Experts doubt authenticity of China's pre-Columbus map

Chinese newsagency Xinhua 2006-03-24

BEIJING, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Experts have said the authenticity of a map that suggests that the Chinese discovered America before Christopher Columbus is in doubt, although the paper has been proved genuine.

Liu Gang, a lawyer, art collector and owner of the map, said at a press conference Thursday that a recent carbon dating test by a lab in the University of Waikato in New Zealand showed the paper of the map was made during the imperial Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The map is said to date back to 1763 but is also clearly marked that it is a copy of a map from 1418.

However, experts still doubt its authenticity despite the support of Gavin Menzies, author of best-seller "1421: The Year China Discover The World."

"The test can only prove that the paper is genuine, but it could be possible that someone forged the map with well preserved paper and Chinese ink," said Prof. Hou Yangfang with the Historical Geography Research Center of elite Fudan University in Shanghai.

Counterfeit ancient painting and calligraphy were often made by forgers with paper and ink made at that time, Hou said.

Hou also said some place names on the map contradict each other. Hunan and Hubei, both provinces in central China, did not exist in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and were named as Huguang.

Professor Gong Yingyan, a historian at Zhejiang University, believes the map might be a copy of European maps from the 17th century as he founded similarities between the map and some famous atlases.

However, Liu Gang has been firmly supported by Menzies, who says that the map is genuine and was brought to the West by the ancient Chinese seafaring hero Zheng He (1371-1435).

He argues that the Chinese might even have discovered the world as early as 2,000 years ago, according to a round map in the Book of Mountains and Seas, a work of folk geography in ancient China.

Liu Gang bought the map for 4,000 yuan (about 500 U.S. dollars)from a curio stall in Shanghai in 2001. He said he was amazed by "a map originating in the 15th century representing all the continents in the world". It also contains information about Zheng He's voyages.

From 1405 to 1433 of the Ming Dynasty, Zheng He voyaged to more than 30 countries in Asia and Africa, traveling more than 100,000 km. At its peak, his fleet comprised more than 300 ships manned by approximately 27,000 sailors, a number unrivaled in the world at that time.

Some held that Zheng not only sailed to southern Asia and Africa but also sailed to America in 1421, around 87 years earlier than Columbus' discovery of the New Continent.

Menzies, a retired officer from Britain, is a champion of this hypothesis. He said the first batch of European migrants to America found there were already Chinese habitats on the Continent. In his book, Menzies asserted that the first to see the Continent were Chinese, not Europeans.

Furthermore, he asserted that the Chinese circumnavigated the globe, desalinated water and perfected the art of cartography.

Archaeologist Gunnar Thompson of the U.S. University of Hawaii said the Chinese might even have arrived in America during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).

Menzies is not a professional researcher and his studies have been labeled as "pseudo-science" by some Western and Chinese scholars but he has won support from other Chinese scholars for his academic efforts. Enditem

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