From The Asian Reporter, V13, #13 (March 25-31,
2003), page 11.
1421: The Year China Discovered America
By Gavin Menzies
William Morrow, 2003
Hardbound, 552 pages, $27.95
"Over ten years ago," British author Gavin Menzies writes in
the foreword of his new book 1421, "I stumbled upon an
incredible discovery Ö (which) suggested that the history of the world
Ö would have to be radically revised."
What a stumble it was, what a re-write historiansíll be doing after
the dust settles. Mr. Menzies happened upon tiny clues lying unnoticed on
dusty old marinersí maps in musty library backrooms. Historians
defending established history will undoubtedly dismiss him as a stumbler,
unworthy of recognition by academe. Mr. Menzies is not a university
professor, he is not an institutional researcher. By his own admission, he
is simply an ocean navigator and a seasoned sailor. It is in all
likelihood these very peculiarities in perspective that made a whole other
kind of sense out of the evidence lying before historians since Ö well,
since shortly after 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Retired Royal Navy Captain Gavin Menzies was a decorated submariner
since 1953. He saw a lot of night sky when his ship surfaced to navigate
against the stars, same as ancient sailors, whether commissioned by a
familiar Spanish Queen or a distant Chinese Emperor. Submarine commander
Menzies saw a lot of our world. Like 15th-century mariners he saw idyllic
isles, he approached continental shores, and gazed at soaring highlands,
from just 20 feet above the rolling waves. Those historians and academics
challenging Mr. Gavinís credentials, his theories, and his evidence,
probably havenít stared at a lot of night skies while bobbing around in
all that blue sea.
In Mr. Menziesí fresh look at old old maps ó the very charts that
guided the guys every school child knows by rote (Columbus, Magellan,
Cook, Popeye) ó the author spotted landforms that might look mistaken
from an orbiting space shuttle, but would be accurate representations of
what a sailor sees at sea level. These lands (continental North and South
America, among others) appear around the edges of those places Europeans
"discovered" from 1492 forward. Mr. Menzies kept looking until
he got to the grandmother of all maps, the 1424 chart by Venetian
cartographer, Zuane Pizzigano. Then it occurred to him, if European
explorers hadnít been there, hadnít mapped there ó who did? Whereíd
they buy this stuff?
"It seemed arrogance bordering on hubris," Mr. Menzies
writes, "to believe that a retired submarine captain could reveal a
story many great minds had failed to unearth."
What Mr. Menzies reveals in his book 1421 is five hundred and
fifty two pages of text and sup- porting appendices, notations, and
bibliography. And, of course, he methodically lays out his case for
Chinese barter, horticultural trade, cultural exchange, engineering, and
settlement, on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides of both North and South
These were not, Mr. Menzies maintains, little trips on tiny boats.
These were not Columbusí forty-foot Nina, Pinta, or Santa
Maria. Chinese ship-builders and navigators had been busy for over six
hundred years when the third Ming Emperor Zhu Di decided to chart the
planet. Chinese admirals introduced themselves to American Indian nations
in great armadas anchored around teak-planked, 500-foot- long, nine-mast
treasure ships. Each of Emperor Zhu Diís four fleets was provisioned for
the two-year voyage with soil for vegetables, tubs for tofu, livestock for
lunch, cannon and mortars for bad guys. Compared to Columbusí
conscripted crew of convicts and social misfits, each of the Emperorís
four admirals enlisted an army of astronomers, engineers, metallurgists,
botanists, physicians, priests, and of course, talented courtesans.
How I made it through public school and private universities missing
this massive history lesson makes me uneasy. How our historians failed to
string together unsigned maps and Chinese farm animals, Chinese crops,
Chinese pots, pans, shipwrecks, Chinese men and women among Indian peoples
of Vancouver, California, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Florida,
in Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, all of it, all of them, well
before 1492, is troublesome. Maybe Mr. Menzies said it best during his
March 2002 televised lecture before the prestigious Royal Geographical
"I seemed to be looking at the most incredible journeys in
history, but ones completely expunged from human memory, the majority of
records destroyed, the achievements ignored and forgotten."
Information and research continue at website <www.1421.tv>.