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1421: The Year China Discovered America [Hardcover]

Gavin Menzies
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan 2003
On 8 February 1421 the largest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, 500 foot long junks made from the finest teak and mahogany, were led by Emperor Zhu Di's loyal eunuch admirals. Their mission was "to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas" and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. Their journey would last over two years and circle the entire globe. When they returned Zhu Di had fallen from power and China was beginning its long, self-imposed isolation from the world it had so recently embraced. The great ships rotted at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America 70 years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. They has also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia 350 years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude 300 years before the Europeans. Gavin Menzies has spent 15 years tracing the astonishing voyages of the Chinese fleet. In this historical detective story, he shares the account of his discoveries and the incontrovertible evidence to support them. His narrative brings together ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts by Chinese explorers and the later European navigators. It brings to light the artefacts and inscribed standing stones left behind by the Emperor's fleet, the evidence of sunken junks along its route and the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, in thanks to Shao Lin, goddess of the sea.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow & Company; 1st Edition edition (Jan 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060537639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060537630
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.3 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 910,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

If you're going to make a stir, you might as well do it in style. And Gavin Menzies has caused one, big time. In 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, this retired Royal Navy submarine commander, who only visited China for the first time on his 25th wedding anniversary, claims that the Chinese navigator Zheng He discovered America some 71 years before Columbus. And not content with this, he goes on to suggest that Zheng He learnt how to calculate longitude several centuries before John Harrison supposedly nailed the problem. Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down too well in some areas and the book has been the target of some scepticism.

Although Menzies has unearthed a few unknown primary sources, the bulk of his thesis depends on amalgamating several disparate areas of research into a grand unified theory. So he combines what we do know--principally that the Chinese built huge sailing ships with nine masts and that Asiatic chickens were discovered in South America--into what he considers compelling evidence. Menzies has also turned up some maps from the pre-Columbus era that appear to show the Americas, along with a few shipwrecks and Ming artefacts from along his supposed route.

It all makes for a gripping read, even if the sum doesn't quite add up to the whole. For all the detail, Menzies is some way off providing proof. None of the supposed 28,000 colonists has left any documentary evidence because all records, boats and shipyards associated with his voyage were burnt by imperial order in 1433. This surely begs the question--if we know so much of Zheng He's voyages around the Indian Ocean, how come we know nothing of his trips further east? Nor, conveniently for Menzies, did any of the colonists return home in triumph. They either died en route or skulked home to obscurity after they were disowned by the emperor.

So you either accept Menzies as an act of faith or brush him aside with scepticism. Either way, you'll have a lot of fun in the process as the book is never less than provocative. And even the sceptics will find themselves hoping Menzies has got it right, because there's something intrinsically uplifting about the notion of an amateur historian getting one over the professionals. --John Crace --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Exhaustively researched . . . an intriguing and highly persuasive thesis, told with passion and energy.' -- Evening Standard --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ON 2 FEBRUARY 1421, CHINA DWARFED EVERY NATION ON earth. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By Alby
Zheng He was a Chinese admiral during the Ming dynasty, and he seems to have gone along the usual trade routes from China to East Africa that had been established long before his birth. Indian Ocean trade is one of the most fascinating aspects of globalisation before the modern era, and there's a joint Oxford-Cambridge multi-year project devoted to studying it, called SEALINKS. Such trade is extremely ancient, and antedates recorded history. Cinnamon, a spice from Indonesia, is recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. How did it get there? Through the routes that Zheng He eventually travelled. Treasure ships containing Arab, Indian, east African, Chinese, and Javanese goods are not so rare, and can be found centuries before the Ming dynasty. The Siren of Cirebon wreck in the Java Sea is a good example of that.

What is unusual about Zheng He is that he travelled the entire route himself, rather than journeying to Sumatera or Java to acquire goods from Africa and India or simply waiting in China for ships from Indonesia, as was the norm. This is an immense journey, although to put it in context, European sailors within the same century travelled much greater distances around Africa. Africa had also been visited and settled from the east thousands of years before Zheng He; the population of Madagascar is the result of a fusion of African and Bornean settlers, for instance. Zheng He's accomplishments weren't, therefore, entirely without precedent, and even within China there had been great explorers as far back as the Han dynasty. Xuanzang, the Tang dynasty monk, was one such explorer, one who fortunately left us with accounts of his travels.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Inconsistent and deeply flawed 10 Aug 2009
The central argument in this book is that huge Chinese fleets charted pretty much the whole world in 1421-3, and their maps guided the European explorers, from Columbus to Cook.

The most interesting and credible material in this book (p. 382-7) is for the most part identical word for word to a 1977 article in the Geographical Journal, Vol 143, No 3, p 451-9. Menzies does not credit the source, mind you. Read the original rather than Menzies corrupted version. You can find it on the web too. Search for Martellus world maps by Arthur Davies. It presents a convincing argument that the Columbus brothers faked a map to dupe the King and Queen of Spain into funding their project to sail west to Asia.

The rest of the book is nonsense. Menzies is not even consistent. For instance, he claims that the 1513 Piri Reis map shows the coast of Patagonia "with great accuracy," providing evidence that the Chinese had charted it before Magellan got there (p. 116). But on p. 377 he says (rightly) that the latitudes of the Orinoco and Amazon deltas on the 1513 Piri Reis map "are precisely correct," which places the Amazon delta on the coast he had identified as Patagonia! The two regions are on opposite ends of South America! Too make his case appear plausible, Menzies only shows a bit of the Piri Reis map, but when you see the whole map it becomes obvious he is placing Patagonia in the tropics! The whole map is in the colour plates between pages 200 and 201, but he does not refer to it.

Menzies reasoning and standards of proof are amazing. For instance he identifies the Satanazes Island on the 1424 Pizzigano map as the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe (p. 246-9), meaning again that the Chinese had charted it. Now Satanazes is rectangular whereas Guadeloupe looks a bit like a butterfly!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars CHINESE JUNK 28 Aug 2011
There has been a vogue in recent years for books devoted to the events of one year - for example, 1066 and 1415; and some of these are very good. This book is not one of those: it is not a detailed account of events, but an overly long exposition of the author's far-fetched pet theory that the Chinese circumnavigated the globe in 1421, a century before Magellan's well-attested voyage. By the way, they did it in outsize junks.

You might think that, if the Chinese had done this, we would have heard about it before now; but the lack of hard evidence does not appear to trouble Mr Menzies. He is content to rely on (1) A Chinese account that a fleet set off to circumnavigate; (2) dubious archaeological and anthropological evidence in several Continents, which appear to suggest that strangers turned up there around the years 1421-3, and some of them stayed on; and (3) his gut feeling, as an ex-submariner, that such a voyage would have been possible.

None of this evidence stands up to scrutiny for a moment; but it satisfies Menzies, who rather takes pride in the fact that he is not a historian, but a sailor, and can therefore see things that mere landlubbers cannot; but one has to ask how much experience as a submariner is worth when it comes to understanding a 500-foot fifteenth century Chinese junk, or for that matter the law of probability.

This book is not really history at all. It is travel-writing, disguised as history. It is also a demonstration of the fact that, in the modern world, it is not necessary for a book to have any merit, for it to become a bestseller.

Stephen Cooper
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars An atrocious book. It purports to be a history ...
An atrocious book. It purports to be a history but is a load of nonsense. So many errors over events that I gave up a third of the way through. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Eric C. Hayman
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading a real eye opener
You just have to read this book - it effectively re-writes history and is full of interesting facts. It is well written and engaging and you just have to keep reading it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Chris Colgan Innershift
5.0 out of 5 stars Most amazing book. I have read the paper copy five times
Well written and obviously well researched. I was in Singapore when the Zheng He 600th anniversary celebrations were in progress and this book had a centre piece stall. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Fireside reading ever.
This is a book all Americans should read, and go look for artifacts in their own gardens! Fascinating and incredibly detailed yet written with such a sense of adventure and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by movedbymortensen
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book
I had already read this book and could not put it down. This extra copy was bought for a friend
Published 6 months ago by Mrs. Evelyn Honey
5.0 out of 5 stars What astounding information
This is a very very interesting read. well researched by a naval submarine commander over 19 years and born in China. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr. David Madden
5.0 out of 5 stars required reading
Excellent book well written with excellent maps and photographs.. Plenty of factual evidence of a relatively unknown part of history.
Published 7 months ago by Bob Page
5.0 out of 5 stars 1421 The year China Discovered the world
Only a quarter of the way through but up to now a eye opener , a very good read indeed
Published 7 months ago by Thomas Dixon
5.0 out of 5 stars A Revealing Story
A fascinating book, difficult to put down despite its length. Written by a naval officier whose knowledge of navigation makes the story credible. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mrs J.M.Ozanne
4.0 out of 5 stars 1421 The year China discovered America
I bought this book for my husband who really enjhoyed The Lost Empire of Atlantis by this authoe. He also enjoyed this book although he has not talked about it as much as he did... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mo
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