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Author Topic: Chinese 'Treasure Ships'  (Read 935 times)
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« on: October 16, 2006, 09:55:42 PM »

Comparison of Chinese 'treasure ship' and Spanish galleon

But how true is this?

China hails legacy of great adventurer
China is celebrating the 600th anniversary of its greatest adventurer, the "Three-Jewel Eunuch Admiral", and hailing him as the inspiration for its current success.

Treasure ships a myth?

China's so-called "treasure junks" greatly outsized European ships of the day. But did they really exist?
Nothing in the archeological record so far provides direct evidence for anything like the Ming Dynasty's treasure ships, and one must apply the same empirical skepticism normally used in evaluating archeological claims to accounts of these ships. Did nine-masted ships over 400 feet long really accomplish these fabled voyages? The possibility has fascinated Chinese scholars and has resulted in the construction of a hypothetical model of such a ship in 1985 at the Zheng He Research Institute in Nanjing. Literary sources suggest that the treasure ships combined the characteristics of the fuchuan, a multimasted seagoing type of vessel with a keel, V-shaped hull, multiple decks, and elevated bow and stern (for greater height in fighting, similar to the northern European cogs adapted for fighting); and a type of shallow-water boat with a flat bottom and squared-off prow called the shachuan. The Quanzhou ship could be the remains of a fuchuan-type vessel, comparable in size and general character to the largest contemporary medieval European cogs and carracks but nowhere near as large as the treasure ships described.

Estimates of the treasure ships' size are based in literary references in texts pertaining to the first of the Ming emperors, Zhu Di (1402-1424). Zhu Di was known for grandiose projects such as the monumental tomb he built for his father; a stone tablet intended for this tomb was so large that workers could not move it from its quarry at Nanjing to the tomb site. Ship construction and overseas trading expeditions on a grand scale would have been consistent with Zhu Di's known behavior. The calculations were based on units of measurement used in shipbuilding during the Ming period, which, if correctly understood, described ships of about 400 feet long by 150 feet wide.

If correct, these dimensions record by far the largest wooden ships ever built. Even the biggest of the 5,000-6,000-ton wooden battleships of the mid- to late 19th century and the 5,000-ton wooden motorships constructed in the United States during World War I did not exceed 340 feet in length or 60 feet in width. The longest of these ships, the Mersey-class frigates, were unsuccessful, and one, HMS Orlando, showed signs of structural failure after an 1863 voyage to the United States. The Orlando was scrapped in 1871 and the Mersey soon after. Both the Mersey-class frigates and the largest of the wooden battleships, the 121-gun Victoria class, required internal iron strapping to support the hull, as did many other ships of this kind. In short, the construction and use histories of these ships indicated that they were already pushing or had exceeded the practical limits for the size of wooden ships.

Did Ming shipbuilders succeed in constructing ships 40 percent longer and 65 percent wider than any known wooden vessel? Further discoveries by maritime archeologists may hold the answer.

How did the Chinese shipbuilders construct and operate wooden ships that were 40 percent longer and 65 percent wider than the largest wooden ships known to have been built at any time anywhere else? Since no special construction techniques such as iron strapping for supporting the wooden hulls of these treasure ships were reported, there is something inherently improbable about the claims made for them in the Ming texts. Perhaps these texts only describe a grandiose dream and the overseas trading voyages of the early Ming Dynasty were, in fact, accomplished with large numbers of smaller ships. Or perhaps one or more ships of this kind were built at the Longjiang shipyard outside Nanjing but never sailed.

As with the tomb slab for his father, Zhu Di's ambitions may have outstripped reality. More convincing documents or direct archeological evidence will be needed to demonstrate that his treasure ships ever operated as claimed. Although maritime archeology in East Asia does not yet support extreme claims for the grandeur of the medieval Chinese shipbuilding, it does reveal an energetic and varied maritime cultural tradition that flourished until it was abruptly cut off in the Ming Dynasty. It will be especially important now for archeologists to see just how effective and complete the Ming ban on oceangoing commerce was after A.D. 1550.

Dr. Richard Gould    
Dr. Richard Gould is Professor of Archeology at Brown University and a leading expert on underwater archeology, who has studied shipwrecks in Bermuda and the Dry Tortugas. He is the author of ten books, including Archeology and the Social History of Ships (Cambridge University Press, 2000), from which this article was adapted with permission.

The Research Agenda
Although the Chinese documentary record of Zheng He's voyages is thus woefully incomplete, Professor Wu hopes that relevant documents may exist in the places Zheng He visited. He encourages historians in these places to comb through archives and other sources in search of such records.

Archaeology also, Professor Wu stated, is likely to uncover valuable evidence. For instance, the shipyard in Nanjing where Zheng He's vessels were constructed still exists; or rather, the channels in which the ships were built still exist. The shipyard evidently had five channels during Zheng He's time, but two of the five have been filled in. When Wu visited the disused shipyard in 2002, he was told the remaining three channels were to be filled in. He quickly lobbied the relevant government officials and had the channels saved. Indeed, the channels will now become part of a naval museum. It is likely, Wu pointed out, that important artifacts are preserved the oxygen-starved mud of the channels.

Wu stated that "many scientific and technological aspects of the expeditions are worthy of multidisciplinary studies, which may in turn stimulate further historical studies." In other words, "engineers and scientists should work together with historians."

Regarding shipbuilding technology, Wu pointed out among other things that a ship traversing the ocean sustains many forces: it is "not just like a matchbox in a swimming pool." It is still not known how it was possible for Chinese shipwrights to build a framework, without any iron, that could sustain a 400-foot long vessel. Instead of looking for the answer just in the documentary record, Wu proposes that "naval architects join in with historians to discover whether it was possible, or how the ships were built."

Chinese Junks
Zheng He's treasure ships had a length of 444 chi (Chinese foot) which, by the Ming gong bu chi = 450 ft, Huai chi = 494ft, or at the very least a shorter shipbuilding chi = 390 to 408 ft. Like most Chinese ships of the day, they were quite wide for their length - a ratio of 44:18 zhang (=10 chi). This makes a very large vessel by anyone's reckoning, entirely of wood with metal fastenings, and it sailed the open sea as far as Africa. (Ref 3. p80). The sheer scale of the vessels (40 percent longer and 65 percent wider the best Western efforts) have been too much for the Euro-centric scholars, with claims the Chinese scribes were exaggerating. Some, like Richard Gould (ref 4) suggest they were "a grandiose dream" or "perhaps...the ships...were built...but never sailed." The unearthing of a rudder post in the same Ming shipyards in 1962 lends support to the credibility of the figures. The scale of the 36ft long and 1.25 ft diameter post calculated by Chou Shih Te using accepted formulae to a vessel length of 480 to 536 ft. "The discovery of the rudder post shows that the Ming texts are not 'spinning a yarn' when they give dimensions at first sight hard to believe for the flagships of Cheng Ho's (Zheng He's) fleets. (Ref 5). More recent work by Professor Xi Long Fei of Wuhan University of Technology, who has written extensively on the subject, is currently being translated. (Ref 6).
6. DW Chalmers, Letters to the Editor, RINA Affairs, Newsletter of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects Sept 2003.

Rear Admiral Zheng Ming (retired), The Beijing Association for the Studies of Zheng He ' s Voyage
All the argumentations of abovementioned three authors make out: The large-size treasure ships recorded in ancient books had indeed existed, and been for use of the Emperor Yongle. After completing my studies, I feel there is believable new significance in these three experts' analysis and like to provide my complementary analysis for getting advices from scholars of various circles.

1. By analyzing the historical illustrations, we know that the large-size treasure ships do not voyage to seas or to the western ocean. The frontispiece of ?Tian Fei Jing? (?The Worship of the Celestial Spouse?) shows the majestic posture of Zheng He's expedition fleet. The ship types on this illustration and ?Zheng He's Nautical Charts? in ?Wu Bei Zhi? (?The Records of Armaments and Military Provisions?) should be the main ship types of Zheng He's voyages, all were six-mast 2,000-liao sea ship type or smaller type of treasure ships instead of large-size nine-mast treasure ships. [4] , [5] , [6] These viewpoints have been demonstrated in related theses written by Prof. Tang Zhiba (Wuhan Naval Engineering University), Prof. Xin Yuanou ( S hanghai Jiao Tong University) and me, so I would not repeat them in this paper. Prof. Xin Yuanou supplemented this analysis by writing: ?Marco Polo described that the six-mast Quanzhou vessels ?had four masts and usually two additional small masts, which can be erected or lay down according to the weather conditions.? Both Treasure ships and Quanzhou vessels ?expressed the same meaning in different words?. [9] On all accounts, these two illustrations in the literatures of Zheng He's voyage were depicted in Ming Dynasty historical books because they could prove that the 2,000-liao sea ships were the main ship type of Zheng He's expedition fleet. The large-size treasure ships ought to play the ?leading roles? because they were both huge and significant. They were not depicted just because they were not put out to sea and the ship types among Zheng He's expedition fleet. But the large-size treasure ships had joined the ceremonious setting-sail rites during Zheng He's voyages, reviews of Zheng He's expedition fleet, therefore their roles and importance should not be negated or debased just because of this point.

2. By analyzing the total number of crewmen of Zheng He's expedition fleet, his main ship type is proved to be 2,000-liao sea ships. There are various records about the total numbers of ships and crewmen of Zheng He's expedition fleet for seven times. Although they were not entirely at one, they were about the same (see attached table 2) [6] . The total number of ships was between 48 and 208, and the total number of crewmen was between 27,000 and 27,800. ?Judging by the crewmen, ship number and tonnage, Zheng He's expedition fleet ordinarily had more than 27,000 crewmen and 200 ships. Calculating by 200 ships that each could carry more than 130 crewmen--there were dozens of large-size treasure ships among 208 ships, the displacements of which were tens of thousands of tons. Furthermore, each large ship could carry thousands of crewmen. It shows that was not proportioned among the crewmen, ship number and tonnage,? proposed Prof. Zhangs Jian (Sichuan University) in 2004. ?The ratiocination is comparatively believable that Zheng He's large-size treasure ships were ten-odd zhangs long, several zhangs wide and had a displacement of thousand-odd tons.? [13] There are snippets of records regarding the complements of each ship at that time. So, Researchist Fan Zhongyi (Chinese Academy of Military Science) specially verified the complements of naval fleets in early Ming Dynasty and then proposed: ?In Zhejiang coastal areas?there were 548 escorts in early years,?one 400-liao ship with 100 crewmen; one 200-liao ship with 75 crewmen.? [7] He also analyzed the relations between the complements and dimensions of Fujian ships and escorts, and then believes: ?Zheng He's 2,000-liao sea ship could carry at most 483 crewmen and at least 285 crewmen. There are about 400 crewmen? [8] . There was no ancient book discovered that records the complements of the large-size 44-zhang treasure ships. Their volumes were several times larger than the 2,000-liao sea ships. The entire complements might include approximate 1000 crewmen, because they could not lift about, handle the sails, operate the rudders and weigh the anchors with less than two or three hundreds of crewmen, there should be shifts arranged during navigation, that is to say, 300-odd crewmen and sailors should be doubled anyway and there should a believable squadron of officers and noncommissioned officers. Mr. Chen Yanhang (an expert on literature and history in Xiamen) believes too in 2004 after analysis, the large-size treasure ships ?could carry 1000 crewmen?. [12] In that case, if there could be 48-63 large-size treasure ships for various voyages, viz. average 50 large-size treasure ships, together with other ships, the total number of crewmen should exceeds 50,000 crewmen. This does obviously not tally with 20,000-odd crewmen recorded in ancient books. If assuming that the main treasure ships are 2,000-liao sea ships, 50 ships per voyage and 400 crewmen per ship, there should be 20,000-odd crewmen, the other 100-odd ships are smaller eight-scull ships and 50-odd crewmen per ship, there should be 6,000-7,000 crewmen. Taking it by and large, it tallies with 27,800 crewmen recorded in ancient books. These can prove that: Zheng He's expedition fleet used dozens of 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships as the main ships, together with 200-odd medium-size 1,500-liao sea ships and small-size eight-scull ships, carried 20,000 sailors and crewmen. These basic types of ships played the roles of treasure ship, escort, transport and water ship, formed the integrated expedition fleet and put to the western ocean.

3. By analyzing the records on the broken stone tablets in Jin Hai Si (the Temple of the Calm Sea) in Nanjing, the main ship types of Zheng He's voyages were 2,000-liao sea ships, without noting the large-size treasure ships. But it can be concluded from the tablet inscriptions in the Tian Fei Gong (the Palace of the Celestial Spouse) at Xiaguan that Emperor Yongle had ridden the large-size treasure ships and reviewed Zheng He's expedition fleet.

After having analyzed these inscriptions on this broken stone tablet, Prof. Xin Yuanou and others noted in 2002: ?Zheng He's treasure ships were 1,000-ton class 2,000-liao sea ships?. Analyzing from the contents of the tablet inscription, this tablet was built during Zheng He's voyage, and the contents involved tallied with the historical Zheng He's activities. The contents on this tablet affirmed that ships put out to sea were mostly large ships (absolutely not small ships) and there were no problems with constructing 1,000-ton class 2,000-liao sea ships by judging from the shipbuilding capabilities at that time.? [9] We can see clearly the inscriptions on this broken stone tablet: ??, In the 3rd year of Emperor Yongle (1405), admirals and their troops rode the 2,000-liao sea ships and eight-scull ships,?In the 7th year of Emperor Yongle (1409), admirals and their troops rode the 1,500-liao sea ships and eight-scull ships?? This tablet inscription recorded that the largest sea ships were 2,000-liao instead of 44.4-zhang large-size treasure ships.

O n the one hand, it shows that the recorded main ship types of Zheng He's expedition fleet were 2,000-liao sea ships instead of large-size treasure ships for use of an emperor; on the other hand, believing the recorded contents are much of the previous three times of historical voyage facts, it was possible that the large-size treasure ships for use of an emperor had not been constructed yet. Ma Huan joined Zheng He's fourth voyage, ?Ying Ya Sheng Lan? (?Triumphant Visions of the Ocean Shores?) was the first document that definitely recorded the large treasure ships and their dimensions by Ma Huan (Ming dynasty) after being in company with Zheng He's voyage. Prof. Xu Gongsheng construed: ?There were 63 treasure ships this time (Zheng He's fourth voyage) in total, 15 treasure ships more than the third time. ?The large-size' and ?the medium-size' treasure ships should be constructed by treasure ship yard specially for use of Emperor Yongle and imperial households and high-ranking officials of central organs to attend the ceremonious setting-sail rites, Ma Huan could clearly record the length and width dimensions, but the remaining 61 small-size treasure ships should be 1,500-liao to 2,000-liao Sha ships (flat bottom ships) or sea ships. The construction sites were different and the length and width dimensions, too, so Ma Huan could not record down one by one.? [1] This construe can illustrate that the broken stone tablet was built before the large-size treasure ships for use of an emperor had been constructed. ??Ying Ya Sheng Lan' was written after that, so Ma Huan gave the circumstantial evidence that the large-size treasure ships were for the unique use of an emperor.? The main ship type of Zheng He's voyage was 2,000-liao sea ship and belongs to ?small-size' treasure ships.

The Palace of the Celestial Spouse at Xiaguan in Nanjing was built in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407) after Zheng He came back from his first voyage. After Zheng He came back from his fourth voyage in the 14th year of Emperor Yongle (1416), he applied for and got the approval of Emperor Yongle, and the ?Yu Zhi Hong Ren Pu Ji Tian Fei Gong Zhi Bei? was erected in Celestial Spouse Palace with the 699-word tablet inscription that Emperor Yongle wrote in his own hands. The tablet inscription was very vivid, described the scenes of fleets and navigations. For example, ?Setting the sails and swaying the stems were breezily and smoothly,? ?ships keep in contact, riding the wind, controlling the flying sails,? ?driving the flying vehicle and charming the rainbow flags,? and so on and so forth. [10] We can suppose: Emperor Yongle had a strong feeling when he was reviewing personally Zheng He's expedition fleet on waters, so he could write out so vivid tablet inscription and verses. It gives the another circumstantial evidence that Emperor Yongle might attend the ceremonious setting-sail rites on the large-size treasure ships on the waters before Zheng He set sail for his fourth voyage in the 11th year of Emperor Yongle (1413) or after he returned home with drums beating and banners flying in the 13th year of Emperor Yongle (1415).

4. By analyzing the shipbuilding statistics in ?Ming Shi Lu? (?A Faithful Record of the Affairs of the Ming Government?) and excavations of the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing, we can prove that the main ship types of Zheng He's voyage were 2,000-liao sea ships and other ships constructed in batches. There were about 25 batches of more than 2,860 sea ships in total constructed or refitted during the years of Emperor Yongle, see attached table-1. [6] Four batches of which were clearly recorded as the treasure ships for use of Zheng He's voyage or newly constructed treasure ships, namely, Emperor Yongle ordered Fujian to construct 5 treasure ships for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean in the 2nd year of Emperor Yongle (1404), ordered Commander Wang Hao to construct 249 sealift ships for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407), ordered the Engineering Department to construct 48 treasure ships in the 17th year of Emperor Yongle (1408), ordered to construct 41 treasure ships in the 17th year of Emperor Yongle (1419), 343 ships in total [6] . From here we can see: it is entirely possible that the 2,000-liao sea ships used by Zheng He for his first voyage in the 3rd year of Emperor Yongle (1405) and his second voyage in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407) were those 5 sea ships newly constructed in Fujian in the 3rd year of Emperor Yongle (1405), certainly included some old sea ships that were called up and refitted to join Zheng He's expedition fleet. The 1,500-liao sea ships used by Zheng He for his third voyage in the 7th year of Emperor Yongle (1409) may be those 249 sea ships Commander Wang Hao arranged in the 5th year of Emperor Yongle (1407) to construct in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Fujian, respectively. During the years of Emperor Yongle, A series of shipbuilding missions were assigned across the country, and the ship types may included Fujian ship, Sha ship, bird ship, Canton ship, etc. The main ship types of which are 2,000-liao and 1,500-liao sea ships, but other ship types are not absolutely excluded. All seagoing ship types may also be arranged to be constructed, refitted, and incorporated into Zheng He's expedition fleet. Zheng He's fourth voyage in the 11th year of Emperor Yongle (1413) extended the range and the preparation time was abundant, there must be many improvements of the main ship types on the bases of previous three voyages, therefore it was very likely to mostly select and use the most of 48 treasure ships that were ordered to be constructed by the Engineering Department in the 6 th year of Emperor Yongle. It was called ?Treasure ships? instead of ?Sea ships? when the time came. It illustrated that the sea ships had been improved after much employments during several voyages and could be called ?treasure ships? after having reached to the level of construction in batches. It also illustrated that this series of missions was a specialized great treasure ship project that included large-size and medium-size treasure ships, and 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships and so on.

According to the textual researches by Mr. Luo Zongzhen (a researchist in Nanjing Museum), the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing ?had six ?docks' existed now, average 500-meter long and 40-meter wide, presented east-west direction, led to the passage of the Yangtze River. These docks are all located within the site of the Longjiang Shipyard, were shipbuilding dock at that time and the bigger docks among them may be the docks for constructing the treasure ships?. [11] Mr. Dun He (Wuhan) noted after investigated and researched the site of the Treasure Ship Yard: ?The dock No.1 and No. 3 of them are bigger, and the biggest is more than 500 meters long and 82 meters wide, the smallest is more than 400 meters long and 40 meters wide. As it can be perceived, while a large-size treasure ship of 44.4 zhangs in length and 18 zhangs in width is being constructed in a dock, there are still 10-odd meters of workplaces on both sides, respectively. The two docks are long enough to construct three large-size treasure ships at the same time. The historical data recorded that the treasure ships were divided into large-size, medium-size and small-size categories, the dimensions of which are different? The fact that seven docks are different in size also illustrates that the specifications of the treasure ships constructed at that time were different.? [14] They both believe that the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing had indeed constructed the treasure ships of different specifications.

A treasure ship rudderstock (11.07 meters long) was unearthed in 1957 nearby the Zhongbao village at Xiaguan in Nanjing, which was originally considered as the corollary equipments of certain 44-zhang large-size treasure ship. Another two big rudderstocks were unearthed during disentombing the ruins of the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing in 2004, and are similar in length to that one. When scholars were textually researching and analyzing the 2,000-liao sea ships, they calculated the sea ships was 4.89 meters in the molded depth, and the three-deck aftercastle was about 6.0 meters in height, lifting rudder can be lowered to about 1.3 meters below the baseline at deepmost water level, the height of the above three sections had reached 12.2 meters [4], [5] . Therefore, the rudderstocks of the 2,000-liao sea ships were about 12 meters in length and similar to the unearthed ?rudderstocks of the treasure ships?. On the one hand, it illustrates that the unearthed ?rudderstock of the treasure ships? belong to corollary equipments of the 2,000-liao sea ships, and the fact that more rudderstocks are unearthed shows that t he Treasure Ship Yard had indeed series constructed 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships; on the other hand, it also illustrates that the 44-zhang large-size treasure ships were ?seven-deck large ships?, ?up to 10 meters in the molded depth?[12], together with the height of the poops, greatly exceeded the 2,000-liao sea ships, the rudderstocks were much longer than 12 meters, so the unearthed ?rudderstocks of the treasure ships? were not corollary equipments of the large-size treasure ships. Judging by the site of the Treasure Ship Yard, at that time they might construct ships at each dock along the longitudinal line according to the long direction viz. about 500 meters' direction, and the ships were up to 44 zhangs or more than 130 meters in length. Well then, the discovered timber pile bases should be the bases of some keel blocks distributed along the ship length; Judging by the photos of excavations, the distances among the keel blocks seem too long, make the numbers of keel blocks look not enough within the ship length, certainly they could make this kind of timber pile bases for bearing the weight of several largest keel blocks. It is more possible that they might construct ships at each dock according to the side-to-side setup along the wide direction viz. about 40-80 meters' direction. Every timber pile base discovered at the site of t he Treasure Ship Yard should be a shipway base for one ship, they were about 40-80 meters long and 8-10 meters wide, (The exact dimensions can be presented only after the entire excavations and textual researches have accomplished.) similar to such dimensions of the bottom structures as the length of the bottom keel plates and width of the bottom floor plates of the 2,000-liao and other ships required to be series constructed. The long separate timber pile bases being used as lumber yard of shipbuilding timbers and semi-finished structural components, and as the positions of derricks and shipbuilding scaffolds quite met the demands of shipbuilding architecture and scenes. Furthermore, side-to-side setup could make better use of the areas of the docks than longitudinal line, and be propitious to series constructed ships. At that time, series ship constructions must make unified use of the periods of the Yangtze River floodwater levels and break the dock embankments for water injection to let the whole batch of ships float out of the docks. The Treasure Ship Yard had several docks but could only make use of such launch chances once a year to deliver ships once a year to satisfy the demands of Zheng He's expedition fleets. Therefore, judging by the excavation scene of the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing and unearthed rudderstocks, there are solid basis of facts to say that the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing had series constructed the 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships and also might have constructed large-size treasure ships.

5. By analyzing the four-mast sea ship type cartographies recorded in the ?History of Longjiang Shipyard? of Ming Dynasty and the main shapes and structures of ?Cefeng ships (Conferred ships)? of Ming Dynasty, most of treasure ships constructed by the Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing, Longjiang Shipyard and Fujian Shipyard were about 20-zhang sea ships ,viz. 2,000-liao sea ships.

Prof. Xin Yuanou and others noted in 2002: ?The Treasure Ship Yard of Longjiang Shipyard was the shipbuilding site of the large-size sea ships and starting port of Zheng He's voyage. The ?History of Longjiang Shipyard' described the types and structures of sea ships at that time, although it mentioned ?the sea ships have been abolished and so the dimensions are beyond textual researches? There are four masts on the ship and a two-floor yellow building on the stern, very similar to the 1,000-ton class five-mast 15-zhang ?conferred ships? described by Chen Kan. According to the principles recorded in ?Tian Gong Kai Wu? that every ship that was 10 zhangs long must have two masts, the four-mast ship is no longer than 20 zhangs? ] . [9 Prof. Tang Zhiba and others also judged that the total length is about 19-20 zhangs during textual researches in the 2,000-liao sea ships. [4],[5] Prof. Fu Lang (Fujian Teachers University) said ?the shapes and structures of the conferred ships provide reliable data to know Zheng He's treasure ships?. According to the detailed descriptions of the technologies of constructing conferred ships during the years of Emperor Jiajing and Chongzhen who conferred Ryukyu five times in total, he believes after analysis: ?In the late Ming Dynasty more than 100 years after Zheng He's voyage, the ?treasure ships' at that time?the ordinary shapes and structures of the conferred ships?were about 15 zhangs in length, 2.6-3.2 zhangs in width, and 1.3-1.4 zhangs in depth; mostly had three masts, and specific ones had five masts.? These hull dimensions and the shapes and structures of the masts and sails were very similar to those of the 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships used during Zheng He's voyage, and they tallied with the scientific and technical development laws of the handicraft stage. We can judge from this that the 2,000-liao sea ships were similar to the conferred ships. Combined with the ?History of Longjiang Shipyard?, they could illustrate that the Ming government asked for unified types and structures of the 2,000-liao sea ships, but there were still some local traditional features because they were constructed in Jiangsu and Fujian, respectively.

6. By analyzing the missions and organizations of Zheng He's expedition fleet, we can judge that the 2,000-liao sea ships are Treasure Ships. Prof. Xu Gongsheng construed that the Emperor Yongle ordered Zheng He to the western ocean, ?actively carry out the policies of the good relations of neighborhoods of ?propagating the morality and placating the people far beyond the seas' and ?giving more and getting less' to attain the goal of ?sharing a peaceful good fortune'? The true meaning of the treasure ships were that these ships carry the imperial edicts, authority seals, hats and clothes, and various kinds of precious presents that Ming Emperors vouchsafed the kings and emirs of dependencies. For them, these are their treasures to guard their countries? In Ming and Qing Dynasties, the friendly relations between China and Ryukyu were good enough to serve as a type, and that was why the Ryukyu islanders called the conferred ships as ?Treasure Ships'. In a word, all the ships once ridden by the emperors or carried the precious presents that the Emperors vouchsafed the foreign kings and emirs were collectively called the ?Treasure Ships? (not only the ships to get treasures from the overseas). [1] Prof. Fu Lang cited the inscriptions from ?Qian Fo Ling Ge Bei Ji? erected by Chinese officer Chai Shan who had been ordered to serve as an envoy to Ryukyu four times during the years of Emperor Hongxi and Xuande: The emperors ?specially ordered Fujian Minister Fangbo to reconstruct the treasure ships? for his own use during serving as an envoy. He also cited that the conferred ships for use of Haibao and Xu Baoguang among Chen surname genealogy during the years of Emperor Kangxi (Qing Dynasty) had been called the ?treasure ships?. Therefore, he believes that ?all ships ridden by those who served as envoys abroad under imperial edicts called the ?treasure ships'? [15] . I agree with this kind of concept presented by both scholars. By analyxing the missions and organizations of Zheng He's expedition fleet, I suggest defining them by rule and line as large-size, medium-size and small-size treasure ships. The large-size and medium-size treasure ships navigated or anchored on river areas nearby Nanjing city, for use of emperors and imperial households, noblemen and high-ranking officials of central organs according to their ranks to review, tour and show the emperor's authorities. The emperors issued orders instead of personally leading his soldiers in the expedition activities. The small-size treasure ships were relative to the large-size and medium-size treasure ships for use of the emperors, and were really the largest 2,000-liao sea ships among Zheng He's expedition fleet, could completely embodied ?towering and incomparable? ships in all destination countries. They were treasure ships for use of Admiral Zheng He and other principal/deputy envoys, and symbolized that the emperors and governments were willing to promote friendly diplomatic relations with foreign countries. The treasure ships also bore the missions of command and control among the fleet and squadrons. The treasure ships carried the exquisite merchandises such as the precious presents that the emperors vouchsafed the foreign countries and the tributes the foreign countries paid to the emperors, and all the exquisite merchandises were treasures for the foreign monarchs and the countries. The treasure ships carried back the rare animals/plants and tributes that the foreign monarchs presented, and Zheng He's expedition fleet also purchased handicraft materials, herbal medicines and crops seeds from the foreign countries, and all these are treasures for China. Thereby, the treasure ships were ships that carried treasures, and were also ships that forwarded and pioneered the Silk and Porcelain Roads. Zheng He's expedition activities let China and foreign countries get what they wanted respectively and embodied friendship and mutualism instead of equivalent exchanges. And they did not contradict the parlance of ?attaining treasures from the western ocean?. Anyway, the treasure ships were official ships that the Ming emperors and governments ordered Zheng He to deliver ?treasures? to the countries of the western ocean and bring ?treasures? back home, and also the command ships of Zheng He's expedition fleet and squadrons. In modern language, the connotation of treasure ships should be defined as ?the ship of friendship? and ?the flagship of peaceful and friendly intercourse?.

After summarizing and analyzing the opinions of all scholars, I advances the following conclusive viewpoints soliciting opinions:

⑴ It is believable that the large-size treasure ships were 44.4 zhangs in length recorded in the historical data;

⑵ The large-size treasure ships were the ships for use of Ming emperors, which navigated or anchored on river areas near Nanjing for the emperors to review instead of leading Zheng He's expedition fleets to go to the western ocean;

During the years of Emperor Yongle, a series of shipbuilding missions were assigned across the country, and the ship types may included Fujian ships, Sha ships, bird ships, Canton ships, etc. The main ship types of which were 2,000-liao and 1,500-liao sea ships;

⑶ The 2,000-liao sea ships were the main ship types among ?Zheng He's expedition fleet. Emperor Yongle issued orders time after time to construct treasure ships in batches for dispatching envoys to the countries of the western ocean;

⑷ Such main ship types as the 2,000-liao sea ships, 1,500-liao sea ships and 8-scull ships are included in the organizations of Zheng He's expedition fleet;

⑸ The ships among Zheng He's expedition fleet were various in types differentiating by shipbuilding sites, missions and functions and divided into large-size, medium-size and small-size ships. They could include such ship types as Fujian ship, Sha ship, bird ship and Canton ship, bearing the missions of the treasure ship, water ship, escort, transport ship of the expedition fleet, respectively;

⑹ The Treasure Ship Yard in Nanjing series constructed the 2,000-liao sea ship type treasure ships, several ?treasure ship rudderstocks? are unearthed there and there were evidences that they well matched the dimensions of the 2,000-liao sea ships;

⑺ The Fujian shipyards concerned constructed the treasure ships for use of Zheng He's voyage during the years of Emperor Yongle; and constructed the conferred ships (also called ?treasure ships?) for dispatching envoys to Ryukyu during the years of Emperor Jiajing,Wanli and Chongzhen. They were 100 years apart, but similar in shapes and structures, and both about 15-20 zhangs in length; and

⑻ The treasure ships were official ships that the Ming emperors and governments ordered Zheng He to deliver ?treasures? to the countries of the western ocean and bring ?treasures? back home, and were also the command ships of Zheng He's expedition fleet and squadrons.

The author humbly requests advices from scholars of various circles regarding the above textual researches and viewpoints, and wishes to promote a common view of seeking truth from facts.

The archaeology is slim and the historical record is also sparce and not totally reliable. Even so, it does appear that it is at least possible that these gigantic ships did exist. It is good that all parties recognise that further research is needed.

« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2006, 12:36:33 AM »

Liu Gang's statement on the purported 1418 map
Posting by Dr. Geoff Wade on the Maphist list - 24 March 2006

I remain convinced that this ?1763/1418? map is a 21st-century fake. It was certainly produced by someone educated in simplified characters (meaning under the PRC in the last 50 years) and the purpose of the map is to support the Menzies thesis (and so it was produced within the last four years). I have incorporated, along with my own thoughts, some comments and observations from Jin Guo-ping, Zhou Zhen-he, Gong Ying-yan, and Hou Yang-fang in the following critique.

A. There are a number of issues about this map which need to be noted:

1. It is a dual-hemisphere map, a cartographic tradition exclusively European. California is represented as an island, copied straight from European maps of the 17th century. China is placed at the centre of the map as it was in early Jesuit maps of the world produced in China. It is based on a rough copy of a Jesuit map of the world.

2. It copies some parts of the text from early Jesuit maps.

3. Creating such a map is conditional upon recognition that world is a sphere. No indigenous Ming maps show that there was a belief that the world was a sphere.

4. For a sphere to be represented on a flat plane, there needs to be knowledge of and methods for projection. Chinese cartographers did not have this knowledge.

5. The amount of non-coastal detail (including riverine systems extending thousands of miles from the coast) indicate that these maps could not have been produced by maritime voyagers. The information in the maps was obviously amassed over time by cultures who had travelled widely. It fits perfectly within the history of European cartography, but is a complete anomaly in Chinese cartography.

6. The map is supposedly drawn in 1763 for submission to the Court by someone called Mo Yi-tong, partially based on a "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" drawn in the 16th year of the Yong-le reign (1418), with those inscriptions circled in red. Such mode of attribution is not a part of Chinese cartographic tradition and neither is circling particular names in red to indicate that they are from an earlier map. No one has identified this unknown person who supposedly suvbmitted this map to the court.

7. The representation of China is poor. Why should Chinese cartographers have represented the lands with which they were so familiar so poorly?

8. Some of the persons who are supposed to have authenticated the map -- Professor Robert Cribbs, Dr. Gunnar Thompson, Charlotte Harris Rees, Lam Yee Din, Robin Lind, Gerald Andrew Bottomley and Anatole Andro -- have not even seen the map. None of these persons is an expert in any relevant field.

B. Annotations

1. The map is named the 'Overall Map of the Geography of All Under Heaven' (tian-xia quan-yu zong-tu) which makes no sense as a map name. It is grammatically incorrect to use 'quan yu' (complete geography) and 'zong tu' (overall map) in the one title.

2. The term 'quan-yu' (complete geography) is never used in Chinese classical writing.

3. The eunuch Zheng He is referred to as Ma San-bao. No one would have dared to use his original name given that the emperor had assigned him the surname Zheng.

4. The term ?shi-gong-tu? is used instead of ?zhi-gong-tu? to indicate a map of tributaries. This shows the faker did not understand the institutions of imperial China. Liu Gang?s explanation that this meant that the tributaries had been ?recognised? is neither logical nor feasible. There is no example of that term in imperial Chinese works.

5.. There are various simplified characters ( particularly yu), used in the map, which while in use during the 18th century , would not have been used on a map intended for submission to the Court. This also suggests creation of map by modern person who was unfamiliar with the classical distinctions between these characters.

6. The map uses the term "all under Heaven" for this world map. During the Qing, this term referred to the Qing empire, not the world.

7. The Himalayas are marked as the highest mountains in the world. This fact was only discovered in the 19th century.

C. The annotations in red are supposedly from 1418.

1. The style of the language used in the annotations is not congruent with usual Ming language, cartographic or otherwise. It is a modern attempt at sounding ?classical?.

2. In eastern Europe, there is an annotation in a red border which notes: "The people here all worship God (shang-di) and their religion is called 'Jing'." The term ?shang-di? in reference to the Christian God was created only in the late 16th century, and the recognition in China of Nestorianism (?Jing?) as a branch of Christianity occurred only in the early 17th century.

3. The name of Korea is given as Gao-li. By 1418, it had long been changed to Chao-xian.

4. The name of Vietnam is given as Annam. By 1418, this had long become the Chinese province of Jiao-zhi.

5. The provincial names Hu-bei and Hu-nan are given. In 1418, these had not been created. The areas were part of Hu-guang.

6. There are a number of annotations ?Great Qing Ocean? in red in the seas off China. These are supposedly to date from 1418, 230 years before the Qing dynasty had been established.

7. Taiwan is named as ?Ryukyu?. During the Ming, the country of Ryukyu was a tributary of the Ming and the Ming certainly knew where it was. There is no evidence that Taiwan was referred to as Ryukyu during the Ming.

8. The map refers to the southern and northern capital areas (zhi-li), but these were only created in 1421, 3 years after the map was supposedly drawn.

 In short, the map is simply a litany of errors, many simplistic. There is absolutely no possibility that this is anything but a 21st century map, produced in order to try to profit from Menzies? 1421 hypothesis.

Of course the dating of the paper reveals that the piece of paper tested could be from the 18th century. This means nothing, as there is no evidence that it came from the map which Mr Liu Gang has been showing the world.

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« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2006, 12:58:55 AM »

Dr. Wade is most certainly correct in his conclusion. One has only to compare this map with the Martellus World Map of 1490 in the British Library to understand completely. [Rare Map and Manuscript MS 15760, ff 68v-69] What the good doctor has done is to carefully show the historical inaccuracies and the age of the questionable document. The Martellus World Map shows the compilation of cosmographical information available from which a contemporaneous map would have been drawn.
A very fine forensic study on his part I think.

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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2006, 01:52:57 PM »

Photo 1931a
Close up of partial aerial photo A3472-79 from 1931. Shows site where the Book The Island of Seven Cities claims there is the remains of a city wall and an ancient Chinese town site. The photo does not indicate any such evidence exists. S-turn in the brook is used as a reference point. This S-turn is just below the site of the alleged city ruins and will be reference in additional photos.

The Island of 7 Cities Exposed
Andrew Hanam

Photo b ? Full view of aerial photo A3472-79 from 1931 flight line series. No evidence of roads or city wall.

With the release of the book, The Island of Seven Cities in May of 2006, author Paul Chiasson has proposed a radical new theory of the history of the eastern seaboard of Canada. Using aerial photography and onsite photographs along with a unique interpretation of conventional history Mr. Chiasson suggests that over 600 years ago Chinese settlers established a flourishing city on a remote mountaintop, over looking the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Dauphin on the Island of Cape Breton. He also proposes that Cape Breton is the location of the legendary Island of Seven Cities.

Professionals familiar with the Cape Dauphin site have both read and reviewed the information in this new book. For my part I am the Crown Lands Forester for this area and am familiar with the evidences Mr. Chiasson offers in his book.

A summary of the physical evidence that Mr. Chiasson offers in his book to support his claim that the ruins of an ancient Chinese city exists at Cape Dauphin is as follows:

      Page 184 ? an aerial photo he reports to be from flight line year 1929 and states to show the outline of the wall of an abandoned city high up in the mountain at Cape Dauphin. This photo is the focal point of his entire theory and he offers it as major proof in his media interviews.
      Page 258 ? two aerial photos on which Mr. Chiasson has made some interpretation of his own. He claims that the first photo shows the ancient roadway of the settlement from 600 years ago, the clearing on which the ancient town site actually existed, and remains of the ancient city wall. The second photo is reported to show ancient roads and courtyards of an abandoned village westward of the city. These courtyards are implied to be a second settlement that was built as the colony grew in numbers over a period of years.
      Page 260 ? an aerial photo he reports as showing courtyards of a second ancient village westward of the alleged city ruins.
      A number of onsite photos taken by the author to show rocks and features of the site he claims supports his theory.
      Mention of charcoal found on the site that is linked to 600 year-old smelters by Cedric Bell.

These are the total of the actual physical evidences that Mr. Chiasson offers to the general public as proof that the ruins of an ancient Chinese settlement built in the 1400?s or earlier exists on the mountain at Cape Dauphin. The remainder of the book deals with personal accounts and the author?s interpretation of historical information he tries to relate to his reported ruins.

Mr. Chiasson states in his book that he acquired the aerial photography for the area from 1929 up until the present and carefully examined these to discover information on the Cape Dauphin site. He uses some of these aerial photos in his book.

 A review of the aerial photography of this location across the various years will assist in a proper understanding of what actually exists on the mountain at Cape Dauphin. The early aerial photos clearly show an area of relatively even aged softwood forest interspersed by upland bogs (both treed and open), small pothole lakes or ponds, granite knolls and rocky barrens. Steep ravines, which flow both toward the Bras d?Or Lakes on one side and the St. Ann?s Bay on the other, cut deeply into the edges of this forest. It is flanked by the mixed and hardwood stands on the steep side slopes of the mountain.

The rest of the article demolishes the claim, piecemeal.

« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2006, 05:27:51 PM »

Fathoming the Unfathomable: Even Leviathans have Limits
Dr. Stephen Davies
Museum Director, Hong Kong Maritime Museum
Hon. Research Fellow, Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong

Introduction: Measuring the unmeasurable

In what follows although I have every intention of scotching some of the more absurd claims that have been made about Ming dynasty seagoing, I have no intention to be, or to be seen to be undermining, eroding, or doubting the dominance in pre-industrial nautical technology enjoyed by the maritime world of the early Ming dynasty in China over its western, Indian and Arab contemporaries in all bar, arguably, the science of navigation.

That the Ming fleets under Zhenghe (Cheng Ho) achieved voyages unprecedented for the epoch , in ships the size and complexity of which were without contemporary parallel seems to me established beyond doubt . However, when it comes to the ships in which these exploits were made, it also seems indisputable that no service is done to the technical skills of Ming dynasty shipbuilders and shipwrights in attributing to them achievements that may subsequently turn out to have been other they are at present advertised as being. As with the officers and crews, the shipwrights did what they did, not what present ideological biases might like them to have done.

Clumsy attempts at shoe-horning one naval architectural tradition into the forms demanded by the technical vocabulary of another should not mislead people into supposing what the shipwrights achieved, splendid as it was, was more than it was. To understand ?wie es eigentlich gewesen? is what counts .

Commonplace though that observation may be, as it stands there is and has been a widespread consensus, especially amongst some English language journalists and sinologist maritime historians, about a signal feature of the apogee of pre-modern Chinese maritime history ? the important voyages of the Ming Dynasty Star Fleets under the leadership of the Imperial Eunuch Zhenghe between 1405 and 1433. I shall pass by the more asinine claims about sub-Arctic and Antarctic circumnavigation, dependent as they are on a litany of absurd error. Though I shall note in passing that the consensus as to the unsurpassed brilliance of Ming maritime achievements is connected, as are the battier claims for the year 1421, with a general shift in the collective Asian maritime historiographical mindset. This has now prevailed for almost a generation, though happily at last perhaps on the wane, in which over-egging the Star Fleet cake is merely one more symptom of a general turn towards vaunting one cultural tradition rather than another at the cost of a deeper duty to historical method.

The general turn in approach was of course a much needed corrective to a prevailing ?west is best ? tendency in historical writing in general. Itself a world historical equivalent to the more parochial ?whig history? of Britain, polemically condemned by Herbert Butterfield over seventy years ago .

As far as maritime history has been concerned, the broad Whiggish effect had at one time been to see the maritime history of other than European traditions as, at best, quaint by-ways which contributed little or nothing to the onward march of a progressive development in all the arts and sciences of the sea. These in their turn were defined exclusively in the light of, and as consciously taken developmental steps towards, the western dominated military, commercial, navigational, hydrographic, naval architectural and marine engineering actualities of the 20th century. An inevitable consequence was that not only were the actual maritime history and achievements of non-European cultures more or less ignored, but so also were whatever those traditions may have contributed to the present day actualities so triumphantly being celebrated.

But pendulums, when they swing back from an extreme, must of necessity swing beyond the middle point. So when the turn towards correcting the biases of extant histories came ? in such landmark books as David Lewis? We the navigators, Joseph Needham?s Science and Civilization in China, or GF Hourani?s Arab seafaring in the Indian Ocean in ancient and early medieval times - there was an inevitable tendancy to over-correct the previous Eurocentric bias

Where this applies to writing about the voyages of the Star Fleets under Zhenghe in the early 15th century, the consensus seems to date from some time in the 1970s. The form it takes, with specific respect to the naval architecture of the component vessels, I shall call ?the ruling hypothesis?. This holds that Ming dynasty shipbuilders built larger wooden ships than have ever been built in the world since the 15th century and indeed, as we shall see, larger ships than any built in any material before the launching of the Great Eastern on Britain?s River Thames in 1857 or, arguably, until the passenger liner behemoths in Europe and America of the years between the 1880s and the First World War.

The hypothesis is based on taking the descriptions and dimensions of the Star Fleet treasure ships culled from Ming or immediately post-Ming dynasty sources at face value. The largest, called the Treasure Ships or bao chuan (sometimes dragon ships or long chuan) were 44 zhang 4 chi long, 18 zhang in beam and had nine masts . That has been rendered in western measurements as being, on the most recent estimates, around 400? (122m) long and 163? (50m) in beam, and glossed as meaning a vessel of some 1500 to 2500 tons burthen and displacing around 3000 tons . In descending order of hierarchy beneath the Treasure Ships come the eight masted ?Horse Ships? of length 339? (103.3m) and beam 138? (42.1m). Next come the seven masted ?Supply Ships? of length 257? (78.3m) and beam 115? (35m), the six masted ?Accommodation Ships? or troop transports of length 220? (67m) and beam 83? (25.3m) and two classes of ?Combat Ship?, a five master of length 165? (50.3m) and beam 67? (20.4m) and a four master of length 120?-128? (36.6m) and beam 49?-52? (14.9m-15.8m).

However, and especially with respect to the Treasure Ship itself, such ready acceptance of the measurements had not been the norm in the years preceding the 1970s when, no doubt fostered by the Whiggish or culturalist turn of that earlier history, doubts as to the credibility of such leviathans were not unknown.

But the revisions of the post-colonial mood banished such doubts until, in the 1990s they resurfaced and a number of scholars again began arguing for revising the more exaggerated claims . In Chinese language sources, both on the Mainland and in Taiwan, these recent and more sober re-assessments have culminated in a fairly firm, though by no means unanimous view that whatever the Ming dynasty measurements may have been referring to, it was certainly not to a sea going ship.

Nonetheless the dominant popular view, especially in the West and in Southeast Asia, and much fomented by the fantasy world of 1421 enthusiasts, remains that Zhenghe?s treasure ships were 15th century behemoths, not only unmatched by any other maritime power for centuries ? which is possibly true ? but so far beyond any possible matching that the proudly quoted dimensions should boggle rather than impress any thoughtful and seamanlike mind.

The awed reverence at the splendours of a quasi-myth masquerading as an actual maritime past is, therefore, a product of the general historical reaction against what the late Edward Said called ?orientalism? . A reaction the tide of which has risen so high, that it has provoked from Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit a riposte anathematizing ?occidentalism? .

Anti-orientalism, as one might style it, has been characterized not only by what we shall see is an absurd set of claims about the Star Fleets, but as a general mythography in which the scientific, technical, political and economic inequalities between East and West that came about in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as these relate to maritime history, are shown to be unpaid debts to a previously unsung Oriental maritime splendour. Nowhere is such a transparent mythography more blatantly peddled than in the remarkable, fictional fantasizing of the British writer ? he cannot be called an historian ? Gavin Menzies.

But Menzies is merely the extremist ? one might hazard ?fundamentalist? ? endpoint of a generation of sedulous-to-the-point-of-credulous anti-orientalism. We are told for example, especially by Joseph Needham that to China the world owes the use of the magnetic compass at sea.

In what follows in Part I, I shall attempt a test using the only other manner available. That is, by an exercise in Popperian falsification . After all, if a Treasure Ship of the size supposed by the ruling hypothesis can be shown not to be viable or to be a very dubious proposition, then the hypothesis is either falsified or shown to be highly tendentious. It should therefore be discarded. Then, with the decks clear, the field is open to alternative hypotheses as to what the documented measurements and descriptions actually mean.

In Part II I offer two tentative avenues of exploration. They are no more than tentative ? thought experiments as it were ? because I am not a sinologist and I do not read Chinese, so I have been in no position to subject the hypotheses they put forward to further test . But such as they are, they may help in the re-evaluation of archaeological finds and re-interpretation of texts, thereby helping the better to clarify actual rather than quasi-mythical achievements.
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2006, 03:45:47 PM »

1421 hypothesis
The 1421 hypothesis suggests that during the Ming Dynasty from 1421 to 1423, ships commanded by the Chinese captains Zhou Wen (周聞), Zhou Man (周滿), Yang Qing (楊慶) and Hong Bao (洪保), in the fleet of Emperor Zhu Di's (朱棣) Admiral Zheng He (鄭和), travelled to many parts of the world unknown to contemporary Europe. The suggestion was put forward by former British Royal Navy submarine commander Gavin Menzies in his book, 1421: The Year China Discovered The World, first published in 2002.

According to Menzies, the Chinese discoveries include Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Antarctica, the northern coast of Greenland, and the Northeast Passage. The knowledge of these discoveries was subsequently lost, Menzies argues, because the Mandarins (bureaucrats) of the Imperial court feared the costs would ruin the Chinese economy. A year later Zhu Di died, the new Hongxi Emperor forbade further expeditions, and the mandarins hid or destroyed the records of the voyages.

The 1421 hypothesis has proven popular with the general public, but has been dismissed by Sinologists and other professional historians.


Menzies' hypotheses have found no support among mainstream historians. Robert Finlay: "Examination of the book's central claims reveals they are uniformly without substance." [1] John E. Wills: "These myriad flaws do not make Menzies' book completely useless to teachers of world history. Rather, it might be used to teach students about the use and misuse of historical evidence." [2]

The 1421 hypothesis is based on some documents of debatable provenance (the Piri Reis map, the Vinland map) and on novel interpretation of already accepted documents (Fra Mauro map, de las Casas) as well as uncategorized archaeological findings.

Some critics focus their skepticism on the conspicuous absence of an explanation of why these Chinese fleets seemed to touch every coastline of world except that of Europe. The absence of any European records corroborating such an exploration is glaringly absent. Such a record, if it existed, would certainly have been handed down. It is a given fact that Chinese-European contact existed for well over three centuries before the 15th century, so it is difficult to understand why nothing of these voyages can be found in the historical records of European coastal nations. Menzies does not address any such visit and seems to suggest, through this ommission, that such contact did not actually take place.

While it represents a minor part of Menzie's argument, some critics also maintain that the linguistic evidence cited by Menzies is itself questionable. It is perhaps inevitable that similarities between words taken from any pair of languages will exist-- even if only by pure chance. Thus, the short lists provided by Menzies are considered by some to represent unsatisfactory evidence. Furthermore, none of the alleged Chinese words listed by Menzies as similar to words of the same meaning in the Squamish language of British Columbia is a real Chinese word. Similarly, the presence of Chinese-speaking people in various locations in the Americas could be explained by immigration after Columbus, yet Menzies cites no evidence that these communities existed prior to Columbus.

Menzies' critics note that throughout the book he displays a lack of chronological control e.g. p138 with a story of map dated to 120 years before 1528 Menzies dates the map to 1428 not 1408.[fact] They claim many true but irrelevant facts are included presumeably to confuse the reader.[fact] In other cases, they say mistranscriptions provide a source of supposed relevant facts.

Another criticism is that Menzies chose not to consult the most obvious source of information on the Zheng He voyages, namely the Chinese records from the period themselves. Menzies seems to be attempting to anticipate and deflect this criticism by asserting that most Chinese documents relating to the travels of Zheng He were destroyed by the same Mandarins responsible for the closing of Chinas borders in the years following 1421. While it can be supposed that some records have been destroyed, other records remain in extensive form, including the account by Ma Huan published in 1433 and other information in the Ming dynastic histories. These records have even served as the basis for previous historical accounts of the Zheng He voyages, such as that by Louise Levathes.

Some critics have also questioned whether Menzies' has the nautical knowledge he claims. Some feel that his unsubstantiated claim to have actually sailed the same seas is suspect, particularly while commanding the HMS Rorqual.

Menzies has also grossly misled people about his background as an expert on China. On the dust jacket of 1421, Menzies states that he was raised in China. In fact he was born in London.[1]


Given by Menzies as evidence of Chinese contact in Australia is the reported existence of stone structures in and around Sydney and Newcastle, Australia. These structures in fact do not exist, or if they do Menzies has failed to tell people where he found them. On page 203 of his book, Menzies writes of the 'Chinese' ruins in Bittangabee Bay. According to the commemorative association AOTM, these are more likely to be a structure built for the Imlay family in the 1840's than ancient Chinese. On page 220 there is the claim that "A beautiful carved stone head of the goddess Ma Tsu...is now in the Kedumba Nature Museum in Katoomba." In fact no such museum actually exists. There once was a curio stand in Katoomba called "Kedumba Nature Display" but it closed down in the 1980s. Later on in the book, Menzies recruits "a local researcher", Rex Gilroy, for his valuable discovery of a Chinese pyramid in Queensland the Gympie Pyramid. Menzies claims that the Gympie pyramid is "the most direct and persuasive evidence of the Chinese visits to Australia" (1421, p221). However, this is the same Rex Gilroy who at one time ran the "Kedumba Museum" and found the Chinese carved goddess Ma Tsu from the Chinese Fleets, a connection which Menzies fails to mention. Menzies also fails to mention that Gilroy himself used the Gympie Pyramid as evidence of the Egyptian discovery of Australia. (Rex Gilroy is also well known in Australia as the "father of Yowie (cryptid) research", Australia's Bigfoot, "discovering" foot prints etc.[2]) The Gympie Pyramid has been researched idependently and found to be part of a retaining wall built by an Italian farmer to stop erosion on a natural mesa on his property.)

   1.  Finlay, Robert (2004). "How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America". Journal of World History 15 (2).
   2.  Wills, John E. (2004). "book review". World History Connected 2 (1).
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2007, 06:01:42 PM »

This podcast is quite a revelation:
'1421' Exposed

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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2007, 08:37:09 PM »

Very good, junk history exposed. When it came down to where the rubber meets the road, even Menzies own publisher has abandoned him. It is always nice to have things sorted out a bit better.

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Learning is a treasure which accompanies its owner everywhere.
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2007, 12:30:18 AM »

Very good, junk history exposed.
- Bart

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« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2007, 02:08:31 AM »

Solomon, Bart,

I've been watching this man for a very long time. Another person who would distort history for his own ends.
They are not always found out but it is good to see the record set straight.
Thanks Solomon.

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« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2007, 10:35:20 AM »

While I do not think the ships built were as big as we are lead to believe, the Chinese obviously built some big ships, maybe the answer lies in the Maldives with this wreck in the 16th century long after Zheng He 1371-1435 as mentioned by Pyrard in his journal. I have read his journal and it does not mention any more than the passage below.

Guraidhoo Wreck
In the 16th century, a Chinese ship with a cargo of porcelain and Chinese merchandise was a racked near the island of Guraidhoo in South Mal? Atoll. The story is best told by Pyrard , who visited the island in 1605.

"I was at that island one day, and saw the mast and rudder of the ship that was lost there. I was told it was the richest ship conceivable. It had onboard some 500 persons, men, women, and children, for the Indians take the greater part of their household to sea with them. These 500 persons were night all drowned, and there remained by a hundred saved. This ship came from Sunda ( Indonesia ), laden with all kind of spices and other merchandise of China and Sunda. Judging merely from the mast of this vessel, I thought it the largest I had ever seen, for the mast was taller and thicker than those of the Portuguese carracks; and the king of the Maldives built a shed of the length of the mast to keep it as a curiosity. I saw also another mast and a top much larger than those of portugal . Thus was I led to believe that in the Indies they build vessels larger and of better material than in Portugal or anywhere else in the world. The greatest ships come from the coast of Arabia, Persia , and Mogor, and some have as many as 2,000 persons on board."

Old folks on Guraidhoo still talk about a wooden ship believed to be wrecked on Medhu Faru near Guraidhoo centuries ago; however no visible remains are to be seen.

Another puzzle but it seems there is a large ship wreck there, I wonder if anyone has been near the site since the Tsunami raked the islands?

« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2007, 11:38:27 AM »

Unless or until the archaeological evidence claimed in China is made available for independent study, I keep an open mind on what may have been built. Personally, I have some doubt as to the archaeology referred to so far.

Fleets of such enormous ships, sailing the seas and oceans for a considerable period, would, I am sure, also have left an archaelogical trail.

Maybe what is referred to as the Guraidhoo Wreck has a basis of truth.

Fran?ois Pyrard de Laval
English Translation of Pyrard's Journal:
"The Voyage of Fran?ois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas, and Brazil". Translated into English from the Third French edition of 1619, and Edited, with Notes, by Albert Gray, formerly of the Ceylon Civil Service, assisted by Harry Charles Purvis Bell, of the Ceylon Civil Service. Volume I. 1887. Pages lviii, 452 + 1 map, 11 illustrations.

Facts and Figures about the Baa-Atoll
Distance from Male' Between 58 and 74 Miles
Capital Island Eydhafushi
Inhabited Islands 13
Uninhabited Islands 57

Atolls in Maldives: THE OUTER ATOLLS

* Baa_Atoll.jpg (169.95 KB, 1920x1844 - viewed 5 times.)
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« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2007, 02:44:02 AM »

When the book, 1421, first came out and I found it in a local book store, I was immediately attracted to it and the hypothesis it presented.  Being the greenest rank amateur (or rankest green amateur) with an insatiable curiosity about history, I picked it up and started brousing through it.  In ten or fifteen minutes, after reading some text and looking at the various maps and other illustrations, I decided, contrary to most of the opinions here that the author was misrepresenting history for his own ends, that this guy was simply a certifiable nut case.  I still stand by that opinion.


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« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2007, 05:23:12 AM »

Yeah Barry, there is a lot of that going around, junk historical publishing for the money. The Da Vinci Code is a great example, the public doesn't care about the historical correctness as much as the entertainment value. Money is the only truth recognized by some today.

   "This is not just a story about ones man?s wild theory. It is a parable of modern popular culture, a tale about intellectual chutzpah and about a publishing industry that knows how to extract profit from a public which wants to thumb its nose at the dry though documented history taught at school. "

Cartographic Fiction: The Case Of The Chinese ?Discovery? of Australia

   "This article critically examines the evidence and claims made by Gavin Menzies of Ming Dynasty Chinese circumnavigation of the world in 1421: the year China discovered the World. It concludes that the evidence presented remains highly speculative and is not sufficient to justify the conclusions Menzies draws."



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