4 Corners

Junk History


 Monday 31/07/06

This year is the 400th anniversary of the historic voyage to Australia by the Dutch ship Duyfken. Most scholars say it’s the first recorded visit to Australia by seafarers from another country.But not everyone agrees…

Chinese President Hu Jintao Back in 1420s, the expeditionary fleets of China’s Ming Dynasty reached Australian shores. For centuries, the Chinese sailed across vast seas and settled down in what was called the “Southern Land” or today’s Australia.

The astonishing claim that Chinese mariners reached Australia two hundred years before the Duyfken, was made to a joint session of Parliament by President Hu Jintao three years ago.His speech echoed the views of British author Gavin Menzies, whose book – 1421, The Year China Discovered the World – has been a global success-story. Mr Menzies is riding a new wave in publishing of populist books that challenge what we’ve been taught.

Gavin Menzies I hope it will be the first joint effort by people all around the world to correct errors in history. 

But his book has sent established academics into apoplexy.

Felipe Fernandez-ArmestoIt is almost without exception wrong, factually wrong, and the conclusions drawn from it are logically fallacious, I mean they are the drivel of a two year-old!

Tonight on Four Corners, a parable of popular culture – how the author, the agent and the publisher overturned orthodox scholarship in the pursuit of profit.

Gavin MenziesLadies and gentlemen. First may I thank Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings Ltd., for so kindly inviting the 1421 organisation to join in our expedition in pursuit of my opinion that the Chinese were the first to discover the New World.

Three weeks ago a British former submarine commanding officer stepped inside the magnificent Painted Hall in London’s Old Royal Naval College, to announce his latest commercial venture.With a frank disregard for modesty, Gavin Menzies delivered his speech in a place made sacred by the memory of Lord Nelson, invoking the English admiral’s achievements to help sell his own commercial enterprise, the ongoing story of a Chinese admiral – Zheng He…

Gavin Menzies Where we stand is where Admiral Lord Nelson of the Nile lay in state after his great victory at Trafalgar in 1805 – 400 years after Admiral Zheng He’s first voyage. In the true brotherhood of the sea, the great Lord Nelson would, I am sure, have endorsed the joint venture Phoenix Television have entered with ourselves.

Amateur historian Gavin Menzies is a wealthy man.His book, 1421, The Year China Discovered the World, has sold a million copies in over a hundred countries, in twenty different languages.The book’s latest spin-off is a long-term documentary being filmed by the Hong-Kong based broadcaster Phoenix TV – part-owned by Rupert Murdoch.In Australia, it’s recorded the second highest sales of any history book in the past two years.Each new edition, like the first, is dedicated by Gavin Menzies to his wife Marcella.

Gavin Menzies Kitten darling, the latest version; this is the Russian version of the book. So here we are, that you recognise…Marcella Menzies: Darling well done! How fantastic!Gavin Menzies: So this was published in four Soviet Union countries where we went across…Marcella Menzies: And my name in Cyrillic! Oh wow!

…The achievements of the great Chinese treasure fleets of the 15th century were genuine, remarkable, and are well recognised by scholars. Several voyages were led by Admiral Zheng He – one of which, in 1421, took two years to complete.Contemporary records of these voyages exist – but not all of them are thought to have survived.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, You will always find sensationalists and cretins who will you know try to fill in those gaps in the record with fantastic speculations. But the limits of Zheng He’s voyages are absolutely clear from the sources. He made a series of voyages between 1405 and 1433, in the course of which he surveyed those portions of the Indian Ocean which were already well known and had been well known for centuries to Chinese navigators.

Geoff Wade He was actually following Arab trade routes. He went only to where the Arabs traded, that is south-east, from Southern China to South-East Asia, to South Asia, to the Middle East, to the East Coast of Africa, um and went no further.

Gavin Menzies contradicts this orthodox view, claiming, sensationally, that the fleets sailed beyond East Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, up the coast of West Africa, crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific, landed in America 70 years before Columbus, settled in Australia and New Zealand 300 years before Captain Cook – and in so doing mapped the entire globe, long before the Europeans did.

1421 belongs to the same publishing house that brought us The Da Vinci Code, and is another alternative history. Unlike The Da Vinci Code, though, 1421 is marketed as non-fiction. It’s aimed at a general, predominantly male readership.The author’s first attempt at selling his ideas was an unmitigated failure.

Gavin MenziesI spent ten years researching that book which never got published.

That book was an ambitious, sweeping look at the year 1421, contrasting what was happening in China with events in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

But as a commercial proposition, it cut no ice with his agent.

Luigi Bonomi, It was a big tome, it was over 1,500 pages, and I couldn’t really see that working as a big book in its own right.

Gavin Menzies’ agent suggested that he focus instead on one startling claim – that 15th Century Chinese mariners had discovered the entire New World.

Luigi Bonomi He said to me ‘of course you know they had navigated the world with their ships’ …And I distinctly remember feeling this wave of, of, is that the case? Are you really sure that’s what you’re saying? And he said yes, because of their ships, because of the maps, because of the diaries, because of what he knew. And I then said to him, look let’s forget what was happening in France, in Germany, and Britain, in the 15th century, let’s just look at this one episode, and let’s just make the whole book the story of how China discovered America.

Gavin Menzies then did an extraordinary thing – he asked his agent to rewrite the early chapters.

Luigi Bonomi He has fantastic ideas ah but he’s not an academic and he’s not a natural writer. So I did sit down with him and we did, I did look at writing those opening three chapters … and that’s what was sent out to the publishers.

The next step was to try and drum up interest in the – as yet – uncompleted manuscript. Gavin Menzies and his agent decided that the best way to create a bidding war, was for Mr Menzies to announce his historic discovery as dramatically as possible.

Gavin Menzies I’m a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and I thought it would be a very good place to launch the book so I hired a room and ah decided to pu-put forward my theory and ah hoped that there would be lots of critics there and they’d all lambast it and it would make excellent publicity and therefore I’d be able to clinch a sale for my book. So really i-it was a public relations exercise on my part to hopefully create a lot of controversy and sell the literary rights.

Steven Williams In Luigi’s opinion ah it was a bit of a no hoper of a of a manuscript, too long, ah too involved and ah no publisher would touch it. So he had the bright idea of asking us um a PR agency to see if we could um fly a flag and see if we could get a story in a national newspaper ah that would um put his theory out into the public domain. And um so I said yes of course…

London’s Daily Telegraph duly obliged, publishing a long article about Gavin Menzies and his theory…

Steven WilliamsThe resultant publicity, resultant news coverage around the world was um certainly one of the biggest stories that we’ve ever handled as a PR agency. It was just unbelievable…

Luigi BonomiI sent the manuscript out to various publishers the day after the story broke with copies of the story saying look at the interest that we’re getting. Ah we invited the world’s press including lots of American television stations, Phoenix, others, to come along to the Royal Geographical Society. And everything was engineered for me to maximise that opportunity as an agent.

The strategy was working brilliantly. Several publishers were lured by the promise that history was being rewritten – among them, Bantam Press, a division of Transworld. It seemed enough to them, that Gavin Menzies believed his theory was true.

Luigi BonomiWe did a massive round of of meetings with publishers in London. There was great enthusiasm. Transworld, ten of their directors met us in the boardroom and Gavin absolutely wowed them with what he was saying and with his charm and and his conviction of what he was saying.

Sally Gaminara What G-Gavin was claiming was of itself um a step away from orthodox history and anything that does that is, can be sensational, or certainly different, um and we’re always looking for things, as are lots of people, that um really um go up against conventional wisdom, and this is what I thought this book did.

“The facts revealed in this presentation stand the history of discovery on its head.”“…eunuch captains. Their severed treasures were kept in jewelled boxes ready to accompany them to the next world.”By the time his talk at the Royal Geographical Society came round, there was a frenzy of anticipation. Access to the event was carefully controlled. As the invitation shows, the promises being made by Mr Menzies and his team were tantalising. The presentation would “stand the history of discovery on its head”, as Mr Menzies told the story of Zheng He’s “eunuch captains” whose “severed treasures were kept in jewelled boxes ready to accompany them to the next world.”One publishing group had already swallowed the bait…

Sally Gaminara I wanted to make sure that we bought the book before he gave his talk … because I thought that if all the other publishers were there they’d all um immediately rush to buy the book and that the price would go up and all of that sort of thing. And so I thought that if I went in really quickly and tried to take the book off the table, ie pre-empt it, then that would stop that, and that’s in effect what I did.Q: So who did you talk to and what did you offer him?Sally Gaminara: I spoke to Luigi and um I offered £500,000 for world rights which he accepted.

Q: He was pleased with the offer?Luigi Bonomi: Over the moon.

Steven WilliamsIt was very exciting. And I think the fact that you know a reputable publisher has put their money where their mouth is, and bought the book, everyone was thinking well there must be something, there must be something in this.

Gavin Menzies’ theory – revolutionary as it was – had achieved worldwide publicity and instant credibility. And he and his agent were half a million pounds richer. It was a stunning deal for an entirely untried writer who had left school at 15 and had no standing whatsoever in the world of scholarship.But the deal was done, and the book now had to be written. Gavin Menzies gave his publishers a 190 page manuscript, which became a 500-page volume. 

Sally GaminaraQuite often we have manuscripts that come in tha t… at the heart of them is a very good idea, but which is badly expressed or is um is straining to come out and be popularly expressed.

Gavin MenziesIt was dry as dust and Transworld said well after they bought it, they said you know this is a great book potentially but nobody’s going to read it. You know if you want to get your story over you’ve got to make it readable and you can’t write, basically. I mean in a sort of polite way.

Teams of people were assigned the task of preparing and packaging the book.

Sally Gaminara He wasn’t used to the business of you know commissioning the book, writing the book, writing the copy, getting the jacket prepared, um the copy editor, the proof reading…

Gavin MenziesThey had 130 people in Transworld working on it and I think they’ve done wonderfully.

Among those brought in to help, was an experienced ghost-writer.

Gavin MenziesThey appointed a chap called Neil Hanson who is a successful writer to really advise on on structuring the book to make it into readable form and I think they did a great job.Q: Who did the research?Gavin Menzies: Well I did the original research ah and look I accept full responsibility for the research. They didn’t do any original research.

Strangely, none of the professionals at Transworld who prepared the manuscript for publication was asked to test the theory behind the book.

Sally GaminaraIt’s very hard to prove that something is or is not correct. I mean we do have to rely on our authors. W-we simply don’t have the time. I mean we work full flat out publishing books to bring them to press, marketing them, publicizing them, selling them. We can’t possibly go through all our books and check every single one of them out for factual accuracy.

When the book was published, it received mixed reviews. One of the most scathing came from Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, an acknowledged authority in the field who holds chairs in history at Tufts University in America, and at the University of London. He too has been published by Transworld.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto…To say that it was devoid of um evidence, logic, scholarship and sense was just about the nicest thing one could say about it … because I mean you’ve got to be either a charlatan or a cretin, you’ve got to be either you know a kind of con man or um ah an innocent idiot in order to produce a book which is so lacking in any um intelligence or accuracy whatever.

Sally GaminaraWell maybe he’d like to have the same commercial success himself. 

:“he was proposing completely impossible voyages and times”“It stretches credulity.”“Its style reminded me of the old (German language) works by Erich von Däniken, which are of a similar nature.”“The man is barking mad.”1421 has been a huge commercial success – due in part, to the fact that it is packaged and marketed as history. The preface includes pages of acknowledgments to some of the most distinguished scholars in the field.Four Corners contacted twelve of these scholars – and most say either, that the help they gave Mr Menzies was very limited, or, that they actively disagree with his views.One told us: “The man is barking mad.”But there’s method in Mr Menzies’ eccentricity – as one scholar who asked him not to credit her, explains.

Kirsten SeaverBy the time I was given the acknowledgments in Mr Menzies’ preface, it had become clear to me and to a number of my colleagues that we had been manipulated for his own purposes.

Q: She’s told us that she asked you not to acknowledge her.Gavin Menzies: Well did she give chapter and verse of when and how?Q: Well she said she wrote to you and asked you not to acknowledge her.Gavin Menzies: I don’t recall ever having had a letter from her.

Kirsten Seaver lives in California, on the outskirts of San Francisco. Her field is early North Atlantic exploration and cartography. She was introduced to Gavin Menzies by a mutual friend and Mr Menzies then asked her to read some chapters from his early, unpublished manuscript. She says he ignored her advice.

Kirsten Seaver, …I was appalled at the lack of research … it’s not unusual to come across h-the belief that there were things happening earlier than what we have documentary or archaeological evidence for. That’s OK, but you don’t make up the evidence. That is the difference.

Q: Was she helpful to you?Gavin Menzies: She started the whole thing off. Yeah, she was frightfully helpful. 

After the book was published however, Mrs Seaver was contacted by a journalist from the London Sunday Times who had spoken with Gavin Menzies.

Kirsten SeaverIn an interview with this same journalist, he had praised my work and then come out with some absolutely crazy notions that have absolutely no connection to what I have ever written or said and I was really offended and made it clear. I said it’s absolute garbage.
Kirsten SeaverThe next thing we knew we got a fax from Mr Menzies threatening me with a law suit unless I retracted everything I said with a letter to the editor of the Sunday Times, a letter which he had taken care to write out himself, and I ah and where he reminded me that surely I didn’t want to cause trouble for my husband who by the way had just practically died a few months earlier from endocarditis. 

Mr Menzies told her, “I know Paul has been ill and I have no wish to ruin you.”

Q: Why did you do that? Why did you threaten to ruin her as you did?Gavin Menzies: I can remember there was an article. I can’t I’m afraid I can’t remember the specifics. I I did threaten to sue her, yes but if if if she it’s I did threaten to and I told my publishers and that’s the time they said never sue, never reply, never respond, never deny please a-agree in future so I I ......... never did sue her.Q: You told her “I have no wish to ruin you which a libel action would do”.Gavin Menzies: Yes I think I did say that. Q: I mean some would say that’s those are those are the words of a bully not of a ah genteel author.Gavin Menzies: Well, they’re entitled to.

 “Gavin Menzies was born in 1937 in China”Gavin Menzies’ own personal history is unremarkable, but when 1421 was published, it was carefully written up to boost his credentials as an expert in Chinese maritime history. Fortuitously, it seems, Mr Menzies was born in China.

Q: Where were you born?Gavin Menzies: I was born in London.Q: Well why did the dust jacket on your book say you were born in China?Gavin Menzies: Well, th-th-the original draft said he spent his um early life in China, I think.Q: Well it actually said you were born in China. Gavin Menzies: Ah I went there when I was three weeks’ old. I mean it’s a mistake um I can’t see it’s material.

“Gavin Menzies (Royal Navy Submarine Commanding Officer, retired) was born in 1937 in China…” “When in command of HMS Rorqual (1968-70), he sailed the routes pioneered by Magellan and Captain Cook.” “Royal Navy Submarine Commanding Officer, retired”The publisher’s slip about where the author was born is typical of the way Transworld has packaged his naval history, to cast him in the light of an intrepid latter-day explorer. The book says Mr Menzies, when in command of the submarine HMS Rorqual, “sailed the routes pioneered by Magellan and Captain Cook.” But it doesn’t mention the incident that nearly led to a court-martial. It’s an event he has until now refused to discuss.

Gavin MenziesI have never replied to any of these criticisms and I’ve assured my ah publishers that I won’ t… Actually it’s quite a funny story as a matter of fact, so I will, I’ll make an exception…

The story Mr Menzies tells is of how in 1969 the submarine he commanded collided with an American minesweeper, knocking a large hole in its side.

Gavin MenziesWe did go right into this minesweeper and ah as near as dammit cut it in half so I thought well that’s the end you know, the end of my career…

As commanding officer, he invited the American Admiral on board, in order to apologise to him.

Gavin MenziesSo we invited his team down and I said how sorry I was and and we got totally smashed. It was a fantastic party and at the end of the party he said look, you get that minesweeper up and repair it and if it gets to sea on time I’ll make sure you’re not court martialled. … So we did, we got our team down, we got divers, we got the thing up, we did repair it, made it um made its voyage on time and so I wasn’t court martialled. 

Central to 1421’s credibility is the idea that Gavin Menzies’ Navy career gave him skills and experience which are uniquely valuable.

Sally Gaminara, He was coming at it from a rather unusual perspective, i.e. a hands-on ex naval officer… I-it was Gavin’s love and use of maps which persuaded us that there was something unusual, a contribution that he could make to the whole issue.

Not everyone, however, shares this belief. In the Cameron Highlands outside Kuala Lumpur lives Captain Phil Rivers, master mariner, lecturer in nautical studies and former insurance fraud investigator.Captain Rivers has studied Mr Menzies’ claims in detail, and is highly critical of his navigational knowledge.

Q: He said didn’t he in his first edition that the equator was further north in Ming times?Phil Rivers: Yes. Well of course I mean this is nonsense… He’s got an equator that wobbles about like a hula hoop. 

Gavin MenziesI think that was badly written actually. I accept that. Ah badly written by me.

Captain Rivers believes Mr Menzies is mistaken in his claims about Chinese astronavigation, and about other material factors, including monsoons and ocean currents. All of these would have affected whether China’s mariners could have encircled the globe.

Phil Rivers He even invents in his book, he even invents some currents to carry them up here, currents that don’t exist … and this is completely wrong because from here, all the currents would be against him …Q: So they simply couldn’t have done it?Phil Rivers: They simply couldn’t have done it, not according to his book.

…In Hong Kong, at the city’s Maritime Museum, there’s an equally sceptical critic.

Q: Your argument of course is that if the junks had been as big as Gavin Menzies claims, then there would have been illustrations to show that.Stephen Davies: There’s no question. I’m sure if we’ve got a contemporary illustration, had there been an absolute behemoth, somebody would have drawn a picture. There’s a lot of graphic art in China of that era and I can’t imagine that it would have been completely ignored…

…Stephen Davies, the Maritime Museum’s Director, doesn’t buy Gavin Menzies’ theory that fleets of gigantic junks circumnavigated the world in two years.

Stephen Davies, …I mean if the ships were as big as it said it was, they would be barely mobile. Ah, the drag, everything would have meant that they would barely have moved at all unless it was blowing a gale … Now Zheng He, his fleet is supposed to have headed off around the world … mapping as they went, scientifically observing everything that they saw and to have averaged something like four to five knots. Forget it. It didn’t happen.

Gavin Menzies I said in my book in my view the junks were over 400 foot long and 200 foot wide and a a lot of very well respected … marine engineers say this is nonsense. A ship that size would hog and sag and break up in heavy sea. Impossible to build … and I’m not saying … that people who say they couldn’t be built that size might be eventually proved right.

The mountain of data put forward by Mr Menzies to support his central thesis focuses on three main areas – maps, wrecks, and artefacts. The author says some of the world’s most famous European medieval maps show parts of the world that had not yet been discovered in the West.

Gavin MenziesI argue that all of the great explorers had maps, that there was a master map of the world and that the Chinese drew it and the Chinese circumnavigated the world.

But academics question the fundamentals of this approach.

Felipe Fernandez-ArmestoAnybody who knows anything about medieval maps knows that they were inherently speculative. That the map-maker’s craft wasn't to record real places, it was to produce beautiful intriguing objects, ah very often devotional objects. Medieval mariners in Europe did not use charts to navigate.

Q: Isn’t there a problem here in interpreting medieval maps because these maps were not meant to be literal and yet time and time again you attempt to interpret them literally by claiming that particular coastlines for example are amazingly accurately drawn.Gavin Menzies: Well, if yes I think that’s fa.. that is a fair criticism.

Gavin Menzies insists that early Chinese maps helped the 16th century map-maker Jean Rotz, to depict Australia.

Gavin MenziesI am satisfied that the British Library version of Rotz’s map showing Arnhem land does actually show Arnhem land um for a number of reasons which I put in my book.

Bill Richardson He maintains that what Rotz calls Little Java, is actually Arnhem Land.

Bill Richardson takes the view that Mr Menzies’ re-interpretation of early maps is pure invention.

Bill RichardsonPersonally I think that it’s quite disgraceful that ah publishers anywhere should should con the public by producing such material, which, without finding out whether there is any basis for its truth or not. Any investigation of of historians of cartography could prove that a vast proportion of what ah Menzies uses is is a fabrication from his own interpretation.

…One method Mr Menzies uses to bolster his argument that 15th century Chinese mariners reached Australasia, is to seize on small, unsolved historical riddles and claim them for Zheng He. He says a small Chinese figurine discovered under a banyan tree in Darwin was brought here by the treasure fleets.But Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum disagrees.

Claire RobertsOur assessment and we’ve shown it to many experts over the years is that it is more likely ah to date from you know the 19th Century or at the very earliest the 18th Century rather than to be much earlier than that.

Mr Menzies says the wreck of an old wooden ship on New Zealand’s South Island, is a Chinese junk.

Q: Records show, don’t they, that one of those wrecks, the wreck at Dusky Sound was in fact an English ship called the Endeavour that went down in 1795. Gavin Menzies: Well, I’m sure that there is an Endeavour down there … It’s possible I’m wrong. I don’t have enough information about the Endeavour, I’m afraid.

Mr Menzies argues that the legendary ‘mahogany ship’ off the coast of Victoria – which has never been raised – is also a Chinese junk from the treasure fleets.

Q: But there’s no proof of that, is there?Gavin Menzies: I think I’m completely wrong. Ah I I think there is proof that it’s Chinese wood down there ah but I think it’s going to turn out to be a Chinese ship which reached Australia in about 800BC.

Q: Is it possible that the mahogany ship really was a Chinese junk?Robin Watt: No, you can’t argue that way. If you’re going to speculate you’ve got to have grounds for speculating.

 But speculating is Gavin Menzies’ stock in trade.Since 1421 was published, a tidal wave of new, untested data has been released by Mr Menzies and his team – much of it proffered by fellow enthusiasts who have latched on to 1421’s revisionist theories after reading the book or visiting Mr Menzies’ website.

Gavin Menzies We do have a massive endorsement. We have 2,000 people a day who come to our website, hundreds of thousands of emails and I can promise you that to the best of my knowledge, well over 90% are in in our favour. They accept the book has mistakes but overall they think it’s a true and fair view.

Mr Menzies’ website now reports that there are scores of previously undiscovered wrecks of Chinese junks lying on the coast of New Zealand. He sources this remarkable discovery to a new acolyte and 1421 team member – Cedric Bell.

Q: You believe you found 45 wrecks of 15th Century Chinese junks on the coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Cedric Bell: Yes. Q: Ah these wrecks must be very well known then. Cedric Bell: No ah I don't think any of those wrecks are known. I think the majority of people have ah bi bypassed the few visible ones and not appreciated what they are.

Robin Watt The fact that there are supposed to be 35 Chinese junks washed up on the west coast of the south island, ah there was supposed to have been a small town of something like 28,000 eh on the south island, Chinese town. That type of of ah evidence is just too fantastic. In fact, I think it’s quite silly, it’s a load of bollocks.

Cedric Bell is a British retired marine engineer and surveyor who says there’s a Roman temple under Gavin Menzies’ back lawn.He’s been ridiculed for suggesting that the wrecks he claims to have discovered on three short trips to New Zealand, were washed up on the cliffs by a tsunami caused in turn, by a comet or meteorite.

Cedric Bell, The ones that were visible had been um carbonised, extre it had burned to an e-extreme degree of heat. Q: What caused that? Cedric Bell: That could only be caused by the tail end of a comet or meteorite um because there are, I'm fema quite familiar with fires, I've actually had to put a few out on oil refineries, I've never ever seen um such damage done to any timber and the ones in Wakinui are the wonderful example where the whole junk frame has been compressed to 35 mm literally and. Q: The whole of a frame of a junk Cedric Bell: Had been compressed to 35 mm. Q: Well how on earth do you know that it's the frame of a junk? Cedric Bell: Ah because you can see the section of the timber and the whole of the junk's outline can be seen upside down.

Q: Has the wood been dated?Gavin Menzies: No.Q: Why not?Gavin Menzies: We haven’t got around to it.Q: So you have no idea really that it is actually 15th century?Gavin Menzies: Not from dating, no.

If Cedric Bell’s extravagant claims about shipwrecks have left New Zealand’s academics open-mouthed, Mr Menzies’ constantly shifting claims about the racial origin of the Maori people have caused some to question his motives.

Geoff Wade, He’ll say well the Maoris are descendants of ah Chinese prostitutes and Melanesian slaves, there’s no such thing as a Maori … His aim is not to inform the public. His aim is not to really provide a revisionist history of human exploration of the globe. It’s to sell books.

This, now, is his latest speculative theory, based, he says, on recent DNA research.

Gavin Menzies What I say happened is that long long before Zheng He, New Zealand was known to the Chinese people and was exploited for its minerals and around 200BC Chinese miners sailed from from Taiwan ah they collected on their way Melanesian I say indentured labourers or slaves, took them to New Zealand and these Melanesians in due course rose up, murdered the Maori men, kept their wives as as their own wives, hence the Melanesian Y chromosome DNA and ah Taiwanese mitochondrial.Q: Yes, I mean that’s a different version isn’t it to the version you gave in your book which is that Melanesians who settled in New Zealand 2,000 years ago murdered the treasure fleet sailors and took their concubines as wives?Gavin Menzies: Yes, it is.

Mr Menzies’ reputation as an author with a serious contribution to make, is continually boosted by the invitations he receives to speak at some of academia’s most prized institutions.

Gavin MenziesI’ve been invited to give talks at Oxford, Harvard, Barclay, Stanford, Melbourne, La Trobe, ah Salamanca, Grenada, Oporto, Lisbon, you name it. The world’s universities have in-invited me. Now that doesn’t happen unless professors in those universities think I’m right.

Professor Stephen WheatcroftI’ll make it absolutely clear – I don’t think anybody agreed with him at all. I think ah it was polite…

When Gavin Menzies spoke to members of the history department at the University of Melbourne earlier this year, he unveiled yet another dramatic shift in his thinking.

Gavin MenziesThe interest engendered by the book and the website has flushed out the fact that Kublai Khan’s fleets sailed the world. Marco Polo was on board … Kublai Khan’s fleets went from China to North America to Hudson’s Bay and there are maps, Marco Polo’s maps, in the Library of Congress showing the Americas.

Professor Stephen WheatcroftIn the lecture he said, yes, he’d got it wrong, that there was more to that, that it wasn’t just the Zheng He voyage, ah it was Kublai Khan’s navy who had earlier done this. And I think at that point ah I and most of my colleagues were just quite simply stunned. Ah I mean there’s very little that one can actually say you know to people who who argue like that.

Q: When do you say Kublai Khan sailed the world?Gavin Menzies: When? His fleets between 1290 and 1330. So so I say Kublai Khan in the sort of generic way. It’s his he started it all off.Q: OK, so Zheng He didn’t start it all off?Gavin Menzies: No.

Geoff Wade, This ah, this is a marketing scam or a marketing strategy if you prefer to sell as many books as possible on the most outlandish claims as possible. That is why he’s looking for more outlandish claims about Kublai Khan going to the Americas. That will be the next book. 

Dr Geoffrey Wade has been Gavin Menzies’ most determined, tireless and some would say, obsessive critic.

Geoff Wade I don’t think I’m obsessed in silencing the man. I’m obsessed with educating the public as to one; the deficiencies in his thesis, two; the fabrications which he’s created, three; the possible social effects, and four; how it might affect universities and public perceptions if they allow the man to speak on their premises. 

Geoff Wade researches at the National University of Singapore, and has helped set up a website aimed at critiquing 1421. There is little love lost between the two men.

Geoff Wade,Mr Menzies has tried on three occasions to, by direct approaches to the university and through the press to have me removed from my post

Gavin MenziesHe’s just a-a complete nutter.Q: So why is he pursuing you so relentlessly do you think?Gavin Menzies: He’s obviously got nothing better to do. I mean he’s my best salesman, is my view. He-he sells a hell of a lot of books.Q: He says that you tried to get him chucked out of his job.Gavin Menzies: I’m going to try. I haven’t yet go-got my act together. I think it’s completely wrong that fruitcakes are employed by Universities.Q: You’re calling Dr Geoffrey Wade a fruitcake?Gavin Menzies: Yep, absolutely.Q: So it’s a mutual admiration society.Gavin Menzies: Just about. Bu-but I’ve sold a hell of a lot of books.

Within China, Mr Menzies is regularly welcomed to give his views on Zheng He’s voyages. Four Corners filmed him giving one such address earlier this year at the University of Xian.His talks are politely and sometimes, enthusiastically received. But despite being endorsed by China’s politicians, his theories have embarrassed many established Chinese scholars.

James Chin, Q: How widespread is this displeasure amongst Chinese scholars?James Chin: Quite widespread almost all of them only I think three or five of them they pretended to support Menzies, or accept what Menzies claimed. But after we colleagues have the internal discussions and the debate they now very quiet. They won’t dare to say anything.Q: So you would say that there’s general agreement, there’s general agreement among China’s top scholars that the claims in this book are false.James Chin: Yeah, we just treat it like as a novel [laugh] not the real history.

Having come this far, Mr Menzies is now taking his claims even further. In Hong Kong last month, he gave a series of talks focusing on what he claims, is an18th Century copy of a 1418 world map, bought some years ago by a Chinese businessman, Liu Gang.He says this is the master map used by Europe’s medieval map-makers – and by Christopher Columbus himself. But its authenticity has been seriously questioned by experts who say the map has many historical inconsistencies.

Gavin MenziesQ: Won’t it seem terribly convenient to our viewers that the one map which you say is the source of all these other world maps has been discovered shortly after your book has has has gone to press ah by a businessman in Shanghai?Gavin Menzies: Well, it’s certainly very convenient indeed. I mean of course it is. It’s amazing.

There’s a final, bizarre twist to this story. One abiding mystery is why, if Zheng He’s mariners circled the globe, they never popped up in Europe.

But now Gavin Menzies has provided us with the answer. He says they did visit Europe and brought with them a set of underclothes for Henry V. Imagine the scene – a massive 400-foot junk navigating its way up the Thames, behind me, watched, open-mouthed from the banks, by hundreds of the King’s subjects. You’d think, wouldn’t you that someone, somewhere, would have recorded this astonishing event?

Q: There aren’t any records of the fleet ah er coming and meeting Henry V.Gavin Menzies: No not yet. No, I accept that, yeah .… Q: You said um you said this ‘if I said well the Chinese sailed up the English Channel and went in the Thames, which I think they did, and gave Henry V a set of underclothes which I think they did...Gavin Menzies: Yeah.Q: ... people would have said this chap’s completely mad’.Gavin Menzies: Yes, that’s correct.Q: So that’s what you think they did?Gavin Menzies: Yes.Q: I mean a lot of viewers will say you’re completely mad.Gavin Menzies: Well, let wait let them wait and see.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The men in white coats always seem to be hovering in the margins of Mr Menzies’ book and and and I am just tempted by the thought that he may be aware of that and that he’s just pulled off a gigantic joke.

Whether established scholars like it or not, 1421 is one of the most popular history books of recent years. Its readers have taken sides in the history war and have made Gavin Menzies the victor – by popular acclaim.

Q: So, is 1421 fact or fiction?

Bill Richardson: 1421 is fiction, absolute fiction.

Luigi Bonomi It’s not fiction, it’s fact.

Phil Rivers: It’s just fiction; an historical romance.

Gavin Menzies: The public are on my side and they are the people that count.

(c) Copyright Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2006
4 Corners Documentary

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