Otterman speaks... (2003-2007)
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Otterman speaks...

Cycling, macintosh, natural history and life in Singapore - Archives

List of Categories : travel * museum * cycling * Singapore Naturalist * science * kakis * mangroves * movies * mac and the internet * meow * NUS * life in Singapore * lit * world *

Sat 11 Jun 2005

Deconstructing 1421

Category : world

Extracts from Time Asia and Muslim Heritage about Zheng He:

'Zheng He or Cheng Ho (1371-1433) is the 15th century admiral who ranks as perhaps China's greatest adventurer. A Chinese Muslim, a eunuch and warrior, Zheng He vastly outdid his approximate contemporaries, the Western naval heroes who helped define the global Age of Exploration.

For 28 years, he traveled more than 50,000 km and visited over 37 countries, and helped transform China into the region's, and perhaps the world's, 15th century superpower.'

In addition to all this, Gavin Menzies then put forward the idea that Admiral Zheng He discovered America seven decades before Christopher Columbus. Menzies' book, "1421: the Year China Discovered America," is a bestseller.

Geoff Wade, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore is scathing in his criticism. In Koh Gui Qing'a Reuters article last month, he is quoted as saying, "It's rubbish. There is no evidence to back it up." ["Did Chinese discover America? Theory gets new life." By Koh Gui Qing. Reuters, 04 May 2005 (see web archives in Google).]

A Salon book review from 2003 opines, "A dubious new book offers an object lesson in amateurish research, slapdash editing and publishing greed." ["The Chinese discovered America. Or did they? A dubious new book offers an object lesson in amateurish research, slapdash editing and publishing greed." By Natalie Danford, Salon, 07 Jan 2003.]

So what's new about all this? Koh Gui Qing makes the point in his Reuters article:

"Although many historians dismiss the former British naval officer's theory, including some from China, the predominantly ethnic Chinese city-state of Singapore may give it a new sheen of respectability during a three-month exhibition [organized partly by Menzies himself] beginning in June."

Geoff Wade has responded comprehensively with an article entitled "1421 and All That" which was posted to the Singapore Heritage mailing list earlier today (11th June 2005). He suggests that:

"Too much money and time have been spent on the project to expect that it be cancelled. However, some means is required to save Singapore from international embarrassment. The STB could categorically state in prominent notices and on tickets that it does not endorse the exhibition, and that the contents are highly speculative and not supported by orthodox historians.

Given that the public are protected by legislation from false and misleading advertising claims in the commercial realm, should they not be protected from the marketing of fictitious history?

It's important Wade makes this effort as there already are those who have swallowed Menzies material hook, line and sinker. Oh well, but they have also enjoyed Da Vinci's Code immensely and the profit in all of this is hard to resist.

Since there is evidence of human migration from Asia to North America, c. 27,000 B.C., it all seems moot to me anyway. What seems interesting or tragic is that after these seven fantastic voyagers funded by the usurping emperor, the next government canned the missions, apparently due to an exhausted treasury (pointed out by Alvin via iChat audio while I was preparing this). Eventually this led to a loss of maritime technology and China's colonisation and exploitation by European nations and Japan.

Strange how glory depicted years later seems to revolve around how much land was conquered or visited. What about how peaceful a counry was. That doesn't make the news as much, I guess.

Anway, Dava Sobel's Longitude made me appreciate the perils of oceanic navigation. The feats of Zheng He, his navigators and crew surely evict a hat tip.

Posted at 3:51PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | , .