'Ancient' map could prove China found America first
By Jane Macartney (timesonline.co.uk)
Updated: 2006-01-14 10:01
A map has come to light
that may support the thesis that a Chinese eunuch admiral discovered America
decades before Christopher Columbus. At the very least it will fuel debate.
Bought by Liu Gang, a Chinese lawyer, in 2001 from a book dealer in
Shanghai, the map is dated 1418 and shows with remarkable accuracy the whole
world — each continent with its correct shape, latitude and longitude. Mr Liu
has carried out extensive research to try to authenticate the map, which he
plans to unveil to the public in Beijing on Monday.
Gavin Menzies, the British author, contends that the discovery is further
proof that Zheng He, a Chinese navigator, and not Columbus, discovered America.
Mr Menzies, a former Royal Navy submarine commander, said: “It’s authentic. It
supports my book to the hilt.”
He published 1421: The Year China Discovered America in 2002 and the work
soon became a bestseller, sparking furious discussion in academic circles in
China and beyond. Mr Menzies uses numerous references to maps in his book that
relates how the fleet of Admiral Zheng He sailed to Cuba and to Rhode Island in
1421, seven decades before Columbus made landfall in the New World in 1492.
Now he believes that this map, perhaps one that guided the admiral’s ships,
will provide new evidence that the fleet first reached the Americas on a 1415-18
voyage. The admiral is recorded as having made seven voyages. Mr Menzies says
that he is well aware that if the map were to be proved a forgery it would have
catastrophic consequences for his own reputation — not to mention Mr Liu’s. They
will have to wait until the end of the month for carbon dating, although experts
have said that the map is well over a century old.
Mr Liu, a founding partner of one of China’s largest law firms, had begun to
question accepted wisdom about Admiral Zheng He and his voyages after studying
his purchase. After reading Mr Menzies’ book last year, the Chinese lawyer, with
a background in the City of London, realised that he might not be alone in
questioning the achievements of Columbus.
It would seem surprising that among China’s huge archives no records remain
to show the admiral — the only Chinese explorer of note — reached the Americas.
However, records of his voyages were burnt by later emperors who disagreed with
the expansionist policies of Admiral Zheng He’s patron, the Yongle Emperor, who
died in 1424.