No Canal

1434 - NO WAY - NO CANAL

Captain P.J.Rivers
 FRGS FNI MRIN ACII ACI Arb, Master Mariner

There is no need to write a full review of 1434: The Year A Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, published under the name of Gavin Menzies as mentor. Following the title page we are rather pompously informed “Gavin Menzies asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work”. The emphasis is added because it appears the actual written output was by another hand, possibly the ghostwriter of 1421: The Year China Discovered the World.

Menzies certainly wasn’t the wordsmith, because everyone concerned, including himself, agreed he couldn’t write, as was revealed in the Australian TV documentary Junk History by investigative reporter Quentin McDermott. The former naval gentleman turned historian complains that this exposé was unfair because none of some 20 scholars he says supported him were quoted. He subsequently published on his web site a list of names, not all of whom were alive.

Undoubtedly China’s glorious accomplishments did have an effect on the Renaissance but not as described in this latest fantasy of Menzies who claims, but never prove, that in the fifteenth-century there was a direct sea passage between China and Europe. Obviously the Isthmus of Suez blocked the way from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean so it is only necessary to consider the ‘evidence’ he presents in the Chapter on “Cairo and the Red Sea-Nile Canal”, which should, but doesn’t, make clear how this obstacle was overcome.

As will be seen that increasingly outlandish resigned naval officer Menzies only provides more of what the French call his fact-less history. Following upon his successful blockbuster that bamboozled many to believe in global voyages by Ming Mariners, he now enthusiastically unveils that they also kick-started the Italian Renaissance. This was in 1434 when in customary hyperbole “the greatest fleet the world had ever known” followed a direct sea route from China to Venice.
Cultural exchanges and interaction between East and West over the centuries have long been recognised and studied. Indeed, in 1963, Professor C. Northcote, wrote East and West, a very readable account of the interplay between the two opposing areas. This respected historian, who enunciated the famous ‘Parkinson’s Law’ on bureaucracy and wrote also on naval history, while in Singapore as Raffles Professor of History developed a high regard for Chinese civilisation. Parkinson had no doubts that the Dark Ages of Europe were eclipsed by the contemporary Golden Age of China (Parkinson p.155).

Both Dr Parkinson (p.138) and Dr Joseph Needham, that great historian of Science & Civilisation in China,(Vol I, p.240), are in agreement about “Chinese achievement in technology” of which much was transmitted to Europe “between the first and the eighteenth centuries”. Each of these real and respected experts would have been puzzled by Menzies’ claim that the transfer of technology to the west had to wait until the dying breath of China’s former greatness to be deposited in one great heap.
 Parkinson (p.159 et seq.) acknowledged “a tradition was to linger in Europe that the great inventions came from China” but didn’t agree that it had initially been carried by Marco Polo. Parkinson traced a long line of these transfers over the centuries from when contact was made between the empires of China and Rome. He notes that “the Chinese annals record the arrival of a Roman envoy in A.D.166” (p.102 et seq.). Care, however, should be taken to note that later Chinese references to Rome apply to Constantinople and not to Italy. Both Dr Parkinson and Dr Needham, a leading advocate of interchange with China would have been astounded by the latest revelation.

The publishers of 1434 in a blurb are delighted to supply an extract quoting Menzies. This starts off “One thing that greatly puzzled me when writing 1421 was the lack of curiosity among many professional historians”. A rather ludicrous observation, it came to mind when Menzies briefly introduces a “Chinese squadron upon its arrival in Venice and then Florence”. The emphasis is added because I as a professional mariner was immediately consumed with curiosity as to how they managed to do it.

I had visions of gigantic junks crowding the Grand Canal but couldn’t picture how on earth the ships got from there to Florence!

I could also imagine, but not agree, that they arrived at Venice having sailed around Africa. But Menzies once more fantasises they sailed up the Red Sea and pushed through the sands of the Nile to the Mediterranean. He had previously announced that they had done this in 1408 but apparently he has now had second thoughts.

Although “Egypt was no new frontier for Zheng He”, Menzies is the first to discover that “his forebears had been traveling there for centuries” (Menzies p.48). Until now another unknown ‘fact’ (or should it be ‘truth’) an extension of the maritime section of the Silk Road was only to Menzies.

He claims that before the modern Suez Canal was opened there was a direct sea route from China to Italy by way of a canal link through Suez-Cairo-Alexandria.

This conjures up a vision that a “Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy” arriving off the Rialto with dragon banners flying, bronze cannons blasting off salutes, giant drums booming and great gongs beating. Alas, this magnificence is lessened when the tells us the Chinese ancestors “reached Cairo through the shallow Red Sea-Nile canal, which Zheng He’s smaller junks would have used as well. From Cairo, the Mediterranean - and southern Europe-were well within reach” (Menzies p.48).

It is curios there is not a single quote from an eye-witness Egyptian, Italian or anyone else living around the Mediterranean who remarked upon this remarkable presence of distinctive Chinese junks in the Mare Nostrum of the Romans.

The above quotation at the end of the chapter “Voyage to the Red Sea” underlines a vital element, the kingpin of this whole new fantasy. Without this indispensable canal link the theory of his new book, however plausible and pleasing to some, becomes impossible. Indeed, Menzies has not produced one iota of proof to support his 1434 direct sea route from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

I am puzzled that from “hundreds of thousands of emails” which brought “new evidence” Menzies managed to extract only one apparently clear-cut statement about “a traveler who sailed the canal from Alexandria to Clysma on the Gulf of Suez” and that was dated from about 170 A.D. (Menzies p.51).

It is curious that nothing more contemporary was quoted in the crucial chapter ‘Cairo and the Red Sea-Nile Canal’ where Zheng He’s ships purportedly sailed from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Although ii is claimed that this is supported with “a wealth of evidence from Greek, Roman and Arab writers” (p.52) it is puzzling there is nothing from the many surviving records and stories traced back to Zheng he and his fleets.

It is also curious that Chinese Western Travels do not figure in this and that naught is produced from any of the many non-European works listed in the dozen pages of Select Bibliography in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing. I will later have a look at two leading lights among the Arabs, traveller and geographer Ibn Battuta and the great navigator ibn Majid with over 40 texts to his name,

Menzies didn’t tap into those or any other treasure trove of travellers’ tales, especially Italian, from that epoch. Even before Marco Polo, Parkinson tells us “travellers could journey safely from Europe to China”. At that time there was even “an Italian archbishop at Peking [Beijing], Genoese merchants in India and Franciscan friars in Persia” (Parkinson p.158). While, according to Britannica, 15th-century Venetian writers speculated upon the possibility of making a canal to the Red Sea

This is most telling of all, Venetian galleys, that were also the answer for the difficulties of the Red Sea (discussed later) could easily pass along the shallow Egyptian canals if they had existed. Indeed, when the Portuguese opened the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope cutting off their trade, “Venetian leaders, driven to desperation, contemplated digging a waterway between the Red Sea and the Nile”(Thubron p.102).

The Chinese content is minimal throughout this pivotal chapter on ‘Cairo and the Red Sea-Nile Canal’, half of which is virtually a paean to Cairo and the Islamic (not Chinese) influence that spread from there throughout the Mediterranean world. He paints a lively picture of Cairo at the time, which on occasion is slightly puzzling. After all he says “one of the Chinese names for Cairo was Misr, a name derived from the pharaonic (sic) name for the river port in Babylon” (Menzies p.53). Whatever else you can make of that sentence, Misr is, of course, Arabic and was not a Chinese word and had little relation to the Pharaohs, after all Misr li'l Misriyin ("Egypt for Egyptians"). To add a bit of colour Menzies lightly tosses out that even today the faithful are called to prayers by muezzins who are blind because from the minarets they would overlook “where unveiled women are dressing” (Menzies p.58).

Menzies proclaims with customary exaggeration that Cairo contains “the holiest mosque in the world” (p.58) but this enables him to describe the city as a ”magnet”’, improbably drawing “Zheng He and his fellow Muslims returning from Mecca”. (p.56). He even has them visiting bazaars where indeed “Remarkably everything sold here today would be available to Zheng He’s sailors” (!). Which leaves me curious as to many transistor radios they may have bought.

Surprisingly in the first six pages of this chapter that deals with the history of the canals of the ancients and the Arabs, the Oriental contribution is an exposition on the “export of Chinese ceramics to Egypt, the Middle East and the Mediterranean” (Menzies p.53 et seq.). About half of this is an extract from the proceedings of the Oriental Ceramics Society of France, “on the extent and the antiquity of the trade between Egypt and the Far East”.

We are told how this trade enriched a major Cairene trading firm until it all comes to an end with a typical Menzian flourish. More improbably in one of his seemingly knowledgeable asides he proclaims “in the 1430s, after Zheng He‘s final voyage, Chinese goods came no more” (p.54). Incidentally there is only this one brief appearance of Zheng He in the whole chapter and there is no further mention of his fleet’s connection with the canal until the end of the chapter.

But this particular authoritative statement is contradicted by the extensive extract just quoted “on the significance of porcelain and ceramic finds”. This informs us at page 54, “among the earliest specimens . . . [one] with the reign mark of Yung Lo (1403-1424)- viz. Zhu Di” was among collections “to the end of the Ming period”. It then goes on to clearly state it was “only natural that the volume of trade with China should increase in the Ming dynasty”, which was founded by the Emperor who first appointed Zheng He, as Admiral. The Eunuch’s imagined visit to Cairo did not mark the end of the trade but beginning of a span from 1368-1644.

Menzies is unclear about the patterns of trade, confusing it with direct carriage by sea from maker to buyer. Chinese junks may have stayed at home but not Chinese goods. Furthermore merchants and travellers like crates of Chinese crockery might pass through transhipment points along the route but no vessel could make a through passage all the way past the Egyptian land bridge. And, indeed, few individuals followed the entire route other than such as Marco Polo.

Specialising in maritime and Middle Eastern history Sarah Arenson in The Encircled Sea (p.85) made a pointed observation that “Jews were probably the only ones who would carry wares the whole distance [to] their destination, as in the rare mid-ninth century description by the Muslim scholar Ibn Khordadhbeh”. Even then the quote she gives tells they had to “load their merchandise on the backs of camels and proceed by land to alQulzum (Suez)” (p.85). Whatever happened after that at the end of the 15th-century the position was the same. When The Sultan of Egypt wanted a fleet to counter the Portuguese who had penetrated into the Indian Ocean, he had to build one with timber “brought by sea to Alexandria and finally on the backs of camels to Suez”! (F.B Eldridge, The Background of Eastern Sea Power, p.116).

Another experienced mariner qualified in sail, Captain Alan Villiers, not only wrote on the subject but sailed aboard Arab dhows, along the East African and Persian Gulf coasts and into the Red Sea. His Monsoon Seas (p.42) also noted there were “porterage ports” as it was “impracticable to beat against the winds” and it “was easier to land cargoes at Suakin or some nearby place and carry them by ass and camel across to the Nile”.

In ancient and Arabic times frequently restored canals ran in segments, with the main one crossing the Egyptian desert starting from one of several entrances on the Nile towards Suez on the coast but there is no definitive record of exiting into the Red Sea. As just noted, transhipment was involved with a marked difference in the build of the boats that moved along these inland waterways and those who faced the Red Sea.

Encylopaedia Britannica repeatedly makes the point that these Red Sea canals of antiquity were in effect shallow ditches, some only navigable during the flood season. The channels were dug for irrigation and water supply to out-lying areas; the transport of grain cargoes was secondary. Evidently those first engineers had such a good eye for the terrain that successive canals more or less followed the same route.

Menzies makes no clear statement how the Chinese managed this transit, which has to be pieced together. As already noted at the end of his preceding chapter Menzies assumes only “Zheng He’s smaller junks” managed to reach “Cairo through the shallow Red Sea-Nile canal”(Menzies p.48). In the highly relevant chapter ‘Cairo and the Red Sea-Nile Canal’, he says little more about the Chinese and the canal, only noting that at Cairo “the ports migrated’ several times and that in the 1420s the junction was near the Hilton Hotel.
The only other entry about the waterway, once more at the end of a chapter, tells us that in 1433 it was “an easy passage down stream from Cairo. . . to Alexandria, linked to the Nile by canal” (p.59). Only 45-miles long this, like the Red Sea canal, frequently fell into disuse but in the 19th-century the now named Al-Mahmudiyah Canal was cleared “at an enormous cost in lives but it was barely ten feet wide” (Searight p.43).

Returning to Menzies’ narrative, at Alexandria “Mamluk authorities insisted all passing ships deposited maps, they had used for their journey”, to be copied. “That done, the Chinese drifted into the Mediterranean” (Menzies p.59). The emphasis is added as this seems an unseamanlike practice for a fleet, giving an impression that they floated rather aimlessly about while trying to figure out what to do next.

It is curious there is nothing to support this in the records of port charges or canal dues Menzies claims were kept, nor were copies found of the Chinese sea charts. Nor was any mention produced from Chinese or Egyptian sources about junks sailing through the deserts of Egypt. Indeed the Chinese voyagers are scarcely mentioned in this chapter vital to his whole fantasy. “Zheng He‘s sailors and Chinese merchants” went unnoticed in the bustling bazaars of Cairo. And completely unrecorded in Egypt or Italy was any display of mandarins in glittering oriental garb presenting credentials or the obligatory costly gifts from “the Grand Eunuch Zheng He” who Menzies alone says “served as ambassador to Europe”.

Be that as it may, the Chinese ships were headed for Venice because as Menzies quite wrongly states “The spice trade with the east, transacted through Cairo, was the corner stone of Venetian wealth” (p.58). That role was played by Muslim Alexandria not Cairo, which didn’t figure in the annals of Venice. There is not even an entry for Cairo in the Index of Colin Thubron’s The Venetians. Although “the greater route lay along the Red Sea. Indian, Arab and even Chinese merchants would land their treasures at Jiddah ([Jeddah], the port of Mecca, and load them unto camel trains”. The Egyptian connection with Venice was then overland by caravan, “through the town of Suez to reach Venetian galleys secured in the immense fortified harbor of Muslim Alexandria”. (Thubron p.45 ).

The distance from Jeddah to Suez was only 636 nautical miles yet the on-carriage was by “camel trains many hundreds strong” instead of by the obviously cheaper sailing dhow. Red Sea coastal craft may well have carried grain from Egypt to Arabia and even ferried pilgrims but precious spices and fragile porcelain were transported along the safer land route. The choice was dictated by the Red Sea, rightly described as a “treacherous waterway” with “navigational and seasonal hazards”(Searight p.54). Extremely difficult for sailing vessels, steam power finally made the Suez waterway viable as Sarah Searight makes clear in Steaming East – the Hundred-Year Saga of the Struggle to Forge Rail and Steamship Links between Europe and India.

Ii is curious that Menzies, a former Royal Navy officer, failed to take note of the Admiralty Ocean Passages for the World (Somerville p.188 et al). That professional volume describes how Red Sea currents are very strong with a rate as much of 40 miles a day in some seasons, flowing inwards during the November to April northeasterly monsoon, and outwards in the June to September southwestern monsoon. In the northern section of the Red Sea the wind often brings dense sandstorms and is almost always from the north.
Ernle Bradford in his Mediterranean (p.321) fully describes the winds and notes that for “a sailor, then the Red Sea is an area in which he can easily run down from north to south, but in which he is forced to tack and tack again - beating to windward - when he wants to get back to ports at the head of the sea”. But worst of all are unexpected cross currents, even wrecking steamships on the many out-reaching reefs, so dangerous that every Admiralty chart bears a warning.

Bradford, a well-known author on historical maritime Mediterranean, can speak with authority because along with wartime Royal Navy service he was an experienced mariner in sail. Quite unlike Menzies who when quizzed on that aspect wryly admitted, as a submariner, he was more used to sailing under the seas than on them.

At the time of Menzies’ epic, this danger was a definite consideration for Ibn Battuta the ‘Prince of Travelers, as was made clear by the National Geographic in 1999, which told of how he “undertook at least four pilgrimages to the sacred city” (Abercrombie p.13). The first attempt was made exactly at the time Menzies describes the Sultan Al Nasir refurbishing the canal yet Ibn Battuta never made any mention of the Nile-Red Sea canal although he later passed through Suez. Indeed, he made his way up the Nile and overland to the port of Aydab hoping to cross over the Red Sea to Jeddah, the port of Mecca, which is directly opposite. Abercrombie map p.12).

Ibn Battuta later journeyed by the stately and grand hajj caravans from Damascus because he “preferred overland travel to the perils of the sea”(Abercrombie p.27). This was due to fear of the dangerous Red Sea because he made “sea voyages to East Africa and back to Arabia and even farther. Almost a century before the great Chinese Admiral, Ibn Battuta covered the same major routes “of the silk road of the sea”, from Quanqzhou to Muscat, and more.

When appointed ambassador to the Chinese by the sultan at Delhi, Ibn Battuta started this odyssey from Calicut in western India where he even hired three Chinese junks, two of which were “giant vessels with 12 sails and a crew of nearly a thousand” (Abercrombie p.33). Unfortunately before getting under way they were sunk or wrecked by “a sudden violent storm” casting them ashore. Perhaps it was an early arrival of monsoonal winds, the actual seasons of which Menzies so resolutely ignored in 1421. Yet this didn’t deter him as much as the Red Sea passage from Suez to Jeddah. The journeys (1325-1354) of Ibn Battuta, from the Atlantic to the Pacific “totalled 75,000 miles” (Abercrombie p.13) somewhat greater than the 30,000 li (Chinese miles) Menzies wrongly claimed for Zheng He’s global voyages in 1421.

Overlapping the time frame of 1434, G.R. Tibbits in his Arab Navigation in the Indian Ocean Before the Coming of the Portuguese, deals with the great navigator Ibn Majid (floreat 1460), credited with, or blamed for, piloting Vasco da Gama across the Indian Ocean. He also sailed along the routes that Zheng He covered and more. His several works deal with the shores of the Indian Ocean all the way to China and are particularly detailed around and near the Arabian heartland. He even had a complete section on ‘The Red Sea’, where Tibbets notes boats took over the trade at Jidda (sic) because this was the farthest point reached by “Indian Ocean sailors and ships, either for the pilgrimage or for trading purposes” (Tibbits p.398). This was confirmed by texts as early as the 10th-century, and incidentally the Index lists both Suez and Alexandria but not Cairo. All these relevant sources do little to further Menzies’ unsupported claim that the Chinese had been sailing through the Red Sea to Cairo for centuries.

The Chapter on ‘Cairo and the Red Sea-Nile Canal’ is absolutely vital to this whole fantasy. It begins with a customary Menzian touch that “every time I visit Cairo, I make a point of quaffing lager” at the top of the Hilton Hotel. From his perch at the Windows of the World bar, he seems to have become disorientated, stitching together a patchwork quilt from his selective evidence. He misplaces Heliopolis that ancient Egyptian, not Greek, ‘city of the sun’, which is now a suburb of Cairo where the modern airport is built. He goes South to it by boat some miles up the Nile while Heliopolis is actually reached inland by road to the northeast. Noting that the Nile entrance of the canal at Cairo had shifted several times, Menzies looks down on the 1420s entrance of what he called “the forgotten canal”. Far from forgotten, in the next paragraph he goes upstream to “a sign stating: THIS WAS THE ENTRANCE TO THE RED SEA NILE CANAL”(p.50).

Obviously inspired by James’ Aldridge’s Cairo, Biography of a City, which he quotes on p.53, he tells us “a green pencil line” of the filled-in 1420s canal stretches “from the Hilton to the railway station” (Menzies p.50). He can even see the outline to the northeast, which he and his wife even followed ‘beside the canal from Cairo to Zagazig” towards the northeast. Incidentally, the present naval and trade centre of Suez is “linked to Cairo, 80 miles (130 km) east, by road and rail” (Encylopaedia Britannica).

This trip was easier for him than Napoleon who personally investigated the course of the ancient canal that he also claimed was forgotten until he made the effort. With all his resources the great Frenchman found only “the remnants of the old Suez Canal bed”. These were followed for some fifteen miles towards the Bitter Lakes but while returning to Cairo over the next two days he came across little more than traces. (Herold, Bonaparte in Egypt, p.222).

The novelist Aldridge, the only authority Menzies gives for the Red Sea Canal in the 1420s, says it was “filled in only at the end of the nineteenth century” (emphasis added). Menzies more precisely dates this at 1899, when it was left “to retain water” and “it remains about one hundred feet wide the entire way” (p.50).

Aldridge calls this canal ‘Khalig Al Nasir”, after the Sultan who made the connection in the middle of the 14th-century. According to Menzies this was the canal that Chinese junks sailed along in the century after the Sultan Al-Malik an-Nasir in 1337 carried out “final canal widening and dredging”. The emphasis is added once more because Aldridge (p.53) says the Red Sea Canal was later renamed the Ismailiya Canal, and that was the renamed Sweet Water Canal built in 1858-63 to supply “fresh water for the thousands of workmen building the Suez Canal”.

According to Britannica this “canal itself follows the course of an ancient Red Sea-Nile canal” and far from having been filled in is still in use today for irrigation and for domestic and industrial use. Seabright (p.111) has the width of the Sweet Water Canal as forty feet rather than the one hundred of Menzies, so I am puzzled about what Menzies actually followed during his hands-on field trip, it seems he was not his usual curious self.

Between those two mentions of the Hilton Hotel, 1434 gives a long exposition on the canals of antiquity and then leaps almost a thousand years to Arabs at Cairo amassing riches from the use of the Red Sea Canal. Following this ”wealth of evidence” from earlier times, which is mainly immaterial to Menzies’ theme of a passage in the fifteenth-century, an extremely relevant event during the Arab period is briefly dealt with.

A single brief paragraph deals with the period from the year 642 when the Arabs “dredged out the old canal”, a century before it was blocked to stop corn [i.e. wheat] shipments due to a rebellion in Mecca and Medina (Menzies p.52). But according to Menzies, without citing any sources, the canal was quickly reopened in 780 so it is curios that a “deep canal between the Mediterranean and Red seas” was mooted about AD 800 by the caliph Harun ar-Rashid, of “a thousand-and-one nights” fame, but nothing happened (Encylopaedia Britannica).

Indeed, 1434 is contradictory to Encylopaedia Britannica, which succinctly puts it “a canal was dug in antiquity; it fell into disuse, was frequently restored, and finally was blocked about the 8th century”(emphasis added). I am puzzled how they failed to know that “in 780, during the caliphate of Al Mahdi, the canal was reopened” (Menzies p.52), perhaps the Editors of Britannica, will issue a Corrigendum.

In the blurb extract Menzies tells us “a Chinese Canadian scholar”, who was in fact a journalist with an interest in history, had shown “beyond a doubt that Chinese delegations had reached Italy” between 1403 and 1435. Well, the 1421 web-site published Wang Tai-Peng’s “research: 1433 - Zheng He’s delegation to the Papal Court of Florence”. The emphasis added but teacher and neophyte, whose name Menzies following European custom reverses to Tai Peng Wang, often disagree on dates and such like. The whole of this is based upon some obscure remarks in a letter from Toscanelli purportedly to Columbus. Under the inspiration of Menzies this is exaggerated into the 1434 fantasy.

In a similar manner Menzies took an inscription on the Venetian Fra Mauro’s World map of 1459 about a European on a ship of uncertain nationality having been storm driven possibly from the Indian Ocean into the Atlantic. But in Dr Needham’s evocative words: “This is all we know. A porthole opens to disclose some sea-going junk … “Then quickly the view is shut off” (Needham, Vol. IV(3), p.502). Yet Menzies with the legerdemain of an alchemist transmuted this single ship, which returned without seeing anything, into a mighty Chinese armada set on global voyages.

By whatever conduits Chinese superb technology was transmitted to the west, it was not in the manner described in 1434. The crucial canal link from East to West did not exist at that time. Menzies’ assertion that a Nile-Red Sea canal was open at that time is based entirely on a number of assumptions. It would be splendid if 1423 had proof positive to back up its claims, after all as Parkinson says “a theory of history is merely a point of view” (Parkinson p.xii).

In the Blurb Menzies on his own voyage of discovery is apparently the first to note that “Taccola was responsible for every technical illustration” of the Renaissance, having benefited from “the great transfer of knowledge that took place in 1434 between China and Europe”. However, Menzies trips over his feet again because he has already recorded elsewhere that “at the end of 1431 he [Taccola] started writing “Dei Ingeneis” which he finishes on 13th January 1433”, which was even before “the Magnificent Fleet” showed up!

In fact at that time they were off Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, preparing to return to China, not go to Italy. Furthermore when Taccola began his work “at the end of 1431” the Magnificent Fleet was still preparing for sea on the coast of China (Mills, Ma Huan, p.13). It’s all there in The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores of 1433 that doesn’t even mention Suez or Cairo, much less Venice. This account was by that diligent reporter Ma Huan who on his third voyage with Zheng He was with this final expedition. This voyage of the magnificent fleet is fully documented in contemporary Chinese records, so Menzies can not claim any ‘lost years’ for them.

Yet Menzies derides the early European voyagers, because “How do you discover a place for which you already have a map?” Another false assumption being based on a supposedly Chinese world map drawn up after 1421 globe trotting, where he once more became confused over dates.

In another incredible bit of bombast Menzies also propounds “So why, we may ask, do historians persist in propagating this fantasy? Why is the “Times History of Exploration, which describes the discoveries of Europeans, still taught in schools? Why are the young so insistently mislead”

Although he had never heard of Menzies, Parkinson observes “It is only the amateur historian who seizes upon one viewpoint . . . arguing that all other descriptions are illegal, immoral and wrong.” He goes on “Only the student self-centred to the point of lunacy will claim . . . his viewpoint must supersede all others (Parkinson p.xii).


Abercrombie, Thomas J., ‘Ibn Battuta, Prince of Travelers’, National Geographic, December 1999, pp.2-49)
Arenson, Sarah, The Encircled Sea - The Mediterranean Maritime Civilization, London: Constable, 1990.
Bradford, Ernle, Mediterranean, Portrait of a Sea, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.
Eldridge, F.B., The Background of Eastern Sea Power, London: Phoenix House, 1948.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Cd-Rom 1994-2000 from ‘Suez Canal History’ et al.
Herold, J. Christopher, Bonaparte in Egypt, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1963 
Menzies, Gavin, 1434: The Year A Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance, London: Harper Collins, 2008.
McDermott, Quentin ‘Junk History’, Australian Broadcasting Corporation Television series Four Corners, first broadcast on 31 July 2006.
Mills, J.V.G., Ma Huan: Ying-Yai Sheng-Lan ‘The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores’ (1433), Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 1997, originally published by the Hakluyt Society 1970.
Nicolle David, The Venetian Empire 1200-1670, London: Ospry, 1989.
Parkinson (1963), Professor C. Northcote, East and West, London: John Murray 1963.
Rivers, P.J. “1421” Voyages: Fact & Fantasy, Ipoh: The Perak Academy, 2004.
Rivers, P.J., ‘Footprints in the Sea: Nautical and Physical Impossibilities of Menzies’1421 Voyages’, The Globe, Journal of the Australian Map Circle, Number 58, 2006.
Rivers, P.J., ‘Monsoon Rhythms and Trade Patterns’, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2004, 77(2). pp. 59-93.
Searight, Sarah, Steaming East – the Hundred-Year Saga of the Struggle to Forge Rail and Steamship Links between Europe and India, London: Bodley Head, 1991.
Somerville, Rear-Admiral Boyle T., CMG (compiler), Ocean Passages for the World - Winds and Currents, London: HMSO, 1923.
Tabish Khair et al (ed), Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, Oxford: Signal, 2006.
Thubron, Colin The Seafarers - The Venetians, Alexandria Va : Time-Life Books, 1980.
Tibbets, G.R., A Study of the Arabic Texts Containing Material on South-East Asia, London: Oriental Translation Fund, New series Vol XLIV, undated photostat copy..
Tibbets, G.R., A Study of the Arabic Texts Containing Material on South-East Asia, London: Oriental Translation Fund, New series Vol XLIV, undated photostat copy

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