Robert Heine-Geldren conceived of a vast maritime expansion of the peoples of coastal China toward the east. By 200 B.C. he brings sailors from India into the picture, has the Chinese drop out about A.D. 200, and has Indians along with others from neighboring lands carry on so that trans-Pacific voyaging was never interrupted until the tenth century, after which there is no known reason for the stop. By the time it did, Heine-Geldern concluded, the New World had learned from Far Eastern visitors how to work metal, reckon time, write, and build monumental cities.
It is a grand theory. The trouble is that it has little more hard evidence to support it than the theories of the freewheeling amateurs. The stylistic parallels are striking- but the dates just cannot be made to coincide. A Chinese bronze of the Shang period, which ended around 1000 B.C., has an amazing resemblance to a pot found near the mouth of the Amazon- but the pot dates from A.D. 1200 at the very earliest. Motifs found in China during the Chou period do indeed resemble some of the monuments in Tajin style uncovered near Veracruz, but the Chou period ended around 200 B.C. and the Tajin monuments were built in A.D. 300 or 400. Some very ancient pottery found in Ecuador, which had been dated to 3000 B.C. and compared with Japanese pottery of the same period, seemed for a while to make a chronological fit, but then there are doubts about the age of the material from Ecuador; a date of 1000 B.C., it has been suggested, would be more reasonable.
If Chinese or Indian traders did come regularly, they somehow left no tangible trace of their presence. Nor did they pass onto the people with whom they traded any of their useful discoveries such as the wheel, the use of iron, the domestication of cows, pigs, dogs, or horses, or the planting of wheat. There is also the matter of Chinese seamanship: the first securely dated Chinese ocean voyage did not take place until as late as the fifteenth century B.C.
Yet the puzzling parallels are there, too many and too close to be explained away as mere coincidences. Surely, occasional visitors must have come, just due to the trending eastward winds and currents of the North Pacific could have blown wayward craft across the ocean: between 1775 and 1875 about twenty Japanese junks were blown to the west coast of America. So, if they came over, they likely chose to settle down where they landed, eventually either dying out or being wholly absorbed, leaving behind only tantalizing hints of their presence.
(see link at end)… The commentary on the map, which seems to have been drawn from the original, is written in clear Chinese characters which can still be easily read. Of the west coast of America, the map says: “The skin of the race in this area is black-red, and feathers are wrapped around their heads and waists.” Of the Australians, it reports: “The skin of the aborigine is also black. All of them are naked and wearing bone articles around their waists.”
But this remarkable precision, rather than the errors, is what critics of the Menzies theory are likely to use to question the authenticity of the 1418 map. Mr Menzies and his followers are naturally extremely keen to establish that the 1763 copy is not a forgery and that it faithfully represents the 1418 original. This would lend weighty support to their thesis: that China had indeed discovered America by (if not actually in) 1421. Mass spectrography analysis to date the copied map is under way at Waikato University in New Zealand, and the results will be announced in February. But even if affirmative, this analysis is of limited importance since it can do no more than date the copyist’s paper and inks.
Five academic experts on ancient charts note that the 1418 map puts together information that was available piecemeal in China from earlier nautical maps, going back to the 13th century and Kublai Khan, who was no mean explorer himself. They believe it is authentic.
The map makes good estimates of the latitude and longitude of much o
e world, and recognises that the earth is round. “The Chinese were almost certainly aware of longitude before Zheng He set sail,” says Robert Cribbs of California State University. They certainly assumed the world was round. “The format of the map is totally consistent with the level of knowledge that we should expect of royal Chinese geographers following the voyages of Zheng He,” says Mr Thompson.
Moreover, some of the errors in the 1418 map soon turned up in European maps, the most striking being California drawn as an island. The Portuguese are aware of a world map drawn before 1420 by a cartographer named Albertin di Virga, which showed Africa and the Americas. Since no Portuguese seamen had yet discovered those places, the most obvious source for the information seems to be European copies of Chinese maps.
But this is certainly not a unanimous view among the experts, with many of the fiercest critics in China itself. Wang Tai-Peng, a scholarly journalist in Vancouver who does not doubt that the Chinese explored the world early in the 15th century (he has written about a visit by Chinese ambassadors to Florence in 1433), doubts whether Zheng He’s ships landed in North America. Mr Wang also claims that Zheng He’s navigation maps were drawn in a totally different Chinese map-making tradition. “Until the 1418 map is scientifically authenticated, we still have to take it with a grain of salt,” he says.
Most forgeries are driven by a commercial imperative, especially when the market for ancient maps is booming, as it is now. The Library of Congress recently paid $10m for a copy of a 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemuller, a German cartographer. But Mr Liu says he is not a seller: “The map is part of my life,” he claims.
The consequences of the discovery of this map could be considerable. If it does indeed prove to be the first map of the world, “the history of New World discovery will have to be rewritten,” claims Mr Menzies. How much does this matter? Showing that the world was first explored by Chinese rather than European seamen would be a major piece of historical revisionism. But there is more to history than that. It is no less interesting that the Chinese, having discovered the extent of the world, did not exploit it, politically or commercially. After all, Columbus’s discovery of America led to exploitation and then development by Europeans which, 500 years later, made the United States more powerful than China had ever been. Read More:http://www.economist.com/node/5381851