Chinese historians and navigation experts are preparing to rewrite the history books after a British historian’s claim that Chinese explorers found America 72 years before Christopher Columbus.
An ancient chart to be proved
According to the London-based Daily Telegraph on Monday, Gavin Menzies, a former submarine commander and an amateur historian, has pointed to an ancient chart to prove that Chinese admiral Zheng He had discovered most parts of the world by the mid-15th century and reached America 72 years earlier than Columbus.
Li Xiaocong, deputy-director of the China Ancient History Research Center of Beijing University, said that if experts confirmed the authenticity of the chart, which was claimed to be drawn, in 1459, navigation history would be rewritten.
The chart, according to the report, clearly marked the location of the Cape of Good Hope, with detailed depiction of Chinese expeditionary vessels and included navigation notes which recorded that a fleet once navigated across Cape of Good Hope to reach Cape Verde Islands.
Menzies will present his findings at Britain’s Royal Geographical Society on March 15 to an audience of more than 200 scholars, academicians and publishers.
“So far I cannot say Menzies’ new view is well-founded because I have not seen that chart and as far as I know, China lacks charts drawn in the mid-15th century. I cannot offer relevant evidence to support his view,” Li said.
A truth hidden in documents destroyed
Chen Yanhang, director of the Chinese Ancient Vessel Research Center said, “I suppose the new view might be true because records show that the vessel used by admiral Zheng He was 126 meters long and 51.5 meters wide, big and advanced enough to reach America.
“In fact the domestic academic field raised the idea as early as the 1980s that the farthest point Zheng He’s fleet reached was the Cape of Good Hope, but not the widely accepted Mombasa. Actually, where Zheng He reached has always been a disputed issue. Therefore we rule out the possibility that he set foot in America, ” he continued.
Zhu Jianxiu, research fellow with Zheng He Research Society, said, “The major task for us now is to make sure the chart was really drawn in 1459 and truly used by Zheng He. If we can prove the two points mentioned above, maybe we can say Menzies is right.”
Zhang Rujie, professor of geodesic, photogrammetry and cartographic science and technology at Wuhan University, said that he doubted Menzies’ viewpoint.
But Chen Yanhang said that according to historical records, Liu Daxia, a official and contemporary of Zheng He, strongly opposed his navigation and burned reports Zheng had written to the throne, as well as navigation notes recorded by Zheng himself.
“It is still unknown that the truth was hidden in the documents which had already been destroyed,” he added.