americas before Columbus. All the world’s maritime civilizations were out there exploring and mapping the world before Chris Colon was born. Until Zheng He came along with a mandate from his emperor to bring together all the peoples of the “Four Seas”–that is, the whole world, the Romans had made the best maps of far-flung shores including a reasonably accurate Macrobius Map (c.440) showing Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Roman knowldege of the Antipodes and Florida is why we read in Aristotle that “hurricanes are storms that are most common in the Autumn.” And we see on maps by Pomponius Mela (1st century) a huge gulf identified as the Caspian Sea north of Europe with a region called the Sea of Hurricanes. They knew about the storms because they had been there. Etc., etc.
    Our thinking shouldn’t be a doctrinaire: “No New World maps before Columbus except those that are hoaxes” but: “Is this a reasonable portrayal of the earth given the resources available at the time?” Zheng He had the resources–in spades. The 1418/1763 Map fits neatly within the context of the actual history of cartography (although it apparently has no place in the current dogma of historians).
    Gunnar Thompson, Ph.D.

  29. K. M. Lawson says:

    It is unfortunate that you came and posted this long piece (copy and pasted perhaps?) without at all engaging the previous comments and criticism of the map either here or in linked material. Do you have anything to offer in the way of response to the specific claims of those who dismiss the map, for example, Matthew’s comments above just for starters?

  30. Matthew Mosca says:

    Reading Dr. Thompson’s post, I can’t help but make the following observation. Far from being “burdened with the doctrinaire belief that ‘no Chinese Map of the World could possibly exist,’” I think I can speak for most of my colleagues in the field of Chinese history when I say that a). scholars have a full appreciation of the development of Chinese science and technology before the modern era, and b). historians of China would be, in principle, delighted to discover conclusive evidence that Ming voyages reached America (what scholar doesn’t take pride in the achievements of the place and time they study?). Furthermore, as press coverage and the sale of Mr. Menzies’s book has demonstrated, most journalists and their readers are by no means burdened with such knee-jerk ‘doctrinaire’ beliefs. However, I can only concur with the views of a Chinese scholar, quoted in one of the relevant H-Asia postings, that promoting an unsubstantiated claim will ultimately only harm the field, as well as popular views of past Chinese achievements. I am quite happy to admit that I hesitate to accept extreme hypotheses based on scant proof, but not that I am impelled by ‘dogma’ to dispute that American was discovered by someone other than Columbus. This strikes me as the standard straw-man argument of those pitching far-fetched ideas.
    What concerns me about Dr. Thompson’s argument (and Menzies’ book) is the degree to which European evidence is advanced to support their claims. It would not be impossible, let me hasten to add, for knowledge from Ming China to reach Europe even before the arrival in China of the Portuguese, through the channel of indirect trade. What is patently odd, however, is that evidence for a Chinese voyage should circulate more widely in Europe than in China – no authoritative Chinese source about the Zheng He voyages supports such claims (despite several accounts of his voyages, some first-hand, surviving charts detailing his route, and coverage in numerous official and non-official compilations). The lack of Chinese evidence has led most serious scholars of Chinese history, within and without China, to dismiss these claims. (Parenthetically, the lack of corroborating Chinese evidence also seems like the best reason to dismiss the “Mo Map,” the appearance of which can only be labeled extremely convenient.) If we are to adopt Dr. Thompson’s course and pit en bloc dogmatic mainstream scholars against far-sighted theorists, let me strike a blow for the former and say that I find it curious that men who read no Chinese can see more clearly that Zheng He discovered America than masterful (and patriotic) Chinese scholars of Ming history who have every reason to support the notion, and only their scholarly conscience to restrain them.
    I have not read Menzies’ book. I picked it up when it came out, intrigued. I flipped through the back matter, and came upon a line in which he adduced as evidence in support of his claims a similarity between “Chile” and the Chinese place-name Zhili 直隸 (given there, I believe, in Wade-Giles romanization as Chih-li). I put it down, and have not picked it up again. Similarly, I had sufficient immediate doubt about the content of Mr. Mo’s supposed 18th-century map (in addition to the more comprehensive arguments of other scholars) to devote days to its minute study. This is not to belittle the issue. The interest stimulated by the Menzies theory and its debate has been considerable, and it is the duty of historians to comment on the reliability of information passing through the public realm. I imagine that evolutionary biologists did not take pleasure in reading through the pronouncements of Kansas school board members. Some, however, took the trouble to rebut them out of a sense of their public duty as scholars. In the same vein I salute my colleagues in history who have the patience to spend weeks carefully rebutting claims from which they can derive no edification. The interest of this topic to the public makes it, and its debate, worthwhile.
    At the same time, I feel constrained as a student of history to add that ultimately it matters little whether Zheng He reached America or not. From the perspective of Chinese history, scholars have long dealt with the conundrum that the Ming government initiated direct contact with India and the Arab world, places richer and more alluring than the Americas, and yet finally relinquished those contacts along with their maritime power. This is a real and important issue in Chinese history. Even if Zheng He indeed reached America and failed to follow this up, that would add little to the larger issue – already well noted by historians of China – of the puzzling relationship between the early Ming government and maritime power. When we compound this with the fact that Zheng He’s discovery of America, supposing it happened, had virtually no impact on his contemporaries or later residents of China, we can hardly describe Zheng He’s discovery of America as a crucial issue in Chinese history.
    Nor world history. The real importance of Columbus’ voyages is that they were followed up. The settlement of America, the destruction of native American cultures, the boost the exploitation of American resources may have given to European powers and their colonial projects, the impact of American silver on world currency markets, and the role of North and South America in later world history, these are some of the reasons the early European voyages of discovery are of great historical importance. Columbus’ voyage is significant not as a single feat, but as an early link in a chain of events. The debate over whether Zheng He reached America is a fascinating subject, and I follow the issue closely, but I don’t think it can be ranked among the major issues of Chinese or world history.

  31. allen mawer says:

    I have subjected the name of the alleged author of the 1763 map to detailed textual analysis and have found evidence that he was active in Britain in the 1950s, where he inverted his name in accordance with western convention and replaced the first letter of his family name with a plosive that westerners would find easier to pronounce. There is even a song celebrating him sas Yi-tong Po(known as Yiddle-i by his friends). Seriously, this is a hoax, but then isn’t the map, and shouldn’t more effort be going into basic questions of provenance, starting with the ‘small dealer’in Shanghai?

  32. PasserBy says:

    The carbon dating result of Waikato University confirms that the map’s paper was most probably produced during the period from 1730-1810AD or 1640-1690AD, which is the right range for the year in which the map was created. In addition to the scientific dating result, the smell, brittleness and embrowned color of the map paper also affirm that the map is a centuries-old document.


  33. Geoff Wade says:

    From: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture on behalf of Ryan Dunch
    Sent: Thu 03/08/2006 01:43
    Subject: H-ASIA: Australian television program on Gavin Menzies and 1421

    August 2, 2006

    Australian television program on Gavin Menzies and 1421
    From: Geoff Wade

    Dear all,

    Further details of the program including some extended interviews are
    available at:


    The transcript of the program is here



    Geoff Wade
    National University of Singapore

    To post to H-ASIA simply send your message to:

    For holidays or short absences send post to:
    with message:
    Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL
    H-ASIA WEB HOMEPAGE URL: http://h-net.msu.edu/~asia/

  34. Zuraffo says:

    I wonder how many of the detractors and/or supporters actually took time to examine the original/unabridged source regarding this matter, or people just pick and choose the side of arguments which they preferred and search relevant arguments to shore up their beliefs.

    This is a very bold endeavors which requires not only the contribution from historians, but navigators, engineers, biologists, linguists, etc to either prove/disprove its authenticity. A handful of people supporting/detracting the theory is only the beginning and should not be conclusive in any objective people’s viewpoint.

    It should have been a matter between academic scholars, yet how often have histories been used in political / commercial pursue?

    I have read the Robert Finlay supposedly ‘rebuttal’ to the book, and I am totally unimpressed. It is bad enough that Gavin Menzies has to commercialize this part of chinese history, but the ‘rebuttal’ by an alledgedly expert has to be smart-mouthed and personal insults is just beyond comprehension. So much hope of the professionalism of Experts.

    The only truth I see from this purported ‘exchange’ is that BOTH sides of the arguments are profiteering from attention and great book sales. Personally, I do not enjoy the trivializing of serious subject matters. Yet, in this age of global capitalism and consumerism, what is NOT trivialized and commercialized?

    Gone were the days where ancient chinese historians risks angering the emperor and their life by recording unabridged truth. Nowadays historians sell books and setup websites.

  35. Zuraffo: A substantial number of people on both sides have examined the evidence: that’s what we’ve been linking to. Given the self-promotion and historical density of Menzies and his supporters, I thought Finlay’s rebuttal was reasonably restrained, but sharp enough to get across the true disdain with which this “evidence” should be handled. If you’re looking for “balance” then you have to abandon the possibility that one side or the other might be right. Menzies’ thesis is that something extraordinary happened, but to be taken seriously he has to offer credible evidence. None of the evidence he’s offered is credible, therefore the thesis is eminently rejectable without needing to adduce bias, profit motives or trivialization.

    The traditional Chinese historiography of which you seem so fond was not “unabridged” at all, but narrowly focused on political affairs, highly tendentious at times (look at the Wang Anshi debates sometime!), often sycophantic and politically expedient (e.g. the History of the Ming commissioned by the Qing), and imbued with a mystical theory (Confucianism) which gave credence to all kinds of ahistorical pseudo-evidence. We’re all fond of Sima Qian, but it was kind of downhill from there….

  36. Not my name says:

    Obviously recreated as Britain made first contact with China, they even have a name for America, it sounds the same: “A Mei Li Jia”. As advanced as the Chinese were, I doubt they could read minds in the future, they could not have possibly guessed the modern name of America.

  37. David G. says:

    It has almost been two years since anyone has left a message here; I hope to receive an answer to my quest which is: I would like an expert in old Chinese maps to contact me in reguards to furthering the research of He’s travels. We have located an early map that needs to be translated. We are willing to provide a group of select sections of the map in order to identify and clarify locations presented by the map. This is a world map which appears to be 14-15th century in orgin and could verify the Treasure fleet once and for all. The map notations are very hard to read and may be in code, yet some Chinese characters are present. We have yet to perfect a retrival system to enable a perfect azminth for a balanced picture. The party selected could become an intrigal part of the discovery but a team may be needed. Images are copyrighted and confidentiality a must.
    Thank you.
    David G.

  38. David: You understand, don’t you, that the vast majority of our readers think Menzies’ ideas are worthless? I’m not the expert you’re looking for, but even if I were I would never operate under a cloak of confidentiality that would prevent me from saying publicly if I disagree with your interpretation of the material.

  39. Michael Ross says:

    David G
    Have you made any progress with your research yet? I may be able to assist you with the cartographic aspects of that research.

    Have you established the provenance of your map yet? Any serious researcher is going to want to assure themselves they are working with the “real thing” before they devote any time to your proposed project.

  40. J885 says:

    Everybody historians, anthropologists must know that this Chinese map was made in 1763, copied from the Chinese Jesuits’ works in the 16th and 17th centuries. The theories of pre-Columbian Chinese World Circumnavigation , African/Egyptian or Phoenician colonization of pre-Columbian Mexico and Central or South America are false. These theories have no evidences or pseudo-evidences. In other part these “pre-Columbian maps of America, Australia, New Zealand or Pacific Oceans” made by Chineses , Tartarians, Phoenicians, Vikings/Norses are 20th or 21th century fakes. The historians, archeologists or anthropologists worldwide mustn’t accept Gavin Menzies’ theories and believe in these fakes! They shouldn’t read Gavin Menzies’ books! Because they’re FICTIONS!!!

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