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H-ASIA August 26, 2003 From: Donald Clarke <email@example.com> *********************************************************** Transatlantic Voyages to America (Reply) Menzies' book was entertainingly panned by Ed Gargan in the Jan. 19th, 2003 issue of _Newsday_. Fair use copy excerpts follow: "There are people who swear they've seen clouds form in the exact image of Elvis. There are those who see the future in the scatterings of tea leaves on the bottom of a china cup. And there are those who believe that little green men laid out the pyramids in Egypt and built cities for the Incas in Machu Picchu. They truly believe this. Marching proudly in this tradition comes Gavin Menzies, a former British Navy submariner turned amateur historian who is convinced that fleets of Chinese ships crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to the Americas, that their crews established colonies here, erected lighthouses, built factories, swam in the Caribbean and captured long-extinct animals, all in the year 1421. Wonderful stuff, except it never happened. "Blessed with a complete ignorance of history, Chinese or other, Menzies has assembled a 552-page Tinkertoy assemblage of map-readings, snippets of medieval travel accounts, canned notions of history, and buckets of fantasy, wild guesses and wishful thinking that purports to show that the great seagoing fleets of the Ming Dynasty dispatched by the Yongle emperor visited the New World long before Columbus." <omitted> "Unlike India, Indonesia, the east coast of Africa and the Philippines, where an abundance of archaeological evidence of Zheng He's voyages has been found, the Americas do not have a single shard of pottery, stone stele or shipwreck to suggest the distant presence of Ming Dynasty sailors, an absence that fails to trouble Menzies. And unlike the animals, fruits, artifacts and ambassadors Zheng He brought back to Beijing from his voyages and of which there are detailed records, there are no accounts of a single nut, a lowly brick or an elegant gold vessel returned to the emperor from the Americas, something inconceivable to a Ming mariner. But Menzies cruises along, chapter after chapter, painting pictures of what the Chinese, in his words, 'must' have done. "In the absence of genuine evidence, Menzies relies endlessly on constructions like 'it is safe to estimate,' 'I felt certain,' 'I surmise,' 'it certainly seems,' 'the most plausible explanation' and 'it could only have been the Chinese.' Hobbled by an inability to read either classical or modern Chinese or any European language, Menzies is chained to sparse translations while remaining oblivious to the sources that could have shed light on his task. "With such a cavalier disregard for the wealth of resources on Zheng He and the early Ming, it is not surprising that Menzies' book is replete with factual errors, both large and small. A well-known work on military technology published in 1621, the 'Wu Bei Zhi,' is mischaracterized as a manual on seamanship; a stone stele erected in 1432 near Changle in Fujian Province expressing sailors' thanks to a Daoist deity is misquoted and misdated; the spectacular 1402 Korean map of the world, the Hon-il Kangni Yoktae Kukto chi To, is misdescribed as 'a Chinese/Korean chart'; Zheng He's sailors are said to have captured a mylodon, a giant tree sloth, that had been extinct for thousands of years, and Hong Kong and Macau are described as busy trading ports in the early 15th century - they were not. "As the distinguished Ming historian Hok-Lam Chan has noted, the Yongle emperor undertook seagoing expeditions 'to display his power and wealth, to learn about the plans of Timur and other Mongols in western Asia, to extend the tributary system, to satisfy his vanity and greed for glory, and to make use of his eunuch staff.' What the expeditions were not were missions of conquest and colonization, everything that later Western voyages were. Understanding this entails an understanding of the Yongle period, the nature of early Ming perceptions of the world, and a sense of imperial ambitions and challenges; Menzies fails this test. "There does remain to be written an account of Zheng He's voyages, voyages of epic breadth, adventure and accomplishment. Menzies has not done that." Don Clarke University of Washington School of Law ------------------------------------------------------------------------ NB. Edward A. Gargan, Newsday's Asia correspondent, attended graduate school in medieval Chinese history at the University of California, Berkeley. ============================================================= To post to H-ASIA simply send your message to: <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu> For holidays or short absences send post to: <firstname.lastname@example.org> with message: SET H-ASIA NOMAIL Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL H-ASIA WEB HOMEPAGE URL: http://h-net.msu.edu