Book Review:

1421: The Year China Discovered America

by Gavin Menzies

NY: Morrow, 2003,
385 pages, many maps & illustrations

ISBN: 0060537639

Were Pre-Columbian Chinese at Pole in 1421?
Author says that Year China Discovered America

After years plowing through the underwaters of most of the globe’s seas, onetime Royal Navy submarine Commander Gavin Menzies has charted a new course, with an environment ever as murky as those in the depths. “Fascinating but flawed” was the Booklist review in dissecting Menzies’ thesis that Chinese fleets explored most of the world decades before Europeans voyaged to the Americas (according to the author, explorers such as Columbus already knew the Americas were there because they had access to maps based on Chinese records). Menzies even argues that Chinese colonies were planted in the Americas, disappearing from view as they mingled with indigenous populations. 

In this personal quest, Menzies has accumulated a vast amount of circumstantial evidence in support of his theory, attaching to it the interpretations most supportive of his argument. Some of this evidence is persuasive, but much of it is only suggestive. Nonetheless, the sheer weight of evidence will cause most readers to conclude that there is some truth to Menzies’ thesis, at least enough to warrant more professional research. “That makes one wonder why Western historians have ignored or dismissed the evidence for centuries. And how much history is unknown to us because political decisions dictated the destruction of records, as was the case in Ming China. At the very least, this book should provoke a re-evaluation of Chinese influence on the West before the age of European expansion,” says Booklist.

Menzies makes the fascinating argument that the Chinese discovered the Americas a full 70 years before Columbus. Not only did the Chinese discover America first, but they also, according to the author, established a number of subsequently lost colonies in the Caribbean. Furthermore, he asserts that the Chinese circumnavigated the globe, desalinated water, and perfected the art of cartography. In fact, he believes that most of the renowned European explorers actually sailed with maps and charted by the Chinese.

With that proposition in debate, one chapter stands out for another suggestive dialogue among Polar historians. “Expedition to the North Pole,” the chapter in which Menzies speculates on Chinese penetration to the Arctic regions centuries before the first recorded European exploration of the high Arctic.

Menzies cites “the great expert on Ming China, Professor Needham, who says that there exist more than twenty separate Chinese claims that they actually reached the North Pole.” “When they rounded Greenland’s North Cape, the Chinese would have been just 180 miles south of the North Pole, for its position in 1422, as determined by Polaris at 90° altitude, was well to the south of where it is today. To reach the pole, the Chinese had, only to travel a further 180 miles to the north - less than two days’ sailing. Could the Arctic waters have been ice-free over those last 180 miles? A current (2000) temperature chart for the Arctic in July shows a tongue of relatively warm water off the North Cape of Greenland - perhaps the last feeble remnant of a branch of the Gulf Stream.” Menzies notes that Farley Mowat and Peter Schlederman have “carried out years of painstaking research in the high Arctic at the extraordinary villages of stone houses centered on the Bache peninsula of Ellsemere Island ... and made some remarkable discoveries.”He believes they were built in the 15th century and not by the Inuit, who had no tradition of building in stone.


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Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society