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1421 ­ The Year China Discovered the World Gavin Menzies Bantam Press ISBN 0593 050789
$45.95 Cnd £20 Sterling
In 1421 China wanted the world by 1423 it had
turned its back on it.

If someone told you that everything you learned about in history, about who discovered the world, was wrong and could prove it, would you be upset?
Columbus a fraud? Batholomew Dias and Vasco De Gama upstarts. Magellan just following a map, Australia known and explored centuries before Captain Cook. Suppose I tell you that there was a map of the world drawn in 1423 and it shows ALL the key points and landmarks and currents of the entire globe. It discusses longitude and latitude, has the key navigational points of the polar starts both North and South. Not only had someone been there before the Portuguese and English but they had tried to settle and breed plants and start a network of key ports and settlements that, if successful would have meant that this country would have controlled the world before Columbus was born. Not with force, but under Confucian law and with a fantastic tribute system that de facto acknowledged that China was the centre of the world and the true ruler of all that was in it. Yes China.

1421 under the orders of Emperor Zhu Di magnificent mahogany Junks capable of transporting hundreds of soldiers, sailors, diplomats and farmers set sail to discover and map the world. Admirals Zheng He, Hong Bao and Zhou Man had under their command tens of thousands of soldiers, more than a hundred ocean going ships and over a period of nearly three years reached and every extremity of the world, visiting three thousand countries. They and others mapped parts of South America, found the ŒMagellanı Strait, sailed up the Pacific Coast as far as Washington State and across the Pacific locating Hawaii. In the Atlantic they mapped the eastern coast of North and South America, sailed around Vineland (Greenland) and mapped New Zealand coasts and Australian coasts off Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef. They discovered Puerto Rico and rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In every place they left soldiers or settlers or planted trees to mark their visit and placed votive offerings in the roots. They traded animals, plants, wildlife, gathered seeds, made sketches, maps, and indexed the world. Inevitably, there were casualties and wrecks. It is those remains that prove critical to support this book.

What others prefer to claim as the work of Œaliensı is none other than the systematic science led work of the Chinese explorers and astonishingly brave seafarers. This well researched book, fifteen years in the making is by a former UK submarine captain. Not a scholar, nor an academic. In the best traditions of the amateur detective, here is a man whose curiosity was whetted by discoveries that made no sense. The great Portuguese discovers were working from a map. They knew there were new countries out there. In 1428 a map of the world arrived in Venice and it was a map like this that found its way to Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese Prince who had ambitions to make Portugal leader of the world. This was a poor copy of a chart chart signed by Zuane Pizzigano in 1424. There were many more charts circulating, some more detailed than others, but all pieced together from the original Chinese maps. How it got there and how it was lost and how China did not become the worldıs greatest power in the 15th Century despite having the power and knowledge to do so is at the heart of this fascinating book.

As Menzies says: In 1431 Henry ordered his sea-captains to go and find the islands of Antilia shown on the 1428 chart. If the Portuguese had discovered them, his edict would hardly have been necessary. So began Menzies search for the original charts and those who has made them. How did they know? How accurate were these maps? Menzies, over many years consulted with as many historians and archivists who would cooperate to prove his fantastic theory that the Chinese had literally mapped the world before anyone else. There were many sceptics, but the evidence mounts almost daily to prove him right. Better yet, there is ongoing DNA research that he hopes will back him up from dog/wolves in the Falkands which can only be Asian, to mahogany wrecks found in the mudbanks of the Sacramento River and in Australia where huge 36 foot rudders had survived and much Chinese porcelain (taken to trade with the new lands).

In Feb 1421 the great sea adventure began. This was the biggest fleet in the world, had the best technology, each ship had watertight compartments and could stay at sea and feed all for three months at a time. They were charged with bringing the world to China and the fact that they succeeded is the most remarkable adventure and achievement of all time. That so few survived and on their return their news was unwanted and in fact disregarded and eventually deliberately destroyed is Chinaıs greatest tragedy. In 1421 China wanted the world by 1423 it had turned its back on it and in the end it was the accountants who closed the door and kept it locked for the next four hundred years. Read 1421 ­ It will challenge everything you know and it is written with the authority of a man who knows and understands navigation, tides and currents intimately. That is the stamp of Gavin Menzies. A scholar or academic might have written a different kind of book and never have plunged into to so many assertions without a million caveats, but none of them would know the wind and tide as well as a submariner. Here the layman has uncovered a past achievement with such force and evidence, it just has to be true. If you care about history and the truth, if you have even a passing interest in China (which is headed back to the position of power it held in the fourteenth and fifteenth century), then 1421 is a book you should read.

İ Sam North Jan 2003

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