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H-ASIA November 3, 2005 Comment on Popular History and Bunkum -- on *1421, The Year China Discovered America* ***************************************************************** From: Jennifer Purtle <email@example.com> Dear H-Asia Members, With reference to Geoff Wade’s post of October 21: As an art historian who works, among other things, on cultural geography and the material apparatus of geography in China, I read with some interest Geoff Wade's complaint against Transworld Publishers, and the ten points that Wade makes against Gavin Menzies’ _1421: The Year China Discovered America_. In particular, point #6 caught my attention. “6. Claim: The Chinese Œwere aware that the earth was a globe and had divided it into 365 and a quarter degrees (the number of days in the year) of latitude and longitude.” (*1421*, p. 449) “Fact: There is no evidence that during the early Ming, the Chinese had any knowledge of the earth as a globe and certainly none that they were aware of latitude and longitude.” I have not seen the book published in Leiden that Hilde de Weerdt cited in her response, so this may be old news to many, but there is a rather specific description of a strange bauble manufactured at the Yuan court circa 1272 under the auspices of the Persian astronomer Jamal-ud-Din (about which I¹m currently writing an article). The passage appears in the Yuan shi 48:999, complied under the aegis of Song Lian (1310-1381) during the early Ming period. A workmanlike, draft translation of the Yuan shi text ‹which is well worth a look in the original (!) --might read: “The Ku-lai-yi-a-er-zi [perhaps the geographer Al-Biruni¹s (973-1048) _Al-Athar Al-Baqiyah fi Qanum Al-Khaliyah_, a work of ancient history and geography of circa 995 CE-- only the last part Khaliyah is perhaps transliterated as Ku-lai-yi-a, and erzi used to represent the al – “son of,” “of the clan of”] is the Chinese Dili zhi Geographic Record]. Its manufacture was effected by taking wood and making it into a round ball, seven parts represented water, the color of which was green, three parts represented land, the color of which was white. It delineated (hua) rivers, lakes, oceans; greater and lesser arteries (literally blood vessels) are strung around its middle. Lines (hua) makes small square grids, to measure the area of the sphere, and the distance of the roads.” This odd ball thing was not without precedent ‹ its postdates by a bit more than a hundred years the first known object of its kind, created by the geographer Idrisi (born in Ceuta, Spain) active at the court of Roger II in Sicily prior to Idrisi’s death in 1166. Also, the gridding of the Odd Ball perhaps matches discursive conventions of Arabic geography. The Syrian geographer Abulfeda (1273-1331), in the entry for Quanzhou in his Geography (which I¹ve only read in Reinaud¹s translation), for example, begins: "...Quanzhou. According to Ibn Said (fl. 13th cent.), 154º longitude and 17º latitude....² (Reinaud, _La Géographie d’Aboulfeda_, v. 2, p. 123). This convention is not unique to Abulfeda, but is found elsewhere in Arabic geography of the period and earlier. Indeed, Al-Biruni, whose work the Odd Ball Thing may literally embody, wrote about a spherical earth that rotated on an axis (and orbited the sun), and Al-Biruni was known for his accurate calculations of latitude and longitude, relative position, and the radius of the earth (this last not matched in the West until the 16th century). Personally, I¹d love to teach the Yuan shi passage in a Classical Chinese class, just for fun, to see what students think the Odd Ball might be! The passage has so many of the basic grammatical structures AB ye, yi X wei Y (take and make), the use of fen for tenths, nice parallelisms, pretty straightforward vocabulary -- would be great on a first year exam! What this Odd Ball may or may not have meant to those who encountered it (and how many of them there may or may not have been, and when) is hard to say; who could have recognized the object firsthand or in its textual description is unclear to me (could the non-Chinese intellectual élite that made the Thing under Mongol rule understand its literary Chinese description? Could the Chinese description adequately express the foreign ideas of the object for an ethnic Chinese/Sinophone audience? Do the “Lines that make small square grids” (Hua zuo xiao fang jing) that gridded the surface of this thing represent a period idea of ‘longitude’ and ‘latitude’? They have that visual form, but what do they represent epistemologically?) They don¹t fit Dava Sobel¹s account of John Harrison’s (and our modern) idea of longitude and how it was ‘discovered’ exactly. But they don¹t appear altogether unrelated, either (especially if the wooden ball is a material representation of Al-Biruni’s text(s).) Hypothetically, could a period viewer get from point A to point B based on the information of this Odd Ball Thing? On land? By sea? Both? Neither? Hmmm... I am no particular fan of Menzies, just have a lot of questions about the strange things made at the Yuan court and recorded in the early Ming. Jennifer Purtle University of Toronto (From 1 January 2006) firstname.lastname@example.org formerly The University of Chicago (position resigned 1 July 2005) Coming soon: “1994, the year Asian Scholars First Discovered H-ASIA”