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23 Nov 09

Popular History and Bunkum

The book '1421, The Year China Discovered America' is a fairytale & a fiction

... but the publishers describe it as 'history'. Dr Geoff Wade of the National University of Singapore believes this is a violation of the British Trade Descriptions Act of 1968. He sent this complaint to the Consumer Complaints body of the United Kingdom on 21 October, 2005, against Transworld Publishers of Britain. It is reprinted here with his permission.

I purchased a copy of Gavin Menzies' '1421: The Year China Discovered the World', published by Transworld, on the basis that it was classified as 'History' in their catalogue. A detailed reading of the text revealed that the work is a fairtytale and fiction of the worst kind. I detail some of the outrageous fiction perpetrated within the volume:

Claims by Mr. Menzies followed by facts

1. Claim: Four eunuch admirals ­ Hong Bao, Zhou Man, Zhou Wen and Yang Qing - led fleets to the Americas, Australia, Greenland and the Antarctic during voyages between 1421 and 1423.

Fact: There are no Chinese or other texts which suggest in any way that these four eunuchs, or any other Ming commanders, traveled anywhere at all beyond Asia, the Middle East and the East coast of Africa. All other voyages derive solely from Mr. Menzies' imagination. Further, the currents, winds and dates Menzies cites in support would not have carried the ships anywhere near where he claims. In short, there is no archaeological, textual or archival material to support the Menzies thesis as set down in '1421'. In this book Menzies intentionally distorts known materials and deliberately alters known facts in order to support his thesis.

2. Claim: Sailors and concubines from these fleets settled in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and islands across the Pacific. In evidence, he cites studies of "recent" inflow of "Chinese genes" and "East Asian DNA" into the Americas.

Fact: There is no evidence of Ming settlement sites in, or even Ming knowledge, of these places until the arrival of the Jesuits in China in the 16th century. The genetic evidence on which Menzies relies is provided by a company whose genetic tests have been labelled a 'scam' by Stephen O'Brien, the US National Cancer Institute's laboratory chief.

3. Claim: There exists a range of wrecks of the ships from these voyages spread around the world, and these are proof of the voyages claimed by Menzies.

Fact: Not one wreck which can be linked with the eunuch voyages in the first 30 years of the 15th century (or indeed any Chinese wreck) has been identified outside of the Asian region.

4. Claim: The Ming voyagers built celestial observation platforms at 24 places across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Menzies names and provides coordinates for these platforms. ('1421', pp. 416/17, 457).

Fact: There is no textual or archaeological evidence to even begin to suggest that the Ming voyagers built observation platforms anywhere in the world. Again, their existence derives only from the fertile imagination of Mr. Menzies.

5. Claim: The Ming armadas left a range of other built structures around the world, particularly in Australasia and the Americas, including the Newport Round Tower, the Gympie pyramid and other structures and mines. They also left a ship's slipway made of stones on the Bimini islands in the Caribbean.

Fact: Not one of the structures Mr. Menzies cites has been shown to have any links with China. The Bimini 'slipway', which is in any case parallel to the shore, has been shown to be a completely natural formation.

6. Claim: The Chinese "were aware that the earth was a globe and had divided it into 365 and a quarter degrees (the number of days in the year) of latitude and longitude". ('1421', p. 449)

Fact: There is no evidence that during the early Ming, the Chinese had any knowledge of the earth as a globe and certainly none that they were aware of latitude and longitude.

7. Claim: The Ming voyagers surveyed South America, Antarctica, North America and the Atlantic as well as Australasia. "The whole world was accurately charted by 1428." ('1421', p. 411).

Fact: There is no text or other evidence which suggests that the Ming voyagers went anywhere near these places and no Chinese maps which indicate any surveying of these places. Further, there are no contemporary Ming artifacts found in any of these regions.

8. Claim: A range of European maps show anomalies which can only be explained by accepting the Chinese voyages proposed by Mr. Menzies as having taken place.

Fact: The cartographic anomalies which Mr. Menzies points to, real or imagined, can be explained through many avenues, the most likely being that Arab navigators, who had been traveling these waters for 600 years before the Chinese, had produced maps of areas they traveled to.

9. Claim: Mr. Menzies noted that the Venetian Niccolo da Conti was the crucial and only link between Chinese and European cartographers. Menzies claims that he participated in the voyages over several years and carried Chinese maps back to Europe. He notes that Da Conti "had spent years aboard a junk of the treasure fleet" and that "Chinese maps passed from Da Conti to Fra Mauro, and from him to Dom Pedro of Portugal and Prince Henry the Navigator." ('1421', pp. 369, 84-87, 92-93).

Fact: Da Conti, who left us detailed accounts of his travels, recounts neither meeting any Ming envoy in Calicut, nor traveling on any Chinese ship for even a day, nor seeing or receiving any Chinese maps showing a new world. The utter and complete contempt for truth with which Menzies depicts these events is disheartening.

10. Claim: Mr. Menzies claims that a number of mylodons (a type of giant sloth) had been taken from South America to New Zealand and China by the Ming ships.

Fact: All available evidence suggests that the Mylodon has been extinct for several thousand years, which militates somewhat against the likely veracity of Mr. Menzies' claims in this respect. But such sloppy research is found throughout the volume. He notes, for example, rubber trees in Malacca 450 years before they had been introduced from South America by the British, etc., etc. ad nauseam.

- - - - - - - - -

In short, all major claims within the work are fictional. Representing this work as history is a flagrant violation of the Trade Descriptions Act of 1968 which makes it an offence both to apply a false description to any goods and to supply or offer to supply any goods which have a false trade description applied.

To be an offence the Act notes that the indication must be false to a material degree. To represent fiction as history does indeed meet this criterion.

The role of the Local Trading Standards authorities is to enforce the provisions of this Act and they are able to take whatever steps they consider necessary to prevent others from being deceived. I trust that appropriate action will be taken in this case. If you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Note by Dr Wade on the US edition of '1421':

I do not know if similar legislation to the British Trade Descriptions Act exists within the United States, but William Morrow, the publishers of the US edition of the book '1421: the Year China Discovered America', and an imprint of Harper Collins, lists the book under Non-fiction/History/World:

Paul Chiasson's book 'The Island of Seven Cities' is another work of fiction

... arguably, a spin-off of the Menzies book and deserving of the same respect... but this too is described by the publishers as 'history'.

The Chiasson book has yet to be published, but details are at The Library and Archives Canada has already assigned the work a description:

Dr Geoff Wade sent the following letter to Library and Archives Canada to request reclassification, and urges those interested in veracity of description and prevention of deception in the publishing industry and library systems to follow suit.

Dear LAC,

I note with grave sadness that you have catalogued the upcoming book by Mr Paul Chiasson as follows:

Chiasson, Paul.
The island of seven cities : the discovery of a lost Chinese settlement in the Americas / Paul Chiasson. -- Toronto : Random House Canada, 2006. Includes index.
ISBN 0-679-31455-5 : $34.95
1. Cape Breton Island (N.S.)--Discovery and exploration--Chinese.
2. Chinese--Nova Scotia--Cape Breton Island--Antiquities
3. Cape Breton Island (N.S.)--Antiquities

This assigns it a respectability of which it is completely undeserving. That is to say, you are describing this as a work of history when the explorations of historians and archaeologists reveal it to be nothing but fiction. How can you have a category for "Cape Breton Island (N.S.) - Discovery and exploration - Chinese" when no such thing ever took place? Was this category created simply to meet the needs of Random House? This is indeed a sad day when Canadian government agencies are tools in a publisher's plans to deceive the public. Please further ascertain the nature of this work and reclassify the work accordingly as fiction.


Geoff Wade
National University of Singapore

Selected follow-up notes by Dr Wade on H-Asia:

Junk History

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed Menzies, his publishers, and distinguished historians for their documentary, 'Junk History'. A transcript is here.

For comprehensive rebuttal, see

'The and joint websites have been set up by an international group of academics and researchers who are greatly concerned about the myths being created and perpetuated by Gavin Menzies, his group and his publishers. In his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World Menzies claimed Chinese admiral Zheng He had circumnavigated the globe, in the process "discovering" most of the world. Subsequent media coverage has failed to accurately present to the public the large body of evidence that Menzies' claim is a fabrication, without any basis in fact. The purpose of this website is to present that evidence, and ensure that history is not rewritten by publishers more interested in short-sighted marketing campaigns that ensure their financial security, rather than intellectual integrity and public enlightenment.'

Zheng He voyages: other resources

Other good reviews & dismissals of '1421' are by Robert Finlay(1) ("The reasoning of '1421' is inexorably circular, its evidence spurious, its research derisory, its borrowings unacknowledged, its citations slipshod, and its assertions preposterous") and Phil Rivers(3). Other demolition articles include those of Prof T.H. Barrett and Dr Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. The best popular account of the Zheng He voyages in English remains the book by Louise Levathes: 'When China ruled the seas'(2).

1. Finlay, Robert, How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America. Journal of World History 15.2 (2004): 29 pars. 13 Dec. 2005

2. Levathes, Louise, When China ruled the seas: the treasure fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-33. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994. ISBN 0-671-70158-4.

3. Rivers, Captain P.J., "1421" voyages: fact & fantasy. Perak Academy, Ipoh, Malaysia, 2004. ISBN 983 40556 4 1.

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