井底之蛙

5/19/2006

Satire, self-parody and court jesters

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:07 am

I was looking for a good way to announce my new position as a member of the Carnival of Bad History team, when Geoff Wade sent this to H-Asia, and Prof. Goodman has graciously agreed to allow me to reprint it here:

Colonial Irony – A review

Paul Chiasson
The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America
St Martin’s Press, New York, 2006
376 pages. Bibliography. Notes. Index.

One of the great mysteries of life in Twenty-first Century Sydney is Doyle’s Restaurant at Watson’s Bay, just inside the southern part of the Heads that lead from the Harbour area into the Pacific Ocean. How does it happen that a fish-and-chip shop is located in an area of such extremely high land values? There is no sense in which this might be regarded as a native construct. Fish and chips are by no means part of the indigenous Australian culture. It would seem that one of the many generations of migrants to these shores had generated Doyle’s. Perhaps the French (D’Oyle) the Italians (Dolio) or the Germans (Deller) with subsequent anglicisations of names as is inevitably the Aussie way. Unfortunately, a trawl through the many books written about the history of Sydney’s development reveals no such explanation.

Puzzling about this in the summer of 2003 on a visit to Glebooks, I happened upon 1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies. Suddenly the penny dropped. As Menzies details, the Chinese Ming Emperor’s fleets had come to Sydney in the middle of the Fifteenth Century. Clearly, they had landed at Watson’s Bay and settled. With them of course they brought all their cultural practices to establish a new community overseas. As is clearly the case from the contemporary UK, this included Chinese fish-and-chip takeaways. Doyle’s is an Aussification of ‘Daole’ – Chinese for ‘arrived,’ the words they uttered on reaching Watson’s Bay. The mystery is solved.

Surprised? Find this explanation a little fanciful and far-fetched? This is essentially the argument-line, though transposed to Canada, of The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America. It suggests these ideas are merely the logical outcome of the work of Gavin Menzies. In an entertaining and often amusing parody, The Island of Seven Cities deliberately out-Menzieses Menzies. The (presumably) fictional author, Paul Chiasson, starts by explaining that he was dying of AIDS before beginning this project and then places one improbable conjecture after another in telling his tale. Not only did the Chinese settle on Cape Dauphin, Cape Breton Island (in today’s Canada) but this was the origin of the myth of Eldorado, and these particular Chinese were Christians.
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