Sunday, February 01, 2015

Book Review: "1421: The Year China Discovered America"

 My brother lent me a book he read that, due to my interest in history, he knew I'd enjoy. I recently finished reading it & definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in world history.

by Gavin Menzies

The premise of the book is that the land mass we know know as "The Americas," as well as pretty much every other area of the globe, was explored by the Chinese in 1421-1423. What makes this idea so controversial is that this age of exploration took place about 70 years before Columbus supposedly discovered The New World.

I'm not one to take anybody's word on anything, and there are plenty of people with websites devoted to debunking the theories & evidence Menzies puts forth. However, I also believe that most of history has been lost, and there are endless things we do not know or understand about our collective past.

The author, Gavin Menzies, is a sailor and a former commander of a submarine in the British Royal Navy. He contends that on March 8, 1421, Emperor Zhu Di of the Ming Dynasty launched an expedition fleet to explore the world. China's wealth, manpower, and advanced naval engineering enabled them to expend the resources to launch this ambitious voyage. The admiral of this fleet was eunuch Zheng He, still a legendary figure, whether or not the feats ascribed to his fleet in "1492" are all true.

As the giant ships of the Chinese treasure fleets sailed around the world, they were commissioned to find new lands, chart astronomical data, and possibly trade with any cultures they came in contact with. Menzies puts forth information throughout the book that he believes to prove the Ming fleets reached both the West & East coasts of The Americas, Australia, Antarctica, and West Africa. He puts forth convincing arguments and visions of how these events happened, but there are detractors who dispute his interpretations of the evidence and his sources.

From what I've learned about the ancient civilizations of Central America, such as the Maya, it doesn't seem far-fetched to me that there could have been encounters with Chinese explorers there. The story of Kukulkan and the shared use of feathered serpent & dragon iconography is interesting.
by Anthony Lyon

While this far-reaching expedition was underway, the Forbidden City was hit with a disaster when lightning struck one of the buildings. This unfortunate act of nature caused a fire that burnt the entire complex to the ground. It led to a series of events that eventually resulted in a new, isolationist emperor who effectively ended the Chinese age of exploration. All records of outside foreign influence were destroyed, and this supposedly explains why the tremendous achievements of the treasure fleets have been forgotten.

Although I remain skeptical of all the claims in the book, I can appreciate it for the same reason that I enjoyed reading "Fingerprints of the Gods" by Graham Hancock. I think that anyone who questions the "official" story in any field should be heard, and the evidence examined openly. Even if all the evidence doesn't hold up, or some questionable sources are used, I don't think that warrants completely dismissing a theory. Science, despite it's countless achievements as a system of inquiry, can still reflect the human tendency to want to preserve the status quo.

Even if "1421" presents false assertions or makes faulty conclusions, it is still worth reading because it gives a different perspective on the accepted version of history. We should constantly be challenging the ideas & stories that have become ingrained into our collective consciousness. Sometimes it takes a drastic upset of that consensus to move our understanding of the world forward.

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