Friday, January 13, 2006

Chinese discover America. Yes. And ...?

Did the Chinese discover America almost a century before Columbus? Those who maintain that they did, such as Gavin Menzies, will be heartened by the presentation next week of a map that shows not only the two Americas but Australia, as well. This map was created in 1763, but is a copy of one made in 1418, based on the voyages of a Chinese admiral named Zheng He, whose sumptious fleets wandered the world from 1405 and 1435. What he found was written up in a book called The Marvellous Visions of the Star Raft, published in the same year as the map.
It may well be true. Just as it is true, more than likely, that the Vikings landed on the eastern shores of the continent in the 11th Century. Zheng He or Leif Ericsson?
What does it matter? What counts, as always, is the consequence. The consequence of the Chinese discovery, as of Leif Ericsson's, was ... nil. Columbus's changed the world.
Soon after Zheng He's voyages, by order of the Emperor, such frivolities as boldly going where no man has gone before were forbidden and China withdrew into her rather large shell. That had consequences, and that is interesting. We might be better engaged working out why.
The story is here. (via Norm)

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