Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Discovering America: And now the Chinese Myth...

Lately lots of news reports focused on a forged map (seen here) that is said, by its owner, to be before Colombus' discovery of America... In 2002 Gavin Menzies a sea captain and an amateurist historian of cartography and naval history who takes himself too much seriously published his now-famous "1421", in which he forcefully argues, with very little evidence... or let's say none, that the Chinese doscovered America since their organized trip back then and therefore before Colombus.... Actually the Chinese government seems to encourage such beliefs since it celebrated this trip last year in a very public manner... Discovering America and its cartographic representation had always a political implication, which is really frustrating especially when some people want to belief what they want and refuse to discuss the evidences in any scientific or rationalist manner that's why most historians of cartography are in constant battle to define amateurist and scientific spaces of the history of cartography... We have in the Islamic world some people who want to believe on baseless evidence (Piri Reis' world map in Topkapi Sarrayi of America, in which he says himself that it was copied from a Colombus' map)the same thing as if it'll change anything and as if the Muslims were in need of such discovery to prove their glorious maritime history in the past...
Here is some reports and remarks (1: AFP news report as appeared in Arabic in Elaph; 2 and 3 from Map-Hist by people who are real historians of cartography in which they prove among many others the baseless claim of a Chinese discovery of America)


هل سبق الصينيون كولومبوس الى اميركا الجنوبية
GMT 13:30:00 2006 الأربعاء 18 يناير
أ. ف. ب.

بكين: هل سبق الصينيون كريستوف كولومبوس الى اميركا؟ هذه النظرية التي انتشرت واكتسبت شعبية بعد صدور كتاب بريطاني كان من افضل المبيعات عام 2002، ازدادت مصداقيتها بظهور دليل جدديد هو نسخة عن خارطة تعود الى القرن الخامس عشر.
وقال صاحب هذه الوثيقة وهو محام ومتمول صيني يدعى ليو غانغ هذا الاسبوع في بكين ان "الخارطة تظهر لنا ان الصينيين اكتشفوا العالم قبل سبعين سنة من كولومبوس".
واوضح ليو ان هذه الخارطة وضعت عام 1763 استنادا الى وثيقة تعود الى العام 1418 غير ان ما عرض على الصحافيين هو مجرد نسخة حفاظا على الخارطة الاصلية.
وتصور الخارطة بدقة بالغة على مساحة 7،59 ب75،41 سنتم العالم كما نعرفه حاليا وتورد ملاحظات حول سكان اميركا وافريقيا.
وبشأن اميركا الجنوبية، تذكر الخارطة ان "المدن هنا شيدت باحجار هائلة ما يجعلها تعرف بمدن الحجارة"، فيما تشير ملاحظة ثانية الى ان "السكان هنا يعتنقون ديانة تدعى +بالاكا+ تقدم فيها ذبائح بشرية والناس يعبدون النار".
واوضح ليو غانغ الذي يهوى جمع التحف والوثائق التاريخية ان الملاحظة الاولى تشير الى حضارة الانكا فيما تشير الثانية الى حضارة عرفت ب"باراكاس" كانت تتواجد في بيرو القديمة.
واشترى ليو الوثيقة عام 2001 في شانغهاي باقل من 500 دولار لكنه يقول انه لم يدرك اهميتها الا السنة الماضية عند قراءة كتاب غافن منزيس "1421، سنة اكتشف الصينيون العالم".
ويعرض هذا المؤرخ الهاوي وهو من قدامى البحرية الملكية البريطانية، في كتابه نظرية تقول ان من اكتشف اميركا كان زهينغ هي وهو كان مخصيا وضعه امبراطور الصين زهو دي على رأس الاسطول الصيني في القرن السادس عشر. واكد ليو ان "الخارطة تظهر لنا ان زهينغ هي اكتشف العالم".
وبحسب المؤرخين، فان حملات زهينغ هي التي جرت بين 1405 و1432 اقتصرت على افريقيا. ولم يتمكن غافن منزيس من اقناع الاوساط الاكاديمية بنظريته، فاختار ان يعرضها في كتاب موجه الى الرأي العام لكسب اكبر جمهور ممكن، كما اطلق موقعا على الانترنت (1421.تي في) ضمنه كل الادلة المتوافرة لديه.
واعتبر منزيس ان هذه الخارطة تشكل سلاحا جديدا للدفاع عن نظريته ووجه رسالة الكترونية الى ليو غانغ ارفقت نسخة عنها بالملف الاعلامي الضخم الموزع في بكين، عرض فيها على المحامي الصيني كل المساعدة الممكنة. وجاء في الرسالة "ان نشر خارطتك سيكون بالطبع مفيدا جدا بالنسبة لي".
غير ان الاختصاصيين الصينيين سارعوا الى التشكيك في مصداقية الوثيقة مشيرين الى نقاط مريبة فيها.
واوضح البروفسور ماو بيكي نائب مدير مركز الابحاث حول رحلات زهينغ هي في جامعة الشعب ان "نقطة الخلل" الرئيسية هي كتابة عبارة "اداء التحية" الى الامبراطور باحرف لم تكن مستخدمة في تلك الفترة الزمنية. وقال غونغ ينغيان اختصاصي الخرائط القديمة في جامعة زهيجيانغ (شرق) ان هذه الوثيقة لا تطابق اطلاقا الخرائط الصينية في تلك الحقبة.
كما احتدم الجدل حول هذه المسألة على موقع الصين الرئيسي على الانترنت (سينا.كوم). وتساءل احد رواد الانترنت "اعتقد ان زهينغ هي اكتشف اميركا، لكن المسألة باتت من الماضي وما الجدوى من اثارتها الان؟" فيما كتب آخر بنبرة استفزازية "ما النفع ان كنا متقدمين قبل خمسة الاف سنة؟ الصين اليوم متاخرة مئات السنين".
وكانت السلطات الصينية نظمت عام 2005 في المئوية السادسة لحملة زهينغ هي الاولى عدة تظاهرات كانت مناسبة لاستنفار الحس الوطني لدى الصينيين.

Comment in today's Lynchburg (Virginia) News & Advance from Charlotte Rees,one of the participants in the Zheng He symposium at the Library of Congresslast May."Rees says her father's maps may show the Chinese had circumnavigated theglobe as early as 2200 B.C.Rees' maps are actually Korean and date to the 16th century, but shebelieves, as her father did, that they are replicas of Chinese maps thatshow the Chinese discovered America between 2650 and 2200 B.C...Rees has almost completed a book based on her own research, in which shelearned that Chinese writing in the third century B.C. describes a continentabout 10,000 li or 3,300 miles wide, bounded by vast oceans, with hugetrees...So while Rees thinks the 1418 map could be authentic, she thinks historiansneed to look back much further."You have all been warned. Things can only get worse.After careful reflection, I have decided against including this on my'Latest News' page, a selection of 'what seems worth preserving'.
Tony Campbell

Although I am still appalled at the vehemence directed at Gavin Menziespersonally, I believe this copy of a so-called 1418 map is a forgery, andprobably drawn after 1763. I think some of the clues lie in the depictionof California as an island, and the depiction of Australia and New Zealand.I can understand how the Spanish came to believe that California was anisland, after the pilot Morera, who was abandoned by Drake in what hebelieved to be the North West Passage, (but was actually the Juan de FucaStrait) apparently walked all the way back to Spain and reported that after500 leagues had seen the Gulf of California, which seemed to him to runnorth so as to join the Strait where Drake had put him ashore. This wasreported by the same priest, Father de l'Ascension, who later accompaniedVizcaino in 1602 in his alleged search for the North West Passage. The mapproduced by Henry Biggs circa 1625 was the first to show California as anisland, and was said to have been copied from a Spanish chart that had beencaptured. Unfortunately, that Spanish chart has never been found, but itwas probably drawn by, or based on the work of, Father de l'Ascension. Icannot understand the circumstances under which the Chinese would have alsomistaken California for an island two centuries earlier. They certainlycould not have circumnavigated it. It might be that the shape of the islandof California can be matched with a map of known European origin, and thismight enable the earliest date of the map to be established.Secondly, although it is not an area in which I have much expertise, I donot know if the relatively accurate depiction of Australia and New Zealandwas known until after Cook visited them in 1769. Although Tasman haddiscovered New Zealand more than a century earlier, I do not know if he hadestablished their insularity, as Cook did. Could a map copied from aEuropean source have shown this detail as early as 1763?I would be surprised if this alleged 1763 copy of a 1418 map holds up toscrutiny, but its emergence can hardly be blamed on, or justify the personalattacks on, Gavin Menzies. His book clearly acted as a catalyst for theemergence of this map, but whether it is a relatively modern forgery or an18th century forgery, Gavin is hardly responsible for its existence, and heseems to be doing the right thing in asking for it to be scientificallydated. I have no doubt that he hopes it is what it purports to be, but whocould blame him for that? If it could be proved to be a genuine copy of a1418 map, it would be almost a smoking gun, though he would then have tochange the title of his book!I have said before that at least Gavin has stimulated great interest in bothearly Chinese voyages and in early cartography, and I personally think thatis a good thing, even if I disagree with quite a few of his assertions andconclusions. I have met Gavin on a couple of occasions, and believe thathis theories are genuinely held, even if some of them are wrong. He is notthe snake oil salesman that some make him out to be, and in my opinion, theworld would be a poorer place without him and his book. I also think thatthe excessive reaction to him and the book only belittles those resorting tosuch personal attacks, and makes them appear to be extremists. (My wife saysthe same of me in my reaction to Sam Bawlf's plagiarism of my research intoDrake's true movements, and she is probably right!)
Bob Ward


At 12:17 PM, Blogger Joe Follansbee said...

Hello Tareq,

I have linked to your discussion of the 1421 map on my blog, Thanks!

Joe Follansbee


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