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1421: The Year China Discovered Your Mom
January 13, 2006 9:06 AM   Subscribe

China may actually have discovered the Americas first. Two years ago, Gavin Menzies released a book entitled 1421: The Year China Discovered America. The book was widely read, but its contents were controversial and the evidence not strong enough to convince everyone. Now, a two hundred and fifty year old map, apparently copied from one made in 1418, will be revealed to the public and may permanently change the way we think about the Americas.
posted by borkingchikapa (76 comments total)

 
VIKINGS!!! DAMNIT, why doesn't anyone give the vikings their due!!!
posted by Doorstop at 9:15 AM on January 13, 2006


The Discovery of North America by Leif Ericsson, c. 1000
posted by ericb at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2006


What doorstop said.
posted by ericb at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2006


Goddamnit, I better still get Columbus Day off.
posted by deadfather at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2006


The techology did exist.
posted by John of Michigan at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2006


Discovering Vikings at L'anse aux Meadows
posted by ericb at 9:19 AM on January 13, 2006


Human beings have long been wanderers. The more interesting question to me is, why do we feel compelled to try to pin down the point in time when America was "discovered?" How about the moment the first proto-indians crossed the bering land bridge, whenever that was? Why don't they get the real credit?
posted by JeremyT at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2006


Forget the Vikings. Did you see the detail on that Chinese map? They went around North and South America!
posted by vacapinta at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2006


JeremyT -- good point.
posted by ericb at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2006


Coulda sworn it was one of these guys ?
posted by Peter H at 9:22 AM on January 13, 2006


Here's another one. But doesn't it look small. I mean, how many mariners would it be able to seat?
posted by John of Michigan at 9:22 AM on January 13, 2006


Why don't they get the real credit?

I think because they sort of moseyed over, instead of intentionally exploring. Exploring is very manly, you know.
posted by deadfather at 9:23 AM on January 13, 2006


JeremyT beat me sort of, just noticed, ha. But mine has a map!
posted by Peter H at 9:24 AM on January 13, 2006


It's gotta be authentic... if you look carefully, you can see MADE IN CHINA on the map.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:26 AM on January 13, 2006


How does the map look compared with what was known in 1763?
posted by Artw at 9:26 AM on January 13, 2006


1491 : New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1421 : The Year China Discovered America
posted by ericb at 9:27 AM on January 13, 2006


Madog ab Owain Gwynedd wasn't far behind Ericsson, either. Er, maybe.
posted by jack_mo at 9:28 AM on January 13, 2006


How does the map look compared with what was known in 1763?

Less cotton, more smallpox.
posted by Peter H at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2006


On a serious note, don't the Americas appear to be sideways? It has the Siberian peninsula approaching the Cape Horn--instead of Alaska. Or is that some projection trickery?
posted by deadfather at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2006


Also --

When China Ruled the Seas : The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433

Zheng He and the Treasure Fleet 1405-1433
posted by ericb at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2006


One thing that did bother me about this article is that it says that what was added when the map was redrawn was clearly indicated, but the article doesn't say what specifically was added. The Americas aside, one could assume that this map shows that the Chinese were aware of Australia and Antarctica before anyone else as well.
posted by JeremyT at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2006


Oohhh ... nevermind. California is an island, though.
posted by deadfather at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2006


Heh. From the BBC story about the map:

It clearly shows Africa and Australia, though the UK is not marked.

There! Those parochial Chinese! Who'd they think they were foolin'? Detailed map, my arse!
posted by soyjoy at 9:31 AM on January 13, 2006


The reason I think this would be so amazing isn't because they'd be the first people to ever land the "Americas" (because they weren't), but because of the detail on it (like vacapinta said). Sure, the vikings were there a thousand years before, but they landed in Greenland and a very tiny portion of the Canadian coast. If this map is real, it means the Chinese sailed around the goddamned world a hundred years before the Europeans got around to it. Pretty much every single major land mass is on this thing, which is not something that anyone else could have done even after Magellan's ships finished their journey.

As far as the Native Americans, I kind of agree with deadfather. That wasn't an organized effort, and in all likelyhood was fueled more by the search for more food and better weather than "Hey dudes, I wonder what's over there."

On preview, JeremyT, the Economist article says "Australia is in the wrong place (though cartographers no longer doubt that Australia and New Zealand were discovered by Chinese seamen centuries before Captain Cook arrived on the scene)."
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:31 AM on January 13, 2006


why don't we give the native americans their credit? cuz the europeans and americans are egocentric and geared our textbooks that way. but if we have to go with who traveled the atlantic to reach america first, it was the vikings. the land bridge? native americans. either way, they got here, that's all i care about.
posted by Doorstop at 9:32 AM on January 13, 2006


According to Wikipedia, some Europeans were still drawing California as an island in the mid-1700s. It's possible a Chinese mapmaker might not have known in 1763. Or maybe he drew it that way to make it look older.
posted by gubo at 9:34 AM on January 13, 2006


Yeah, if by first, you mean, after (in order) the Americas were discovered by Amerindians (ca. 14,000 years ago), proto-Athapaskans (ca. 11,000 years ago), proto-Inuit-Aleuts (ca. 8,000 years ago), Polynesians making landing in Costa Rica and perhaps California (ca. 1,400 years ago) and Vikings (ca. 1,000 years ago).

This Chinese thing crops up a lot, and I have never seen any convincing evidence for it. Chinae is a hotbed for fake-everythings, from Rolexes to Dinosaurs. I wouldn't be surprised to find fake maps coming from there.

Also, the Chinese were remarkable record keepers and historians, and 1421 is recent history for them. It would be surprising to find they had no solid, long established accounts of voyages which, to map the world to the extent shown, would have taken decades, in my estimation. Also, there is no oral history that I know of on the west coast of the Americas for a Chinese presence here. There are a few Chinese artifacts, but these are most readily explained by cross-Pacific drift or by pan-North Pacific trading. In any case, many of the Chinese artifacts (coins, mostly) pre-date 1421.

The real problem with theories like this is not just that they are usually wrong, but that they often foster or even state racist agendas along the lines of "Native American Group X could never have achieved such high levels of art/architecture/whatever without help from the Old World". its one of the oldest stories in North American archaeology, and continues today, with various accounts of the lost tribes of israel, Phoenicians, Celts in Minnesota, Egyptians in the Mississippi, etc.
posted by Rumple at 9:34 AM on January 13, 2006


why don't we give the native americans their credit?

Because there's no evidence that the native americans circumnavigated the globe and mapped it.

There are more important things, historically speaking, than "getting there."
posted by JekPorkins at 9:36 AM on January 13, 2006


Oohhh ... nevermind. California is an island, though.

Uh, no. Vancouver Island is an island.
posted by 327.ca at 9:36 AM on January 13, 2006


There are more important things, historically speaking, than "getting there."

Thank you, Walmart.
posted by Peter H at 9:38 AM on January 13, 2006


They colonized both continents, from the farthest north to the southern tip, right? If they were looking for better food and weather, they would have stuck to California, or some place similar, wouldn't they? I say they deserve full credit as explorers. We don't have any records of history indicating who their Columbuses were, but I feel its safe to assume they had them. How is the question of "I wonder what's over there?" any fundamentally different for them than it was for Europeans?

This whole discussion reminds me of reading news of a study that found cocaine and tobacco on Egyptian mummies. Anyone know if that research held up over time, and what the explanation is?

I think we often assume that the people in the ancient past were less intelligent because their technology wasn't as advanced as ours. I imagine they were just as smart. More and more, we are learning that global commerce is by no means a recent invention.
posted by JeremyT at 9:42 AM on January 13, 2006


correction: upon reading the article.... the chinese maybe have been the first around the world. kudos to them. boo to the false advertisement of this thread.
posted by Doorstop at 9:45 AM on January 13, 2006


...and an hour later they were hungry for another discovery. This then explains the manyh Chinese takeout places in myh neighborhood. The evidence? a map that is a copy of a map but we do not get the original?

If they discovered Amrica first, does that mean they own us now? Or do we wait for twenty more years when we begin to make cars etc for their people
posted by Postroad at 9:50 AM on January 13, 2006


Well the credit is still to Columbus, despite his character, for putting America on the map (no pun intended) for Western Civilization. If I remember correctly within a few years of his voyage everyone in Europe knew about it and was ready to exploit it. Without getting on a tangent, the rising political tensions and close borders of many European nations made America a necessity.
posted by geoff. at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2006


when did native americans discover america?
posted by wakko at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2006


and does it really matter who "discovered" it after they did? ooh look I just discovered new york city.
posted by wakko at 9:52 AM on January 13, 2006


Interesting post and all, but no fucking way is that map real. I mean, I don't have any reason to doubt that it is a 250-yo map, or that the Chinese beat Columbus to America, but that map is light-years ahead of any other map from China in that period. I call bullshit on the "accurate reproduction of a map from 1418" theory.

Here is a good example of what the Chinese thought that the Old World looked like around 1400. And it's actually a very good map for the period.

So apparently, Menzies theory is that the Chinese suddenly made huge advancements in their ability to measure longitude, measure distances and objectively draw maps, sailed all over the globe, came home, made a map, and then completely forgot about a) the map and b) how they made the map, all in the span of roughly twenty years.

You know what, put that way it sounds completely reasonable.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 9:54 AM on January 13, 2006


JeremyT -- so far as I know, the coca leaf discovery has held up. its not that surprising, there is well established evidence for contact between Polynesians and South Americans. Contrary to the laughable Kon Tiki model, it certainly happened via Polynesians discovering the Americas, and, among other things that may have happened, they acquired important food crops which spread back across Polynesia, through Melanesia to Southeast Asia. The most notable of these was the sweet potato, but there are many other cultigens thought to have madde the trip.

The people who first peopled the Americas were just as smart as us, or, at least, anatomically indistinguishable. This includes examination of waterlogged brain tissue dating to the early Holocene in Florida.

The current evidence best supports a model of expansion from Asia via Beringia (which was a subcontinent the size of western Canada, not a "bridge"), movement down the west coast of the Americas, and then breaking through to east of the pan-American cordillera at some undetermined place or places -- probably, in my view, south of North America as eastern North America shows evidence for having been first peopled from the south to north.

In support of this, I blow my own horn: just last week my team and I got a carbon date that is "pre-Clovis" on archaeological material from a cave on the western extremity of the Northwestern Coast of North America. Slowly but surely, evidence is accumulating for the coastal model of North American peopling, which probably followed a counter-intuitive, apparently circuitous route .
posted by Rumple at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2006


They colonized both continents, from the farthest north to the southern tip, right? If they were looking for better food and weather, they would have stuck to California, or some place similar, wouldn't they? I say they deserve full credit as explorers.

Right but Western Society didn't know about it. If I go to Planet Goggly-Gook and meet a race of aliens you wouldn't say I was not an explorer simply because they were there first. From a Western perspective Lief and Columbo were explorers, they explored lands unknown to their civilization at great risk to their person.
posted by geoff. at 9:56 AM on January 13, 2006


The frickin' dinosuars discovered America, man.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:58 AM on January 13, 2006


And yes, re: the map -- the maping of California as a big island is a pretty clear ripoff of 16th and 17th century European maps. I also note the Amazon is apparently on the wrong side of South America.
posted by Rumple at 9:58 AM on January 13, 2006


And speaking about explorers, why is nobody giving cats credit? They discovered America, stayed there for a few million years, then went back and re-discovered Asia. Truly impressive.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 10:13 AM on January 13, 2006


And look at what they did to Broadway!
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2006


Re; maps. Piri Reis 16th C shows details of Antartica (mountain ranges, two landmasses) that we were only able to map in the 1950s. So the fact that this Chinese map is so detailed does not necessarily mean it is a complete rip-off. As to why, when they were such excellent record keepers, we don't have more Chinese data on this;- I believe there was a large political change while the admiral was off on his cruise which made the project "unhealthy" when he got back. Records were erased .
I'm fascinated by the amount of knowledge that is lost due to the mechanisms of data recording which is why maps are so important. It really is the cliche "a picture tells a thousand words" cos there are so many assumptions of knowledge underlying one map. Looking at this map and comparing it to other Chinese maps I do agree that it appears to have a very advanced knowledge of longtitude. But I found the Menzies book interesting.
BUT why has no-one mentioned St Brendan!!!
posted by Wilder at 10:21 AM on January 13, 2006


What Rumple said. It's unclear how much the copyist added, but the presentation is that this map represents how much the Chinese knew in 1421, and that sets off bullshit detectors. You couldn't get all that from one circumnavigation. Interior details? River sources? This would take many, many expeditions and many years, and there would be many other documents that were drawn from.

Sailors do astounding things of course, and who knows who got to America by boat (although the distinction between a hungry tribe looking for land and a hungry government looking for trade seems smallish to me). Putting it all together into a vaguely accurate map (which isn't the same as a useful map) is another thing entirely, and isn't something you get from lashing some bamboo together.

So as a total amateur my kneejerk is that this 1763 map is almost entirely yanked from Western sources and made to fit an old account that may still be true--but this ain't corroboration. It's more like a chunk of salt with a grain of map.
posted by fleacircus at 10:25 AM on January 13, 2006


Wouldn't the peoples who immigrated from the Bering Strait be the first to discover America????!!!!

IMO, we should focus on those that discovered America (peoples of Asia who immigrated to the Americas) and those who conquered (Europeans). I think Chinese discovery of the Americas is a moot point like that of the Europeans "discovery."
posted by j-urb at 10:32 AM on January 13, 2006


I'm also calling bullshit on this. The map looks very much like a European understanding of the world in the mid-1700s. And as others have said, the depiction of California as an island is the dead give away. What are the chances that two different civilizations would independently arrive at the same, quirky, wrong idea? The open, ice-free arctic also represents a lingering European hope that a Northwest Passage was still to be found.
posted by LarryC at 11:19 AM on January 13, 2006


All this talk about maps and which culture discovered and conquered what lands gave me a sudden, overwhelming urge to leave work and go play Civ IV.
posted by Gamblor at 11:22 AM on January 13, 2006


The map is bullshit, a fake to back up a bullshit theory.

As for Gavin Menzies, we've done him before. And again and again. As I said in the second of those threads, "Cheng Ho's expedition is well known, and it's also well known how far it got: to wit, East Africa."
posted by languagehat at 11:23 AM on January 13, 2006


Cheng Ho? Is that where "Land, Ho!" came from?
posted by spicynuts at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2006


I have to agree with geoff. that discovery is about perspective. The Amerindians discovered America when they crossed the Bering Strait, and Europeans discovered America when Columbus arrived. These are not mutually exclusive discoveries.

But it seems to me that "discovery" is not the important historical event, instead establishing permanent and continuous contact is epochal. Even if both Leif Erikson and Cheng Ho explored the Americas, their voyages weren't particularly important because they had little if any impact upon the Americas, or upon history writ large. For good and/or bad, Columbus's voyage is an example of the substantial European institutional support behind exploration, trade, and colonization, which made his voyage not an isolated event but instead just the first of many more lasting steps.
posted by huzzahhuzzah at 12:01 PM on January 13, 2006


Linguists have a lot to say about the naming of things in the "New World". One thing I read was that Adirondack as in the mountains, comes from East India, meaning "Little Himalayas".

Most interesting to me is the no brainer that came from watching the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There was an area near the end of their journey, inhabited by the Mandans on one side of the river, and another group The Hidatsa on the other. Man Dan is very much like Mandarin, and the other group's name sounded very Japanese. The kicker was when the current living chief of the "Japanese group" was interviewed, and he looked like a long haired Japanese businessman.

"The Mandans amalgamated with their neighbours, the Hidatsa, after both tribes had been devastated by the smallpox epidemic of 1837/8. "


"The Arikara Tribe joined the Mandan-Hidatsa in 1862 and the three tribes have lived continuously in the area now designated the Fort Berthold Reservation since that date. The tribes are now known as the Three Affiliated tribes. "

And then there are the Welsh....


The only problem I see with this whole thing is the Tibet question. The Chinese asserted a right to Tibet over some things that happened in the 1400, and 1500 hundreds. Tibet is just a little larger than the USA.

posted by Oyéah at 12:03 PM on January 13, 2006


Linguists have a lot to say about the naming of things in the "New World". One thing I read was that Adirondack as in the mountains, comes from East India, meaning "Little Himalayas".

Most interesting to me is the no brainer that came from watching the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There was an area near the end of their journey, inhabited by the Mandans on one side of the river, and another group The Hidatsa on the other. Man Dan is very much like Mandarin, and the other group's name sounded very Japanese. The kicker was when the current living chief of the "Japanese group" was interviewed, and he looked like a long haired Japanese businessman.

"The Mandans amalgamated with their neighbours, the Hidatsa, after both tribes had been devastated by the smallpox epidemic of 1837/8. "


"The Arikara Tribe joined the Mandan-Hidatsa in 1862 and the three tribes have lived continuously in the area now designated the Fort Berthold Reservation since that date. The tribes are now known as the Three Affiliated tribes. "

And then there are the Welsch....

www .madoc1170.com/madoc.htm

The only problem I see with this whole thing is the Tibet question. The Chinese asserted a right to Tibet over some things that happened in the 1400, and 1500 hundreds. Tibet is just a little larger than the USA.
posted by Oyéah at 12:06 PM on January 13, 2006


This makes me think of The Years Of Rice And Salt which is both very interesting and incredibly tedious at the same time.
posted by longbaugh at 12:19 PM on January 13, 2006


p.s. the straight dope on the Cocaine Mummy story is here.
posted by longbaugh at 12:24 PM on January 13, 2006


Oyéah, I presume that was an elaborate joke. But just in case anyone is tempted to take it seriously, nothing in it has even a faint relationship to historical truth. It would make just as much sense to say Arikara looks like Ankara, therefore the Indians are actually Turks. (Come to think of it, there are probably Turks who say that; goodness knows enough of them claim Sumerians were Turks.)
posted by languagehat at 1:36 PM on January 13, 2006


I bet this thing is gonna be Hwanged.
posted by shoos at 2:29 PM on January 13, 2006


1421: The Year China Discovered the World is full of assumptions and much of its evidence is subjective. My professor, Dr. Robert Finlay, wrote a pretty damning review of it here.
posted by Atreides at 2:30 PM on January 13, 2006


wakko: According to the most recent research, which comes from radiometrically dated footprints in volcanic ash in Brazil, at least 40,000 years ago.

The current People of the Americas theory is that the Bering Land Bridge wasn't the only mode of travel, but that boats were used by the first native peoles to travel along the west coast to South America.

Just because they didn't set out to find the Americas didn't mean they don't get the credit for finding it first.
posted by fossil_human at 2:34 PM on January 13, 2006


The footprints in ash were in Mexico, not brazil, and have been comprehensively debunked.

Right now, my assessment is about 80% of professional archaeologists accept that Monte Verde, in northern Chile, is the oldest archaeological site in the Americas, dating to 12,500 radiocarbon years ago.

Of the remainder, 10% still adhere to the Clovis-first/ice-free corriodor model that suggests people arrived about 11,500 radiocarbon years ago.

The final 10% believe in pre-Monte Verde sites. Of these, the main contenders are Pedra Furada in Brazil, with occupation layers that may be as old as 48,000 radiocarbon years. Whether these oldest layers are cultural or not is a point of contention, the artifacts are crude and equivocal. The other contenders are a trio of sites in eastern North America. Meadowcroft rockshelter near Pittsburgh is the best documented and has layers dating to about 19,500 radiocarbon years ago. Some critics claim these dates are skewed by coal particulates from groundwater. The other two sites are the Topper Site in South Carolina and the Cactus Hill site in Virginia. In both cases, not enough has been excavated or published to substantiate the claims.

its important to remember that even in the case of Monte verde, the people almost certainly came from NE Asia, and that in the absence of an ice-free corridor open in time for their acess to the Americas, then they most likely came down the west coast. However, rising sea levels post-glacially have drowned much of the coastal evidence, making it hugely more difficult (but not impossible, in princile) to find.
posted by Rumple at 2:52 PM on January 13, 2006


I wonder if there was much of a market for fake copies of maps in the 18th centuary.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:14 PM on January 13, 2006


Atreides -- thank you for the link to Finlay's review of Gavin Menzies' book. Interesting counterpoint.
posted by ericb at 5:27 PM on January 13, 2006


could China have explored the Meditterranean this early without landing/ coming into contact with pre-modern Europeans? They must have spent a while sailing the Med to get an idea of Italy's shape etc.

People wanted old maps - old maps were made.
posted by takeyourmedicine at 5:29 PM on January 13, 2006


I wasn't kidding, and looking up common words, between the mandarin, mandan, and the other two groups, the common greetings were the same. There were a lot of Turks in the Southern USA, when you look at the Anderson Rolls, that antique shopping list that the US Government collected, before taking the lands from the southern Native Americans; there are a number of Ismaels, and Mohammeds listed as Native American. The Anderson Roll, is the oldest roll, where all the names are Native American.

This nation was a hodge podge of many peoples from many places, and the populations in the new world were in some instances 40,000-30,000 years old. The Hopi claim to be the ancestors of us all. Navaho from Utah, claim common myth with the people of Mongolia. How will we ever find the oldest American bones?

There are some fascinating lists of common greetings and words from seemingly unrelated groups.
posted by Oyéah at 7:41 PM on January 13, 2006


Oyéah wrote:

Linguists have a lot to say about the naming of things in the "New World". One thing I read was that Adirondack as in the mountains, comes from East India, meaning "Little Himalayas".

Well, I'm a linguist, and I'd like a reference. Who claims that the Adirondacks are named after the Himalayas? A little googling produced this explanation that the name comes from a Mohawk Indian word, which seems much more plausible.

Most interesting to me is the no brainer that came from watching the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There was an area near the end of their journey, inhabited by the Mandans on one side of the river, and another group The Hidatsa on the other. Man Dan is very much like Mandarin, and the other group's name sounded very Japanese. The kicker was when the current living chief of the "Japanese group" was interviewed, and he looked like a long haired Japanese businessman.

For starters, here are three problems with this:
  1. According to the OED, the word mandarin comes from a Sanskrit word via Malay and Portuguese, so there's no reason that hypothetical Chinese explorers would be calling themselves that (instead of something like maybe han).
  2. As best I can tell, the syllable tsa doesn't occur in Modern or Classical Japanese. The only place ts occurs in Modern Japanese is in tsu, and that's understood to be a development from tu.
  3. Your judgment that some modern Native American you saw on TV looks "like a long haired Japanese businessman" is, to say the least, not evidence of anything. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like "all those people look the same to me".
posted by The Tensor at 9:13 PM on January 13, 2006


But "mandarin" came into English use by way of Sanskrit via Portuguese, or so I've just read. Is it me or are you on crack?
posted by shoos at 9:15 PM on January 13, 2006


or what the tensor said
posted by shoos at 9:16 PM on January 13, 2006


Lots of ancient maps.
posted by euphorb at 10:48 PM on January 13, 2006


Tensor, shoos: There's really no point arguing with people like Oyéah; they're not members of the reality-based community. But I guess it makes sense to get actual facts out there for the sake of anyone who wonders about them.
posted by languagehat at 6:17 AM on January 14, 2006


Mandarin is not a Chinese word, but a European one selected to describe the Beijing dialect. If I recall right, its descended from Latin for Mandare, to order or instruct. It probably pops up in several forms in the romance languages.
posted by Atreides at 7:32 AM on January 14, 2006


One quick touchup, the "mystery" of the Mandan indians, wasn't so much they were some lost tribe descended from Chinese, but some individuals think they may be descended from a lost celtic or european group. This being due to how their village was setup and their physical appearance.
posted by Atreides at 7:35 AM on January 14, 2006


Tensor, shoos: There's really no point arguing with people like Oyéah; they're not members of the reality-based community


Oh please. I read widely, and I am not worried about conjecture, mine, or anyone else's. Very well, sorry about the Mandarin/Mandan wild eyed leap.

There was no "discovery" of the "new world". A world was here and conquerors came. If I could choose a place and time to live, it would have to be a middle Californian coastal Native American, before Colombus. Imagine Ojai California, a creek, the mists, the avocadoes, and the quiet.
posted by Oyéah at 7:51 PM on January 14, 2006


You should be worried about it when it is that far from viable.
posted by shoos at 8:17 PM on January 14, 2006


Tibet is just a little larger than the USA.
posted by Oyéah at 12:06 PM PST on January 13



China and the USA are about the same area.
posted by stirfry at 9:15 PM on January 14, 2006


On the "Overall Map of the Geography of All Under Heaven" and Zheng He's Fleets by Gong Ying-yan of the Ningbo Institute of Technology, Zhejiang University

(Written 15 Jan 2006)

(Chinese original at: http://bbs.omnitalk.org/alumni/messages/28967.html)

(Draft translation by Geoff Wade 16 January 2006)


2005 marks the 600th anniversary of the first voyage to the Western Ocean by Zheng He, and many people both within and outside China have employed various forms to commemorate this great achievement in global navigational history. Of course, in this, not everyone's aims have been the same. Abroad, the retired British commander Gavin Menzies in his book "1421: the Year China Discovered the World" suggested that Zheng He's fleets had carried out the first circumnavigation of the world. His views were responded to by many people who were not very sure of their facts and were also subject to criticism by some scholars. After a number of critics had shown through clear historical facts that Menzies viewpoint was completely mistaken, at the end of 2005, someone advised that a recently-discovered ancient Chinese map could prove Menzies' claims and proclaimed that "history should be rewritten to show that Zheng He's fleets were the first to discover the entire world!"



It was learned that this map, named "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" had on its left panel the characters "Copied in the second month of spring in the kui-wei year of the Qian-long reign (1763) from a map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court of the 16th year of Yong-le reign of the Ming dynasty, drawn by Mo Yi-tong." That is to say, this map was drawn by someone named Mo Yi-tong in 1763, and it was partially based on a "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" drawn in the 16th year of the Yong-le reign (1418) during the Ming dynasty.

The map has the following notation: "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map." This means that all those with red borders were from the original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". On the "Overall map of the Geography of all under Heaven" there are found the words: "In the 13th year of the Yong-le reign (1415), I followed the senior envoy, the eunuch director Ma San-bao, and others to Bengal and other barbarian lands all the way to Hormuz and such countries, to read the royal proclamations and confer rewards. In the 16th year (1418), I returned to the capital." As these words have a red border, it can be assumed that these were on the original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court".

The words "I followed the senior envoy, the eunuch director Ma San-bao, and others to Bengal and other barbarian lands all the way to Hormuz and such countries, to read the royal proclamations and confer rewards" certainly refer to Zheng He's voyages to the Western Ocean. The "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" was thus seemingly drawn on the basis of Zheng He's voyages to the Western Ocean, and the "Overall map of the Geography of all under Heaven" copied the "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". Thus, the "Overall map of the activities of Zheng He in his voyages to the Western Ocean.

What surprises people is that the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is "an almost complete world map", "including not only all the major continents (as well as the South Pole, the North Pole and Greenland), with red-bordered annotations on both the American and Australian continents." From this we can conclude that Zheng He's fleets truly did conduct a global circumnavigation. These were the basic claims of the person who revealed details of this map.


This news attracted the attention of the global media and researchers, and we were all waiting to catch a glimpse of this ancient map, hoping that this newly-discovered and important historical source would powerfully promote the deeper development of Zheng He research. On 12 January 2006, we finally had more news: The British journal "The Economist" had published a colour photo of this map. It noted that the map was going to be unveiled in Beijing and London on 16 January.


Although the photograph of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" published in The Economist was not large, and the characters could not be clearly seen, the basic shape of the various continents of the globe could be observed very clearly. On closer examination, the map proved to be a great disappointment: Its origins lay certainly not in any Chinese map from the age of Zheng He, but rather in European world maps of the early 17th century.


The "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is a transversal projection world map, and we only have to have a glance through the many world maps published in Europe from the 1630s to the middle of the 1700s, such as the world maps of the family of the Dutchman Johan Blaeu, to easily see that this is completely copied from a European map. The only difference is that on the European maps, Asia is placed on the right side and America is situated on the left side, whereas on this map China is in the centre. We know that at the end of the 16th century, when Matteo Ricci was translating maps published in Europe into Chinese-language maps, such a rearrangement was made for the first time. (It needs to be pointed out here that people generally believe that Ricci made this change to accord with the Chinese view that China lay at the centre of the world. However, Ricci himself said that all countries in drawing their maps place their own country at the centre of the map).

This way of drawing maps initiated by Ricci was followed by later missionaries who came to China, such as the "Complete map of the 10,000 countries" by Jules Aleni (1582-1649) and the "Complete Map of the Earth" by Francois Sambiasi (1582-1649). It became a model, extending even up until today.


In 1760, three years before the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was drawn in 1763, the French missionary Michel Benoist (1715-1774) drew his "Complete Map of the Earth" as a present for the Qian-long emperor in commemorations of his 50 years on the throne. Somewhat earlier, the Belgian missionary Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) had also drawn a "Complete Map of the Earth". These two maps spread quite widely and copies of them are still available to us today. Of these two world maps, that of Benoist copied the maps published in Europe exactly, with Asia on the right of the map and America on the left. However, the world map drawn by Verbiest was like the world map done by Ricci. The form of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is identical with that of Verbiest's "Complete Map of the Earth", with the exception of some differences in the area of the two poles and Australia. This can only mean that the map on which the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was based was a more accurate European map later than Verbeist's.


From a cartographic point of view, there were three main preconditions for drawing a map like the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven".

1) There must be a belief that the world is a globe and not a flat plane.

2) In order to represent the globe as a flat plane world map, there needs to be knowledge of and methods for projection.

3) There must have been a very clear knowledge of the actual geographical situations of the various continents of the globe, or else they could not have been represented so accurately on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven". In the history of Western cartography, we can find the progress of the development of these three preconditions. The "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" reflects the results of the development of European cartography, and particularly the major achievements following European overseas explorations and the development of cartography.


Conversely, in the China of Zheng He's time, these three major preconditions did not exist. We only need to compare the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" with the "Navigation Maps of Zheng He" to know this. No only in the time of Zheng he, but actually throughout China's history (excluding those maps influenced by Ricci and other Western missionaries), there is no map which portrays the world as a globe and projects this globe onto a flat plane. The traditional geographers in China could not produce a map like the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven". The map does not belong to an ancient Chinese cartographic tradition, but rather to a European cartographic tradition.


Of course, some might at a stretch claim that even though in the extant Chinese texts we have not found precursors and successors of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven", that this does not mean that there was no source for these in the past, and it is completely possible that these may all have been lost. And also that it is completely possible that soldiers who accompanied Zheng he's distant voyages might have included some geniuses who discovered extremely advanced map projection methods and drew these maps. And that the accuracy of the shape of the continents on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" shows that not only were Zheng He's fleets the first to circumnavigate the globe, but that they also conducted geo-surveys of a huge scale. As the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" clearly states the "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" on which it is based came from the actual voyages of Zheng He.

Thus, the key here is to determine whether or not the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" has any links with the Zheng He voyages. If this map clearly has links with the Zheng He voyages, then the scientific history of China and the rest of the world needs to be rewritten, as must even the final chapters of the history of human civilization. If the map is not linked with Zheng He, we cannot ascribe the map to Zheng He, and we can assign the account of Zheng He travelling around the globe to the realm of fairytale. In brief, if the 1418 map truly existed, Menzies' 1421 story of China discovering the world in 1421 will be supported!


The "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" on which the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was based no longer exists, and we have no knowledge of its original form. At the top of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" are the words: "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map." This means that all those with red borders were from the original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". This is an essential pivot intimately tying together the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven", the "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" and Zheng He. It is also the only thread for us if we want to resolve the crucial issues. Although the annotations which have been revealed so far are not numerous, we only need to take one example to be able to powerfully affirm that that important statement on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" that "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" is not correct, or at least show that some of those within red borders could not have been on any "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court". This example comes from a space between Asia and Europe and above there is an annotation within a red border. "The people in this place have deep-set, round eyes and wrap their head in a cloth. They have loose clothes and long trousers. When women go out, they must cover their faces, with offenders being punished." In eastern Europe, there is another annotation in a red border which notes: "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'."


Even those with only a little understanding of history will know that the term "shang-di", which is used by Chinese Christians as the name of God, appeared long ago in pre-Qin (pre 220 BCE) Chinese works. For example, it appears in the "Book of Odes" (Zhou-song: zhi-jing) At the end of the 16th century, after Matteo Ricci and other Western missionaries came to China, in order to propagate their religion to the Chinese, they had to find a Chinese term by which to translate the name for their highest power (in Latin: Deus). They investigated all sorts of possibilities, first using a phonetic representation -translating "Deus" as "Duo-si". However, it was difficult for Chinese people to accept this method of representation. After the missionaries became more familiar with Classical Chinese texts, they found some terms in the Confucian texts which were very suitable -"tian-zhu" (Lit: Lord of Heaven) and "shang-di" (Lit: The Emperor on High). In his "The Real Purport of the Lord of Heaven", Ricci clearly stated: "Our Lord of Heaven is the Shang-di of the ancient texts" and "Reading the ancient texts, one comes to understand that 'shang-di' and 'tian-zhu' are but different names for the one thing." Of course, what "shang-di" meant to Chinese people prior to the Qin dynasty (pre 200 BCE) and what it meant to the European Christians in using it to represent Deus, was completely different. That is to say, the use of the term "shang-di" to represent the Christian God began at the end of the 16th century and prior to this, the correlation between this term and this concept did not exist. The use of the term "shang-di" on the Eastern Europe portion of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" shows that this annotation could not have derived from a map of the period of Zheng He. During the Tang dynasty, when the Nestorian sect of Christianity entered China (in the 7th century CE), the Chinese called the religion the "Jing religion" In the 9th century, when Emperor Wu-zong (814-846 CE) of the Tang dynasty petacked and it gradually withered away.


During the Yuan dynasty (1206-1368 CE), Christianity in China was called the "Ye-li-ke-wen" (Mongol term: Erkeun or Arkaim) religion. It was only in about 1625, when the "Stele of the Spread of Da-qin (Eastern Roman Empire or Syria) Nestorianism in China" was discovered in Xi-an, that people first knew that Christianity had been in China during the Tang dynasty. After the discovery of this stele, it was given great attention by the Western missionaries in China as well as European scholars and a great amount of research was conducted upon it because it proved the long-term existence of Christianity in China. That is to say, the identification of Nestorianism as a form of Christianity was something which happened after 1625. At the time of Zheng He, Nestorianism had long ceased to exist, and certainly no-one knew that the Nestorianism of the Tang dynasty was a form of Christianity. This proves that the annotation "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'" found on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" could only have been created after 1625, and certainly could not have come from the age of Zheng He.


The note on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" says that "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map". However, through our analysis of the annotation "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'", we have shown that the suggestion that this was from the original map cannot be accurate. Thus there are annotations in red borders on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" which actually did not come from any "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" of the Zheng He period, but are instead from some time after the end of the 16th century.


The statement "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" is not something which can be believed. If the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" was directly copied by Mo Yi-tong from an original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court", the annotation "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" shows that Mo Yi-tong was deceitful. If Mo Yi-tong was just copying a "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" drawn by someone else, then the annotation "Those annotations without red borders are not from the original map" would have been added by that person and Mo Yi-tong was deceived. To sum up, the annotation "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'" is a cast-iron proof that the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" has nothing to do with Zheng He. The sub-text of the statement is that Christianity is a belief in various parts of the world and China should accept Christianity as its religion. Such an idea would certainly have come from the pen of a European missionary.


We can see in the few annotations on the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" which have been revealed the vestiges of European missionaries in China. On the west coast of America, there is an annotation which reads: "The local people of this place have black-red skin and on their head and at their waist they wear feathers. They are practiced in cannibalism." One just has to look at Aleni's "World Atlas" ( "Zhi-fang wai-ji" (of 1623 -gw) which notes of North America that "The men and women all wear feathers and capes of tiger and bear fur" of look at the "Map of the Complete Geography of all Under Heaven" where it is noted on the southern part of Africa that "The skin of the people here is the colour of black lacquer, their teeth are white, their lips red and their hair curly." Or one can look at Aleni's "World Atlas" where it is noted that "There are many countries here. The people are all of variants of black colour. As you move northwards, they become lighter, and as you move southwards they become darker, with some even the colour of lacquer. However, their teeth and eyes are extremely white. Here, as in Verbeist's (1623-1688) "Illustrated Explanation of Geography", one can see similar types of descriptions.


Our analysis of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven" indicates that it is in the form of a European map, with annotations similar to those of the Western missionaries who came to China. There is no evidence of anything to do with Zheng He. We believe that, following the complete unveiling of the "Overall Map of the Geography of all under Heaven", this assessment will be completely verified.
Carbon 14 dating can only determine the age of the ink and paper. If this is indeed a map from the Qian-long period, it will be good news as many maps from that time have been destroyed by natural and man-made disasters. The non-historical nature of the annotations within red borders cannot but cause us to have grave doubts about this map. The map not only reflects the influence of Western culture on China after the great geographical discoveries, but also a proof that only a very few advanced Chinese people studied Western culture at that time. In the long stream of Chinese history, what is evident by its lack is this spirit of actively studying those cultures which are different from ours. If we use this valuable map to weave a modern fairy-tale about "Zheng He discovering the world" it will be a violation of the real significance of this map, contrary to the spirit of Zheng he's voyages to the Western Ocean and also contrary to the global trends of our times.
posted by Rumple at 10:46 PM on January 16, 2006


And a little bit more
posted by Rumple at 10:39 AM on January 25, 2006


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