1421: The year China discovered the world

What if Europeans weren’t the first outsiders to discover the Americas? Could some other great culture have come ashore in search of trade and materials?

Former Royal Navy submariner Gavin Menzies started pondering these questions whilst studying an old map. Turning his sailor’s eye to islands long considered fanciful or misplaced he began to see familiar shapes in their coastlines, matching them to islands in the western Atlantic supposedly undiscovered when the map was drafted. Further maps showed sections of coastline which had yet to be “discovered” by Columbus and his contemporaries. Digging into the legends of the great European explorers revealed whispered tales suggesting they had set out knowing exactly what they would find.

Where had these maps originated? Tracking their provenance, Menzies deduced that they were copies of documents drawn up by the chinese on great voyages that have since been forgotten, much first hand evidence destroyed.

In 1421 China was at the height of its power. Emperor Zhu Di, wishing to spread trade and extend influence, ordered a great fleet of junks to sail to all the corners of the Earth. There they would meet new peoples and trade Chinese silks and treasures for natural resources, diplomatic ties and strange creatures. The greatest empire known would, through bribery and awe, secure links with all the peoples of the world.

However, whilst the fleet was on its two year voyage, great changes took place in China. Disaster befell the royal palace and reduced Zhu Di to a shadow of his former self. The bureaucratic mandarins used this opportunity to wrest power from him and close the borders. When the remnants of the fleet straggled home their logs and maps were destroyed, leaving only secondary information and what had been garnered by other nationals who tagged along on the journey or were encountered on the way. And wrecks, treasures and genes spread across the globe to be found by a determined researcher.

Which is what Menzies proceeded to do, circling the globe and discovering ever more compelling evidence for Chinese landings in the Americas, Australia and New Zealand and the mapping of Antarctica and circumnavigation of Greenland. Presented as finding atop finding, with even more between the original book and this printing, it’s very convincing. It appears to be an accepted theory now, as I recently saw a documentary where modern travellers traced the path of Zheng He, the admiral leading the fleet.

If nothing else, this great journey offers great scope for “what if?” stories. What if the Chinese had maintained contact with South American cultures? Imagine what would have happened if the Conquistadors had come up against Mayans with gunpowder. What if the great mythical cities in the US’ heartland were real?

Further information is being added to a dedicated website- www.1421.tv as more people read the book and find its thesis resonates with local myths and finds.

(Cultural Imperialism appendix: the US version of the book is subtitled “The year China discovered America” because everyone knows the rest of the world doesn’t matter.)

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