I. EARLY CHINESE VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY
Between 1421 and 1423 the Chinese mounted the largest fleet the world had ever seen which reached the far corners of the earth. The fleet discovered and charted the New World seventy years before Christopher Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. The revelation of these achievements has challenged our notions of voyages of discovery and means that our knowledge of history has to be revised.
II. THE PIZZIGANO CHART
In the early 1990’s Gavin Menzies, a former British navy captain, discovered an unusual chart that was drafted in 1424 by a Venetian cartographer named Zuane Pizzigano. The chart showed a group of four islands in the Caribbean – Satanazes, Antilia, Saya and Ymana that did not appear in other map and marked places where no European had visited before such as Patagonia, the Andes, Antarctica and the east coast of Africa.
Menzies determined that these explorers were Chinese because only they had the skills in astro-navigation, horticulture and had a huge fleet large enough to mount such an epic voyage. (1)
III. DESTRUCTION OF DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE
When the fleet returned home in October 1423, emperor Zhu Di had fallen from the throne and a great storm had destroyed his palace. This was seen as a bad omen and as a result when his son succeeded to the throne he rejected the outside world and destroyed the majority of China’s documents recording China’s previous expansionist policies.
IV. ZHENG HE – THE EUNUCH
In 1402 emperor Zhu Di succeeded to the throne by overthrowing Zhu Yunwen and because he was not his father’s designated heir he sought to prove the legitimacy of his regime in the eyes of the Gods by conceiving a grand plan and for its’ implementation he turned to his bodyguard, admiral Zheng He.
Zheng He was a eunuch. Eunuchs were Mongol boys whom the Chinese castrated by severing their penises and testicles, after defeating the Mongols in the fourteenth century. Then they were conscripted into the army or used as personal servants to the emperor.
The grand plan involved forming an armada to establish an empire, building a new capital city in Beijing and extending the Great Wall of China.
V. THE GRAND PLAN
A. ‘Tribute System’
Zheng He was commandeered to assemble a large armada to sail and chart the oceans of the world bringing foreign rulers and the entire world into China’s ‘tribute system’. (2)
Under that system rulers paid tribute to China in return for trading privileges and protection against enemies. China always gave its’ trading partners a greater value of goods – silks and porcelain at discounted prices, often funded by soft loans – than was received from them. Thus they were in perpetual debt to China.
B. Beijing – The New Imperial City
In 1404 in furtherance of a plan to build a new capital city four and a half million artisans and laborers were employed to work on construction and one million to guard them.
Beijing was to be the intellectual capital of the world with libraries and storage for four thousand encyclopedias, the opinions of 120 philosophers and sages of the Song dynasty together with commentaries of thinkers from the 11th and 13th centuries.
This would be unlike anything else in the rest of the world where printing was unknown and culture and scientific knowledge lagged far behind.
C. The Great Wall of China
This had been built between 221 and 206 BC to protect the northern frontiers from attack and the new wall was to run 6,400 kilometers west from the Pacific to the Heavenly Mountains in central Asia.
VI. THE ARMADA
The Chinese had the most powerful navy in the world. Their treasure ships were ocean-going monsters built of teak, the rudders stood 36 feet high and they could carry more than 2000 tons of cargo. The galleys were protected by archers and were armed with gunpowder weapons, cannons, mortars flaming arrows and exploding shells.
The armada was organized like a modern convoy with the flagships at the center surrounded by junks, 90 feet long and 30 feet wide and an outer ring of warships.
The ships could remain at sea for over three months and cover 4500 miles because accompanying them were water tankers and grain ships with chickens, dogs, pigs and other animals for food and horses for the cavalry.
Trading ships from other nations would join in and the altogether there were more than 800 ships and crews large enough to fill a city.
Unlike European voyages which were aimed at finding treasure Chinese voyages
were scientific expeditions and included various professionals like interpreters, navigators, engineers and physicians to search for healing plants.
VII. MENZIES’ METHODOLOGY
In order to support his thesis that Zheng He had discovered the New World Gavin Menzies had to follow the route the Chinese ships had taken but also to find traces of their presence in places along those routes.
Some thirty-four lines of evidence had survived the destruction of the records and he was also helped by his experience as a navigator in the navy and by Chinese historian, Ma Huan, who documented the first part of the voyage in his diaries. (3)
VIII. THE GREAT VOYAGE
A. Chinese Astronomy
The armada set sail on March 8, 1421 and the hull shape of the ships meant that they had to sail before the wind.
In Chinese astronomy latitude was determined not by the distance north of the equator but by the distance from the North Pole which was determined by the altitude of Polaris, a bright star above the North Pole (i.e. its’ height above the horizon).
By sailing due south and keeping Polaris dead astern, the fleet could measure the star’s altitude with their sextants and thereafter every twenty-four hours to determine the change of latitude (i.e. its distance south of the North Pole).
Polaris was not visible in the southern hemisphere and therefore could not determine latitude south of the equator.
B. Da Conti and Fra Mauro
According to Ma Huan the armada sailed towards the Indian Ocean where it was divided into four fleets – three under the command of Hong Bao, Zhou Man and Zhou Wen. Zheng He commanded the fourth which sailed to south-east Asia before returning home in November 1421.
The fleet then sailed to Calicut in India and then up the west coast of Africa to the Cape Verde islands.
In a report of his journey to the Papacy a Venetian trader named Niccolo da Conti (c. 1395 – 1469) described the presence of Chinese warships in Calicut at the time of his visit. Also, a map of southern Africa dated 1459 and drawn by a Venetian cartographer Fra Mauro, included a drawing of Zheng He’s junks.
Both men claimed that a Chinese junk had sailed round the Cape of Good Hope and into the south Atlantic and this was confirmed by a Chinese chart dat 1420 called the Kangnido map which accurately depicted the coasts of Africa and must have been drawn by someone who sailed round the Cape.
Furthermore the Chinese had a practice of leaving carved stones as monuments to their achievements when they stopped at places on their voyages. Examples of stones found were the Matadi Falls in the Congo, a free standing one in Janela in Africa and another in Dondra Head in Sri Lanka.
After leaving the Cape Verde islands the fleet separated so admiral Zhou Wen went north with the current through the Caribbean to North America while admirals Hong Bao and Zhou Man took the current due south towards South America.
C. The Piri Reis Map
This map of South America drafted by an Ottoman admiral named Piri Reis in 1428 confirms that the fleet went to the Orinoco Delta and the Amazon. DNA of American Indian peoples in the Amazon, Brazil and Venezuela showed that they had diseases unique to China.
The winds then carried the fleet to Patagonia in south Argentina. A variety of birds and animals had been taken to and from the Americas. The Piri Reis map depicted a deer in Patagonia, a guanaco (type of camel) and a mountain lion which are native to South America. A native man and a dog-headed man or mylodon were found in the Chinese book called The Illustrated Record of Strange Countries 1430 which depicted animals found by the Chinese on their travels.
The Europeans also found when they arrived rice fields – a crop foreign to the Americas- in Mexico and Brazil, cotton unique to North America in the Cape Verde islands and coconuts from the South Pacific in Puerto Rico. Bananas, tobacco, sweet potatoes and maize from the Amazon were also exported to south-east Asia.
IX. THE VOYAGE OF HONG BAO
His mission was to chart the world east of the Falkland Islands. The current pushed the fleet into a narrow strait which is famously known as ‘The Strait of Magellan’ because it is a sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Then the fleet sailed to Antarctica as far south as the South Pole. A sailor from Bologna named Ludovico de Varthema in 1506 claimed that two Chinese sailors told him that the Chinese had sailed by the Southern Cross to regions that were very cold and had sunlight for only four hours a day which they could only have known by sailing there themselves. In addition the Piri Reis map showed ice running due south of the Strait of Magellan and must have been drawn by someone who sailed alongside it.
The fleet then got underneath the Canopus, a giant star directly above the South
Getting underneath Canopus and knowing the circumference of the earth enabled the fleet to calculate the position of the South Pole. By cross- referencing Canopus to Polaris they could then use that star to obtain latitude anywhere in the southern hemisphere.
B.Australia – West Coast
Hong Bao’s fleet was carried by the current to the west coast of Australia via the island of Kerguelen as identified in the Dictionary of Ming Biography of Records and on the Chinese chart the Wu Pei Chi 1422.
The junk dispatched to chart the area got wrecked and in 1836 three hunters found the wreck of a ship built of mahogany which Europeans did not use to build ships and twenty years later was identified by an Australian Mrs. Manifold as the missing ship.
The Aboriginal Yangery tribe which live near the wreck-site have a distinctive color and facial features and claim that ‘yellow men’ settled among them who must have been from the wreck.
X. THE VOYAGE OF ZHOU MAN
Zhou Man’s fleet got swept northward up the coast of Chile until they reached Peru. There they exchanged tributes with the indigenous Incas which are found in a novel about Zheng He’s voyages in 1597 called His-Yang-Chi-(Xi Yang Ji) all of which could be found in northern Peru including llamas, cachalots (small whales) and Asiatic hens.
After leaving Peru, the fleet split into two parts. The northern squadron sailed to the Carolinas, New Guinea and the Philippines.
Evidence of their presence in the Americas were observation platforms in the Carolinas, like those in China; Chinese hens in Peru and maize and tools used to grind it, indigenous to the Americas, were found in the Philippines.
The southern squadron was carried by the current to the east coast of Australia.
A. Australia – East Coast
In the imperial zoo in Beijing there is the figure of a Kangaroo which is unique to Australia and in the 1840’s a ruined fortress was found in New South Wales formed with large stones and mortar with a large tree growing under the stones. Such fortifications were not built by the Aborigines and given the age of the tree must have been built before the British arrived.
Also found were rock carvings depicting a Chinese junk with people in long robes
Indicating the presence of Chinese.
A shipwreck was found near Byron Bay in New South Wales and in 1965 sand-miners found a huge rudder, 40 feet high which must have been Chinese since only they built ships with such large rudders.
The similarities of another wreckage near Wollongong near Sydney and two more in Perth proves the presence of the Chinese in east Australia in the 15th century.
New Zealand – The current pushed the fleet to the South Island of New Zealand where the wreck of an old wooden ship was found on the southern tip and in 1831 Sydney seamen saw mylodons and sea otters which are not indigenous to New Zealand and must have escaped the wreck.
On the North Island a huge carved stone was found with concentric circles similar to the ones the Chinese left behind in Dondra Head, Janela and by the Matadi Falls in the Congo Delta.
A celebrated bell similar to Zheng He’s bell cast after the sixth voyage was found near a ship wreck on Ruapuke beach, an oriental figurine was found near Auckland and the Maoris near Ruapuke had a legend that ‘Patupaiarche’ or pale-skinned Chinese settlers had married Maori women proving the Chinese had reached New Zealand.
Brisbane, Australia – The fleet made a second landfall in Australia, north of Brisbane. There their engineers went ashore on horses and gathered gold and other precious minerals and built pyramids in Gympie obviously to mark the location of the precious riches.
As recent as October 5, 2002 historian Brett Green unearthed the wreck of a large Chinese ship off Queensland proving that Captain Cook did not discover Australia.
After Australia they visited the Spice Islands and the Philippines where they exchanged silks and porcelain for spices, large enough to fill the imperial warehouse in Beijing.
B.The First Colony in the Americas
The manner in which the islands were drawn on the Waldseemuller map which was the first map of the world published in 1507 and named after German cartographer, showed that Zhou Man’s fleet after leaving the Philippines set up colonies along the Pacific coast from California to Ecuador.
Professor Judith A. Carney of the University of California argues that it was the Chinese who taught the American farmer how to farm and by the 1870’s seventy five percent of farm laborers in California were of Chinese origin. (4)
Also in 1874 Stephen Powers, an official inspector of the Government of
California found linguistic evidence of a Chinese colony on the Russian River in California, seventy miles north of the wreck of a Chinese junk (the Sacramento junk) which had been built in 1410 and was identified by the carbon-date of the wood.
Powers described Chinese settlers as having intermarried with local Indians and their descendants were paler than people on the coast and the older generation had beards while the women were as proud of their black hair as the Chinese.
Rather than skins, women wore a single garment in the shape of a wool sack, sleeveless and gathered at the neck. Unlike Indian tribes, after death the descendants desired like the Chinese to be buried in the ancestral soil of their tribe; they were sedentary; four fifths of their diet was vegetarian and they had a vast knowledge of botanical names.
Pottery was formed in classic Chinese shapes whereas the Indians beat out a hollow of a rock leaving the outside rough. The ancient tribes used long knives but their descendants used obsidian or jasper (a type of crystal); the ancestors fashioned tobacco pipes from serpentine while their descendants made simple wooden ones and used a Chinese method of snaring wildfowl by using decoy ducks.(5)
Powers’ arguments are also supported by DNA evidence which corroborates the Asian origin of Native American populations and suggests recent gene flow from Asia. (6)
On the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, seventy miles south of the Sacramento junk is a small stone-built village with low walls which in 1904 Dr. John Fryer, a professor of Oriental Languages at University College, Berkeley, California stated was the work of the Chinese who wall themselves in as they do in China.
Lastly, fifty stone carvings of ships and forty horses were found alongside the Mississippi river suggesting that the horses were brought there by ship.
C. Colonies in Central America
After leaving the coast of California the fleet made landfall in Colima, Mexico.
Here they encountered the Mayan civilization nearly as old and fine as their own. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mexico in the 1520’s they found Asiatic chickens; the names of birds Kek or Ki were similar to those of the Chinese and the Mexicans like the Chinese used chickens for ceremonial purposes.
Sweet potatoes, tomatoes and papayas which are indigenous to Central America were found in Easter Island in Oceania and sweet potatoes were also found in Hawaii. The Maya had built stone cities like Palenque in Chiapas built in c. AD 325- 925 which was filled with treasures for which the Chinese exchanged silks and ceramics.
Metals were mined in the same way as in China and mirrors were important in both cultures.
But the strongest signs of Chinese influence was in Uruapan where the process of preparing lacquer which is obtained from a tree in China (or Ch’I-Ch’l in Chinese) are identical in Mexico and China. There are also similar techniques to obtain other dyes such as madder red, indigo blue, scarlet and shellfish purple as well as Vermilion dyes obtained from insects scraped off oak trees, lac (lactic acid) from Asia and royal (tyrian) purple from marine snails.
Linguistic evidence of Chinese visits to South America are a sailing ship is chamban in Colombia, sampan in China; a raft, balsa in South America and palso in China and a log raft, jangada in Brazil and ziangada in Tamil. Villagers in a mountain village in Peru speak Chinese.
DNA evidence shows that the peoples in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru share Chinese DNA. So deep is the Chinese influence on continent that it could be called ‘Chinese America’.
XI. THE VOYAGE OF ZHOU WEN
A. The Caribbean
Zhou Wen sailed north to the Cape Verde Islands where the currents converged to take them towards the Dominica Passage.
The fleet sailed northwards to Guadeloupe, an island reportedly inhabited by Carib cannibals who among other things used human skulls as drinking vessels and other body parts as food. On a modern map of the area this island was Satanazes-Satan Island and as regards the other islands shown for the first time on the Pizzigano chart Saya was identified as Les Saintes, Antilia matched Puerto Rico and Ymana placed directly above the volcanoes of La Souffriere, La Citerne and L’Echelle.
The wind then drove the fleet due north along the coast of Cuba towards Grand Bahama in The Bahamas.
In 1968 an underwater rock formation was found off the coast of North Bimini in the Bahamas. It lies on the ocean floor, about a thousand yards from the shore and comprised hundreds of flat rocks, eight to ten feet square arranged in regular patterns, called Bimini Road. It was man-made with two parallel lines of stones running south-west towards the ocean. The western section starts at an angle of 160 degrees to the beach and curves round to run directly to the shore.
Gavin Menzies thinks Bimini Road is a submerged dry dock created by the Chinese and since sea levels were about six feet lower six centuries ago, this dock could have been on the shore of Bimini.
As the fleet sailed towards Bimini many ships ran aground and were tied alongside seaworthy ones to keep them afloat. The stern would have had to be turned around to face the beach before being hauled to shore.
The Chinese had engineers aboard and over six centuries’ experience of laying stonework under water and the stones used are found in Yangtze in China and could have been cut and sized in Nanjing where the treasure ships were built.
Four junks had sunk off North Bimini and five abandoned and the rest repaired. Some of the surviving sailors had to be left behind and when food supplies ran out they would have had to set up settlements in Cuba and along the east coast of Florida. (7)
This explanation is consistent with reports from successive explorers on seeing men in ‘white tunics which reached to their knees’ along the route the Chinese had followed.
C. Settlement in North America
There is an abundance of evidence of the presence of the Chinese on the North American mainland.
The junks were carried by the Gulf Stream to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina where they divided into two squadrons. One squadron went to the Cape Verde Islands via the Azores and the other went north circumnavigated Greenland and back down its’ east coast.
In 1524 Venetian explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano stopped in the Narragansett Bay near Rhode Island and described the local people as wearing long dresses and jewellery with long black hair which fits the description of Chinese concubines. He also described seeing at the entrance to the bay a natural rock which appears to be the rock on which stands the Round Tower in the park in Newport, Rhode Island. (8) The tower must have been to mark a Chinese settlement or been a lighthouse to mark the bay.
Six separate accounts of the first Europeans to reach New England described civilized white or bronze-skinned women living in Newport who wore eastern clothes and combed their hair in buns like Chinese women.
Menzies discovered twelve curious stones erected by the Chinese in a small are in eastern Massachusetts similar to the ones the Chinese had left behind in Africa and Asia.
The results of recent tests on the Moskoke people in south-east United States show Chinese DNA.
New England could now be renamed ‘New China’.
In the Azores on the island called The Raven (Corvo) there was a Chinese statue of a man on a horse, his head is uncovered and he is bald, his left-hand rests upon his horse and his right-hand points towards the west. This was no doubt a replica of Zhu Di. The statue is Chinese because the Azores appears on the Chinese Kangnido chart which was produced before the Portuguese discovered the islands.
C. Expedition to the North Pole
The Chinese got as far as Greenland and in 1448 Pope Nicholas V wrote to the bishops of Skalholt and Holar in Iceland about ‘barbarians’ (a term that refers to people from the east) attacking the inhabitants of Greenland.
The existence of stone villages was proof of Chinese colonies and on the Bache Peninsula of Ellesmere Island was a colony of about twenty-five houses and beacons as well as evidence of Chinese mining of copper near Devon Island.
Further evidence is the Vinland map (c.1424) depicting the coast of Greenland with precise accuracy and DNA analysis proving that the Natives of Hvalsey, a
settlement in Greenland possess Chinese DNA.
XII. THE VOYAGE OF YANG QING
Yang Qing had left Beijing a month before the rest of the armada and spent his whole voyage in the Indian Ocean where his big achievement was learning to determine longitude.
The key to finding longitude is to observe the same event like a lunar eclipse at different locations around the globe and fixing the exact time the event took place, then calculating the differences in longitude. The Chinese had a big enough fleet to deploy at different locations to take readings. If the longitude of say Malacca is determined the fleet could use other observation posts around the Indian Ocean to take readings on the same night. In a lunar eclipse the earth is between the sun and the moon and the earth’s shadow obscures the moon. The Chinese could forecast a lunar eclipse that occurs about every six months.
Because of this achievement, the origin of world maps as well as latitude and longitude could be determined along with the discovery of the New World.
The evidence proves conclusively that the glory for discovering the New World should go to Chinese admirals Zheng He, Hong Bao, Zhou Man and Zhou Wen and their fleets 1421 – 1423 and not to the Europeans.
The evidence includes physical entities like shipwrecks of Chinese junks in America, Australia and India; carved stones of Africa and the remains of Chinese people in South America; DNA, artifacts, scientific and circumstantial evidence from the fifteenth century including linguistic, ceremonial and spiritual.
Archaeological teams all over the world are evacuating sites believed to contain relics of Chinese shipwrecks.
The data is enshrined in over a thousand books providing evidence of pre-Columbian Chinese journeys to the Americas and is summarized in a two-volume bibliography. (9)
The Chinese provided Europeans with maps, navigational tools and an astronomical calendar beyond anything they produced on their own. Their methods of calculating latitude and longitude were given to the Europeans so that Columbus, Magellan and other explorers used them to reach the New World.
The Chinese colonized America and transplanted economic crops that have since fed and clothed the world.
(1) 1421 The year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies p. 34 to 35.
(2) Emperor Zhu Di’s instructions to Zheng He, paraphrased from the two stone steles of 1431.
(3) The Overall Survey of the Ocean Shores, published after Zheng He’s voyage in 1433
(4) Carey McWilliams, Factories in the Field, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000. P.68-80).
(5) Stephen Powers ‘Aborigines of California: An Indo-Chinese Study’ in Atlantic, Vol.33, 1874 and Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol.3, Department of Interior, Washington DC 1877).
(6) Human Biology (vol. 70) entitled ‘Polymorphic Alu Insertions and the Asian
Origin of Native American Populations’ by Professor Novick.
(7) 1421 The year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies p.310-316.
(8) Account of Verazzano’s voyage in his letter 8July 1524 to Francis quoted in D.B.Quinn (ed.) North American Discovery, Harper & Row 1971.
(9) J.L. Sorenson and M.H. Raish, pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans; An Annotated bibliography, Provo Research Press 1990).
Acknowledgement I am greatly indebted to Gavin Menzies and his book ‘1421 – The year China discovered America’ – for the information contained in this article.
Victor A. Dixon
Author and Social Scientist
Revised October 23, 2020