Library of Congress

Library of Congress

On May 16 2005 Gavin Menzies, with nine of his supporters, staged an “International Conference on Zheng He’s First Voyage”. 


In March 2005, Professor SU Ming Yang of the United States, together with Dr. Jin Guo-Ping of Portugal, Captain Philip Rivers of Malaysia, Captain Malhão Pereira and Dr Geoff Wade of Singapore, came together electronically through their concern over the growing disinformation campaign being waged by Mr. Menzies and his publishers.

They were particularly concerned that Menzies’, through his marketing team, had managed to convince the Asia Division of the Library of Congress to provide Mr. Menzies and his supporters with a venue to promote their fabrications under the thin guise of the “International Conference on Zheng He’s First Voyage”.

It was obvious to the academic community that this conference had been tailored as a forum for Menzies et al and could not be deemed an “academic conference”.

For this “International Conference” of May 16, 13 presentations were listed. Except for the first two by Prof Wu Jin and Prof John Wills and the last two by LoC/ Asian Division’s own personnel, all of the presentations (a total of 9) were by members of the "1421 Team". 

In response to this, Su, Jin, Rivers, Pereira and Wade jointly drafted a communiqué which is presented below. They also wrote individually to senior members of the Library of Congress.

Some further correspondence was entered into between Dr Lee Hwa-wei who headed the Asian Division, and was ultimately responsible for the invitation, and Dr Geoff Wade, with the former accusing the latter of violating the principles of academic freedom.

Dr Lee wrote on 2 May 2005:

“I just want to let whoever Geoff Wade is to know that it is none of his business about who we want to invite to share information at the International Symposium. His vicious attack on Gavin Menzies is way outt of place judging by any acceptable academic behavior.”

Hwa-Wei Lee, Ph.D.
Chief,  Asian Division
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave.  SE
Washington, D.C. 20540-4810
Phone: (202)  707-5919
Fax:   (202)  707-1724

Dr Wade responded as follows on16 April 2005:

“Regarding the email from Dr Lee Hwa-wei, I believe that a number of points need to be made:

  1. We are certainly not acting against the principle of academic freedom. We are proceeding from academic responsibility.
  2. We have no objections to Mr Menzies continuing to circulate his nonsense on his website or elsewhere where it is apparent that they are his own opinions.
  3. What we do object to is an august body such as the Library of Congress providing a venue for a commercially-inspired cabal and therefore giving it credence of which it is undeserving.
  4. If someone made repeated unfounded claims, for an extreme example, that "all Albanians are baby-eaters" and this person wanted a venue at the Library of Congress to express this claim, would Dr Lee still claim that "freedom of speech" should be the only principle invoked? Of course not. Freedom of expression must be measured against the fraudulence or otherwise of the claims made.
  5. Who is to assess this? Academics are the only arbiters of academic propriety and they must make a stand when they consider that deception is being practised. That is what we are doing here. Acting responsibly in an attempt to prevent further fraud and deception of the populace.
  6. We stand by our claims that Mr Menzies should not be given space in an event organised by the Library of Congress, and that the Library has an obligation to not allow its reputation to be manipulated by someone whose sole aim is commercial gain
  7. Invoking a caveat such as "the Library of Congress does not endorse or reject any opinion expressed in this Symposium" is senseless when the Library has, precisely by providing the forum, given credence to otherwise dismissable fantasy.

In the event, the “conference” proceeded and the quality of the presentations can be judged from the website where they are posted: (under Other Library of Congress presentations)

Information obtained from persons who spoke to senior members of the Library both during and after the event suggests that this gathering was an intense embarrassment to the Library, but cancelling it would have presented an even greater problem. New measures have been implemented to prevent such embarrassment in future.


 Joint Statement on the Claims by Gavin Menzies Regarding the Zheng He Voyages

1.  As scholars and educators, we feel a strong obligation to speak out publicly about what we feel is an inappropriate decision by the august Library of Congress to make its name and premises available as a platform for the author Mr. Gavin Menzies. His book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, is a work of sheer fiction presented as revisionist history. Not a single document or artefact has been found to support his new claims on the supposed Ming naval expeditions beyond Africa. 

2.  After 1421 appeared, his fantastic account of global voyages by fleets of the Chinese Admiral Zheng He met with extensive expert criticism, and often outright rejection. Menzies dismisses his errors as mere details and valid fault-finding as nit-picking by established academics, interested only in preserving their reputations, unwilling to accept his suppositions as facts. Indeed, Menzies accuses historians of negligence and Chinese scholars of ignorance of their own history, even though he has no advanced education having joined the Royal Navy when 15 years old.

3.  Ostensibly recounting hitherto unknown odysseys during the Zheng He Voyages, in his 1421, Menzies virtually ignored the great Admiral. According to Menzies, Zheng He didn't accompany the others on their dubious discoveries but was demoted to a Harbour Master after returning to Nanjing in November 1421. Yet in 2004 on CNN TV, GM promotes Zheng He as the architect of modern world trade. Menzies has continued to fabricate claims, adjusting them to achieve greatest possible exposure and publicity in his marketing campaign.

4.  On March 15, 2002, Menzies seemingly delivered an address to the Royal Geographical Society but actually spoke in a hired room of their building promoting his not-yet-published manuscript. At that time he claimed to have found nine Chinese wrecks in the Caribbean, details of which would appear later if he found a publisher. But in 1421 all he gave was an opinion that four gigantic junks might be among many unidentified wrecks in the Florida Strait while five more might be covered by sand mounds ashore on Bimini Island - only time will tell. Deceptive publicity-seeking has remained a hallmark of Menzies' marketing since that event.

5.  Your invitation presents him with the opportunity to pursue his newest publicity campaign at the Library of Congress. With the same tactics he already promises more revelations to promote another fantasy to be published in the future. The commercial exploitation of fantasy should not be endorsed or promoted by the Library of Congress.

6.  In a familiar ploy, he divulged to the press the "Riddle of a Lost Chinese city on the Atlantic coast" (Asia Pacific Post, February 24, 2005) that would be solved at your forthcoming meeting. Menzies claims that an unnamed Canadian architect might reveal the location of the unidentified site where he discovered some buried ruins whose origin is unknown. Menzies predictably pronounces it was a Chinese naval depot established by Zheng He who didn't even accompany the fleet. It is 'two-thirds the size of the Forbidden City' even though the Admiral had been perfectly satisfied with a few storehouses in Malacca for the real Voyages of the Treasure Fleets. Not unexpectedly, Menzies hopes to raise large funds for excavations. He has also promised a 'lost World Map' of Kublai Khan (1260-1294), that includes the Americas! The similarity with the Royal geographical Society ploy is obvious.

7.  But such casual identifications are not unusual for Menzies. About a year ago, GM lauded the discovery on the coast of New Zealand's South Island the remains of large ships from Zheng He's fleet. The junks he asserted had been cast 300 feet up a cliff by a wave created when a comet fell in the Pacific Ocean! He claimed that ruins were also found of large dockyards and buildings constructed from their stone ballast. The only proof is a number of round boulders, that are unquestionably natural, scattered along a beach.

8.  Menzies claims continue to shake the bounds of reality. He now claims that there was an exchange of information with the Italian mapmaker Albertin di Virga in 1408 when the Chinese dropped in on him during an imagined cruise to the Azores. Menzies pronounces that on the way to the Atlantic they entered the Mediterranean from the Red Sea through a non-existent Suez Canal! Not the present one, of course, but via the Nile by an earlier ditch that a Caliph had filled with sand in 775.

9.  Menzies improbably claims that the Chinese could calculate longitude without chronometers and dreams up a convoluted procedure useless to navigators. Examples he cites of evidence date from well prior to the voyages

10.Menzies has now conjured up even larger Ming fleets with Japanese and Korean flotillas guided by European navigators and Arabian astronomers. None of this is supported by identifiable artefacts or written records from any nation.

11.In 1421, Menzies' myth of global voyages is founded on his creative interpretation of the world's system of ocean currents while his so-called evidence is contrived by deliberate distortion and misquotations. There is even what some might call plagiarism with little acknowledgement of the work of others. In his Chapter 'On the Shoulders of Giants' (pp. 429-434 great blocks of text are presented as Menzies' own work but were lifted almost word for word from a paper by Prof. Arthur Davies in the Geographical Journal (1977).

12.Menzies' credibility as a self-appointed expert is presumed because of his naval service during which he claims to have developed insights denied to mere academics, along with nautical experience that is better than any written records to trace the global voyages. Yet, he got it all wrong, as is made clear in the attached assessment of 'The Nautical Knowledge of Gavin Menzies' as gleaned from his own book. Those who are still impressed by his assumed superior enlightenment should read it.

13.Menzies' numerous claims and the hundreds of pieces of "evidence" he has assembled have been thoroughly and entirely discredited by historians, maritime experts and oceanographers from China, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere. We can if required produce a number of examples of his many errors in scholarship and the fallacy of his conclusions. Professor Robert Finlay, uses Menzies as an example of 'How Not to (Re)Write World History', (Journal of History, 2004).

14.The undersigned are concerned about the wilful manipulation of historical materials and intentional fabrication of "evidence" in order to serve Mr Menzies' commercial interests. His willingness to ignore the role of writers in educating the public and preference for commercially exploiting his fantastic thesis have seriously compromised global understanding of Chinese and world history.

15. We urge the Library of Congress to withdraw its invitation to Mr. Menzies to speak on its premises or under its auspices.

Prepared jointly and signed by the following (names in alphabetical order):

Dr. Jin Guo-Ping, senior researcher at the Sino-Portugal Cultural Research Center, Lisbon. 

Captain Malhão Pereira, Portuguese Navy officer, 

Captain P.J.Rivers, Master Mariner and naval reservist who sailed as master and mate in the seas of south-east Asia (1954-59) and was a lecturer, School of Nautical Studies, Singapore Polytechnic (1960-66). Relevant publications: '1421' Voyages: Fact & Fantasy for the Perak Academy and 'Monsoon Rhythms and Trade Patterns: Ancient Times East of Suez', Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, December 2004.

Dr. Su Ming-Yang, a senior research oceanographer (retired) at US Naval Research Laboratory (1976 - 2001); visiting professor at two Taiwan national universities ( 2001-2003); editor of <<Zheng He Research Newsletter>> (in Chinese) (2001 - 2003) in Taiwan; and author of the book <<Seven Epic Voyages of Zheng He in Ming China - Fact, Fiction and Fabrication>> (in English, May 2005.

Dr. Geoff Wade, Senior Research Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, translator of Ming Shi-lu references to the Ming voyages and author of articles on Ming foreign policy.

Dated: 2 April 2005

Points of contact: Please address any queries or responses to Dr. Su Ming-Yang and Dr. Geoff Wade, simultaneously, at the following e-mail addresses:

Appendix: The Nautical Knowledge of Gavin Menzies

1.  In his Acknowledgements of 1421 GM thanks the Royal Navy who 'educated me in seamanship, cartography (!) and astro-navigation'. Cartography is not in the usual syllabus for navigators unless transferred to the Hydrography Department and GM went into submarines.

2.   The Navy List shows that GM had about 12 years seniority as an officer when he was retired at age 32 in 1970, not having been promoted to Commander. During that time his only specialist naval qualification was TRS (Torpedo Anti-Submarine). However, while in the service he also passed as a Barrister - making him a bona fide Sea Lawyer.

3.   As a cartographer and a navigator he dogmatically and wrongly defines 'what navigators call 'portolan lines' used in portolan navigation, also known as triangulation'. (p.160). Confusing the triangulation of surveys with rhumb lines of medieval charts this whole quotation is nonsense, just so much pseudo technical jargon.

4.   As an astronomer and navigator GM declares that in the 1420s the Chinese could sail to the North Pole, as it was 300 miles further south than now - it wasn't. He also believes that the North Pole will coincide with Polaris at 90° altitude - it doesn't. Combining all his skills in one hilarious paragraph GM claims that he analyzed Chinese sailing directions and a star guide in the Wu Pei Chih of 1422 to calculate that the equator was at 03° 34' North. There was he proclaims a corresponding shift northwards of ice limits in both the Arctic and Antarctic, caused he says by a shift in the earth's axis that began a miniature Ice Age in 1450. This nonsense appears only in his first edition (at page 306) and was cut from the corresponding page 357 of his later revised edition.

5.   GM claims practical experience of wind conditions and ocean currents from having actually 'followed in the wake' of the great captains, apparently in single passages aboard a cruiser and in a submarine. One was across the Indian Ocean in 1959 when a sub-lieutenant in the Supply and Secretariat Branch aboard HMS Newfoundland, (Navy List June 1959) and the other across the Pacific in 1969 in HMS Rorqual, in his first and only command after which he was retired as a Lieutenant Commander.

6.   His relevant knowledge of both surface currents and monsoon seasons proves faulty. GM states with some precision that on 5 March 1421 'The Fleet Sets Sail', which is unlikely as the winds are then light and variable in the South China Sea. Sailing vessels usually set out from China on the 'north wind' (i.e. north east monsoon) in November or December. Robert Finlay, who uses GM as an example of 'How Not to (Re)Write World History', points out the fleet sailed at the end of 1421 and not in March when 'an imperial order for the sixth voyage was issued'. (Journal of History, 2004).

7.   1421 has the Chinese sailing across the Indian Ocean to East Africa at, he wrongly says, the end of the north east monsoon around the middle of 1421. Impossible, they would have been stuck in harbour with Conti at Calicut, west India, because from May to August the south west monsoon closes that entire coast to sailing vessels as well as reversing the flow of the ocean's surface current.

8.   In the 'The Voyage of Zhou Wen, who was recalled to China in 1421 (Discovery TV), GM, has a Chinese fleet setting off from Florida on the Gulf Stream that should have carried them to the British Isles. Instead, with GM's usual creative interpretations of surface currents, in the greatest non-event of their mighty odyssey they adroitly managed to miss Europe, one lot going to Greenland the others to the Azores!

9.  In an insult to Chinese seamanship, after circumnavigating the world in two years, they weren't able to sail from the Philippines to their nearby homeland (p.257) but were dragged helplessly by the current in a loop around the Pacific before reaching China. With complete ignorance of the system of winds and currents they managed this in four months. It took the Manila galleon a year or so for the round trip but only after the Spaniards spent several decades to discover how it worked.

10.GM anachronistically states that the Chinese calibrated logs and used sextants long before the British produced a mechanical log in the middle of the 16th century or the first mariner's sextant in 1757. He says that the Chinese could 'eliminate magnetic variation', which is impossible, but they still adjusted ship's magnetic compasses for the earth's magnetic variation, which is useless, instead of for the deviation due to attraction by iron on board a ship. In a customary misuse of words he even has Chinese 'marine engineers' four centuries before Fulton's first steamboat.

11.Having correctly stated that 'to date there is no connection between the Chinese and the calculation of longitude' GM goes on to argue that by 1422 they could do so. Because the Portuguese map of 1502, named after an Italian Cantino who spirited it away, displays an 'astonishing likeness' of east Africa with "amazing accuracy". Displaying his own skill at chartwork he measures the distance between the tip of South Africa and the Horn of Africa is a thousand nautical miles and correct to within either twenty nautical miles (twenty seconds of time). Unable to make his mind up at another page he says that the shortfall was thirty nautical miles 'a mere thirty seconds of time'. But GM, not the map, is wrong on several counts. The distance is only about four thousand nautical miles while a nautical mile is a measurement of length and is not the same as a second of time.

12.All these errors occur when he starts off an Appendix on Astronomy to explain how longitude is found without the use of chronometers with a convoluted method of multiple bearings of stars timed by a lunar eclipse in a process that is absolutely useless to a mariner.

13. But the Cantino portolan chart owes nothing to the Chinese as GM himself graphically illustrates when he tries to prove in 1421 they had surveyed the entire African coast all the way around into the Atlantic. He reproduces only a segment from the Korean Kangnido world map that shows a triangular Africa. As there is no semblance of the bulge of west Africa, GM computer enhances the image to create a vague resemblance to the outline of Africa. In his explanation of how the Chinese survey ships had missed something so obvious he says that they still did not know how to determine longitude so they were unaware of an unknown current that swept them some thousands of miles to the west. The South Equatorial Current at that time of year has an average daily drift of only about 20 miles.

14.In reality the Koreans derived the shape of Africa from a Chinese made 'Great Ming World map' of 1389 while the southern tip is found even earlier in a Chinese new world atlas of 1325 (Needham IV (3) p.500).


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