February 20, 2012

Book Review: 1421 The Year China Discovered America

Title: 1421 The Year China Discovered America
Author: Gavin Menzies
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: World History

Chinese Junk compared to the Santa Maria
After 30 long years of war, Chinese forces succeeded in ousting the Mongol Empire in 1387 leading into the Ming Dynasty.  The early Ming Dynasty was a period of growth, expansion, and prosperity. Coupled with the Chinese knowledge of navigation, astronomy, shipbuilding, and written language, the Chinese built the greatest, wealthiest, most advanced Kingdom on earth. With this wealth and abundance came the ability to build and support a exploratory seafaring fleet.

The ships were built of teak.  In order to provide the wood, teak forests were decimated for hundreds of miles in each direction from Beijing. There were nearly 2,000 ships in all. The greatest of these ships could hold 3 months worth of food and travel 4,500 miles without stopping. The larger ships were built with compartments in the bowels. These compartments could be filled with water where trained dolphins provided the men with fresh fish. With a rich, peaceful, powerful Kingdom supporting it, this fleet divided into four expeditions, setting sail in early 1421.

These four fleets set out for four different parts of the world.  Captain Hong Bao, set sail for and explored the continent of Africa and the Atlantic side of South America, sailing thru what is now known as the Strait of Magellan. Captain Zhou Man explored Australia and the Pacific side of North and South America. Captain Zhou Wen explored the North Pole, Greenland, and the Atlantic coast of North America. And Captain Yang Qing traveled India, the Indian Ocean side of Africa, and the Middle East. During their epic expedition, China fell into a destructive civil war.

In May of 1421, disaster struck in the form of lightening.  Much of Beijing burned.  Believing it was divine disapproval of imperialist expansion and decimation of the forests, China's Ruler Zhu Di took his own life. Following was a dark and war ridden period of struggle. The explorers and their fleets returned to a land that was unrecognizable to them. Their voyage was not celebrated and documented.

The thesis of this book seems far stretched. Gavin cites a lot of evidence: Chinese DNA among Native Americans and Africans, Asiatic animals and fauna spread across the continents, unidentified wreckage strewn across the globe, mysterious rock memorials along coasts of each great land mass, and even documentation of European explorers. However, all evidence cited is not always evidence proven. There is a lot of dissent directed at the evidence provided. The possibility of such an undertaking is not impossible.