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The Chinese Are Coming (Again)
August 20, 2008 8:23 PM   Subscribe

The book 1421 was a publishing sensation, selling over a million copies in several languages. Its author, Gavin Menzies, despite being roundly criticized and thoroughly debunked, is back with a new book.

Not content with the claim that the Chinese discovered America, this time he's made them responsible for the European Renaissance. While many think he's mad as a hatter, he's apparently no mere con man. His beliefs in his own theories have led him to spend over two million pounds ($3.7M USD) researching his topics. (previously)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll (39 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
1421: The Year China Discovered America

1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance

1446: The Year a Fantabulous Chinese Space Armada Conquered Alpha Centauri
posted by Flunkie at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2008 [12 favorites]


I'm writing about how Gavin Menzies is actually Chinese.
posted by sien at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


2121: The Year Zheng He's Timeships Discover Neo America, Team Up With Nanoroosevelts To Kill Babies Hitler and Hirohito
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:32 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that your implication that he must really believe this, since he has spent significant amounts of his own money, is borne out by the article you link to. It says that he has spent 2 million pounds on his research, yes, but it also says that he is raising money for his research.

Raising money for research = research = publicity = book sales = personal income.
posted by Flunkie at 8:36 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well traveling around the world six times with his wife, buying a five story house in london, and staffing the basement with four full time researchers is going to cost some money. Good thing is is that when you say... buy a 50 inch plasma screen TV to study images of maps you can call it a research expense, and really, who's gonna get mad if you watch DVDs on it during the weekend? Plus I'm mean when you're mixing smoothies for a snack mid research that blender can be claimed, so can the electricity you pull, and who knows if you really ran that blender for 30 seconds or thirty days? Not me. Better claim it all as research expenses. Then other people know you're doing something.
posted by Science! at 8:45 PM on August 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


"I get criticised for being a charlatan and making millions," he says wearily. "But people are astute and if my theories were false and didn't stack up, I would soon know about it from the public." *

But the people who criticize his theories are part of the public.

. . . . "That night, we had a huge number of new subscribers and sales of the book in Australia trebled, making it the biggest-selling history book in that country. People want to make up their own minds." *

Gee, we don't need no gosh darn intellectuals to tell us anything, Bob (from the shop) read this here book and now is qualified speak on these matters with great authority!
posted by D.C. at 8:56 PM on August 20, 2008


. . . qualified TO speak . . .

(Sorry, no sleep.)
posted by D.C. at 9:01 PM on August 20, 2008


I wrote a paper on the 1492 hypothesis for a History of Sea Power class. It was incredibly easy to research, because there are vast numbers of historians who were so frothingly mad about Menzies' book that they published dozens of papers and set up websites detailing exactly how he was full of shit. It was like reading one long, very verbose beat-down.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:04 PM on August 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


I liked the idea of pre-Columbus explorers discovering America a heck of a lot more before I realized charlatans had gotten a hold of it and were making millions.
It's like, okay, I agree that it would be pretty awesome if King Tut sailed a moon-boat down the mighty mississip. Why you gotta spoil it by trying to act all serious and giving lectures on the subject in a twenty-dollar blazer?
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 9:08 PM on August 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


1421?

That's numberwang!
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:15 PM on August 20, 2008 [10 favorites]


but what none of you scoffers can explain is the fact that native american tribes were using fortune cookies to communicate long before columbus discovered america
posted by pyramid termite at 9:27 PM on August 20, 2008


Ahem.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:28 PM on August 20, 2008


*throat not quite clear yet*

Ahem!
posted by stinkycheese at 9:32 PM on August 20, 2008


Man, this sounds like a joke.
posted by ORthey at 9:32 PM on August 20, 2008


pyramid termite: "but what none of you scoffers can explain is the fact that native american tribes were using fortune cookies to communicate long before columbus discovered america"

Dude, people like snack cakes (see Jr. High School) and people like passing notes (see Jr. High School). It was bound to happen.
posted by Science! at 9:33 PM on August 20, 2008


1491
posted by homunculus at 9:42 PM on August 20, 2008


Man, this sounds like a joke.

Gavin Menzies walks into a bar with a laptop and a bunch of copies of Fortean Times. Bartender looks up and says "What is this, a joke?"
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:57 PM on August 20, 2008


While many think he's mad as a hatter, he's apparently no mere con man. His beliefs in his own theories have led him to spend over two million pounds ($3.7M USD) researching his topics.

You gotta spend money to make money.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:01 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bah! Everyone knows that Bugs Bunny discovered America.
posted by bwg at 1:27 AM on August 21, 2008


If Bucky Fuller is right, the Chinese would've been about 1400 years late in being the first to circumnavigate the globe. Fuller claimed the Phoenicians did it first.
posted by mullingitover at 2:07 AM on August 21, 2008


I'm reminded of the guy who claims Irish origin for a huge swathe of vocabulary that clearly isn't Irish. Maybe these two guys can get together and write
988 The Year the Irish Invented the Chinese Who The Went On To Discover The Rest Of The World
posted by ob at 4:35 AM on August 21, 2008 [7 favorites]


What's so great about Columbus' discovery is that he did it in the face of extremely adverse circumstances. Everybody, including the king of Spain, told him: You wanna go to America? You'll never make it! It's too far away...

But Columbus hung in there, he promised the queen as much gold from the new lands as she can eat, and eventually he had the balls to pull it all through.
Unlike that guy Zhang He, I might add.
posted by sour cream at 4:51 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Having read 1421, I found it was an interesting read, at first. But the claims kept getting more and more outrageous, and the evidence so tenuous, that I was expecting an "Or, you know, not." at the end, to let the reader in on the joke. OK, sure, there was a massive fleet built, and the Chinese might have gone as far as Australia. But Chinese coins and artifacts could reach East Africa by trade without a single Chinese vessel passing Sri Lanka, and vague, unsubstantiated legends don't mean the Chinese landed in America. From my recollection, aside from the pre-Columbian map showing something where America would roughly be, there was nothing to it. Would have been more interesting as alt-historical fiction.

When I saw the Renaissance book on the shelf, I laughed. I couldn't even bring myself to pick it up to see upon what slender thread he had erected another preposterous edifice.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:58 AM on August 21, 2008


Decent little genre overview article that The Telegraph ran earlier in the year.
posted by mandal at 5:26 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


homunculus: "1491"

Great book.
posted by stbalbach at 6:24 AM on August 21, 2008


The Telegraph article, while it does a good job of explaining some things, is wrong to pin the staring point on Dan Brown. I blame Immanuel Velikovsky. (Though I'm sure it's even older.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:27 AM on August 21, 2008


As a side note to this, when I was a kid (say 7 or 8 years old) my dad gave me a copy of Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods? to read. I sort of read it (it was a bit boring for a kid) over the course of what seemed a lifetime but was probably only a couple of weeks and told my dad when I was done with it. He then told me that it was completely untrue but that it had sold more copies than the books that debunked it. To this day, I have no idea what point he was trying to make or what he was trying to teach me by doing this.
posted by ob at 6:45 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've never thought the guy was a con man, it has to be said, just an idiot. I saw a documentary a few years back in which they helped him to go around the world proving his theories for 1421, and it basically ended with them having a big fight with him for wasting their money.
posted by opsin at 6:55 AM on August 21, 2008


Raising money for research = research = publicity = book sales = personal income.

1. Raise money for research
2. Publicity
3. ???
4. PROFIT!!!

....Sorry, I couldn't resist.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:09 AM on August 21, 2008


Hey, if two out-of-work guys with a monkey suit and pig guts can get the worlds attention for a few days, imagine what semi-intelligent person can do with a compelling sounding theory. The world is absolutely awash in crap science.

A really good article is "106 Science Claims and a Truckful of Baloney" from Popular Science. "We asked a writer to notice and decode the science claims he heard on a typical day. They averaged one every 10 minutes." Guess how many were accurate? Maybe 10%. BTW this article was re-published in 2005's The Best American Science and Nature Writing.
posted by stbalbach at 7:38 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Eventually they'd be so inbred that the sons of God would have flippers for feet
posted by gene_machine at 7:38 AM on August 21, 2008


1945: The Year China Buried Her Alive With Just Her Sister At Her Side
1969: The Year China Bought His First Real Six-String
1974-5: The Year China Was Your Sorry Ever After
1979: The Year China Didn't Even Care To Shake These Zipper Blues
2000: The Year China Met Up, All Fully Grown, By The Fountain Down The Road
2525: The Year China, If Man Is Still Alive, May Find

</mcsweeneys>
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


If he claimed that 14-year-old Chinese acrobats had discovered America, I might believe him, because, man, is there anything they can't do?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:07 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's funny, because I was just thinking about how the best way for a historian to get a big book contract is to say something outrageously wrongheaded that appeals to some large American demographic. How the Irish saved this, how the Chinese founded that, etc, etc.

BTW, I'm a historian and am looking for such a topic. If anyone has suggestions, I'm all ears. Now let's brainstorm and make me a mint!
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:15 AM on August 21, 2008


We've slapped this idiot around before. As I said at the time:

I love reading about hoaxes. I just get the queasy feeling that a lot of people either don't grasp that it's a hoax or don't think that there's much difference between hoaxes and history, which worries me.
posted by languagehat at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm currently working on a book about how a heretofore unknown city on an island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean acted as a port of harbor for the Chinese when they came to America in the early 1400s.

Unfortunately the island sank taking the city and all the evidence with it, so I've had to piece my facts together by diligently reading many center justified web pages from people who claim to be in contact with the spirits of the people who used to live there.

Apparently everything was crystal and dolphin powered.

One day, I hope to find the name of the city, because I'm pretty sure it's the final piece in the puzzle.

I should totally collaborate with Menzies; my findings totally prove his.
posted by quin at 9:35 AM on August 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


1491 was so much better than this. Charles Mann must grit his teeth every time someone confuses the two.
posted by Hubajube at 9:40 AM on August 21, 2008


1999: The Year China Partied Like It's
posted by DU at 9:46 AM on August 21, 2008


I really enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt which is considerably better researched than this other work of fiction. I'd heartily recommend it to all.
posted by longbaugh at 5:06 AM on August 23, 2008


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