Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gavin Menzies and Ming Voyages

I am sure that many of you have seen Gavin Menzies' 1421: The Year China Discovered the World and wondered about it. This Erik-Van-Daniken-meets-ancient-China codswallop was debunked in a post to H-ASIA today.

October 21, 2005

Popular History and Bunkum -- on *1421, The Year China Discovered
From: Geoff Wade <>

Dear H-Asia members,

I have just submitted the following complaint against Transworld
Publishers of Britain to the Consumer Complaints body of the United

The complaint derives from Transworld publishing and advertising
"1421: The Year China Discovered the World" , authored by Gavin
Menzies, as a work of history, which I believe is a violation of the
British Trade Descriptions Act of 1968

Best wishes,

Geoff Wade


Copy of complaint submitted:

I purchased a copy of Gavin Menzies' "1421: The Year China Discovered
the World," published by Transworld, on the basis that it was
classified as "History" in their catalogue. A detailed reading of the
text revealed that the work is a fairtytale and fiction of the worst
kind. I detail some of the outrageous fiction perpetrated within the

Claims by Mr. Menzies followed by facts

1. Claim: Four eunuch admirals�-Hong Bao, Zhou Man, Zhou Wen and Yang
Qing --led fleets to the Americas, Australia, Greenland and the
Antarctic during voyages between 1421 and 1423.

Fact: There are no Chinese or other texts which suggest in any way
that these four eunuchs, or any other Ming commanders, traveled
anywhere at all beyond Asia, the Middle East and the East coast of
Africa. All other voyages derive solely from Mr. Menzies'
imagination. Further, the currents, winds and dates Menzies cites in
support would not have carried the ships anywhere near where he
claims. In short, there is no archaeological, textual or archival
material to support the Menzies thesis as set down in *1421*. In this
book Menzies intentionally distorts known materials and deliberately
alters known facts in order to support his thesis.

2. Claim: Sailors and concubines from these fleets settled in the
Americas, Australia, New Zealand and islands across the Pacific. In
evidence, he cites studies of "recent" inflow of "Chinese genes" and
"East Asian DNA" into the Americas.

Fact: There is no evidence of Ming settlement sites in, or even Ming
knowledge, of these places until the arrival of the Jesuits in China
in the 16th century. The genetic evidence on which Menzies relies is
provided by a company whose genetic tests have been labelled a "scam"
by Stephen O'Brien, the US National Cancer Institute's laboratory

3. Claim: There exists a range of wrecks of the ships from these
voyages spread around the world, and these are proof of the voyages
claimed by Menzies.

Fact: Not one wreck which can be linked with the eunuch voyages in
the first 30 years of the 15th century (or indeed any Chinese wreck)
has been identified outside of the Asian region.

4. Claim: The Ming voyagers built celestial observation platforms at
24 places across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Menzies names and
provides coordinates for these platforms. (*1421*, pp. 416/17, 457)

Fact: There is no textual or archaeological evidence to even begin to
suggest that the Ming voyagers built observation platforms anywhere
in the world. Again, their existence derives only from the fertile
imagination of Mr. Menzies.

5. Claim: The Ming armadas left a range of other built structures
around the world, particularly in Australasia and the Americas,
including the Newport Round Tower, the Gympie pyramid and other
structures and mines. They also left a ship's slipway made of stones
on the Bimini islands in the Caribbean.

Fact: Not one of the structures Mr. Menzies cites has been shown to
have any links with China. The Bimini "slipway," which is in any case
parallel to the shore, has been shown to be a completely natural

6. Claim: The Chinese "were aware that the earth was a globe and had
divided it into 365 and a quarter degrees (the number of days in the
year) of latitude and longitude." (*1421*, p. 449)

Fact: There is no evidence that during the early Ming, the Chinese
had any knowledge of the earth as a globe and certainly none that
they were aware of latitude and longitude.

7. Claim: The Ming voyagers surveyed South America, Antarctica, North
America and the Atlantic as well as Australasia. "The whole world was
accurately charted by 1428." (*1421* p. 411)

Fact: There is no text or other evidence which suggests that the Ming
voyagers went anywhere near these places and no Chinese maps which
indicate any surveying of these places. Further, there are no
contemporary Ming artifacts found in any of these regions.

8. Claim: A range of European maps show anomalies which can only be
explained by accepting the Chinese voyages proposed by Mr. Menzies as
having taken place

Fact: The cartographic anomalies which Mr. Menzies points to, real or
imagined, can be explained through many avenues, the most likely
being that Arab navigators, who had been traveling these waters for
600 years before the Chinese, had produced maps of areas they traveled

9. Claim: Mr. Menzies noted that the Venetian Niccolo da Conti was
the crucial and only link between Chinese and European cartographers.
Menzies claims that he participated in the voyages over several years
and carried Chinese maps back to Europe. He notes that Da Conti "had
spent years aboard a junk of the treasure fleet" and that "Chinese
maps passed from Da Conti to Fra Mauro, and from him to Dom Pedro of
Portugal and Prince Henry the Navigator." (*1421*, pp. 369, 84-87,

Fact: Da Conti, who left us detailed accounts of his travels,
recounts neither meeting any Ming envoy in Calicut, nor traveling on
any Chinese ship for even a day, nor seeing or receiving any Chinese
maps showing a new world. The utter and complete contempt for truth
with which Menzies depicts these events is disheartening.

10. Claim: Mr. Menzies claims that a number of mylodons (a type of
giant sloth) had been taken from South America to New Zealand and
China by the Ming ships.

Fact: All available evidence suggests that the Mylodon has been
extinct for several thousand years, which militates somewhat against
the likely veracity of Mr. Menzies' claims in this respect. But such
sloppy research is found throughout the volume. He notes, for
example, rubber trees in Malacca 450 years before they had been
introduced from South America by the British, etc., etc. ad nauseam.


In short, all major claims within the work are fictional.
Representing this work as history is a flagrant violation of the
Trade Descriptions Act of 1968 which makes it an offence both to
apply a false description to any goods and to supply or offer to
supply any goods which have a false trade description applied.

To be an offence the Act notes that the indication must be false to a
material degree. To represent fiction as history does indeed meet
this criterion.

The role of the Local Trading Standards authorities is to enforce the
provisions of this Act and they are able to take whatever steps they
consider necessary to prevent others from being deceived. I trust
that appropriate action will be taken in this case.

If you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact


I do not know if similar legislation to the British Trade
Descriptions Act exists within the United States, but William Morrow,
the publishers of the US edition of the book "1421: the Year China
Discovered America", and an imprint of Harper Collins, lists the
book under Non-fiction/History/World:

Harper here

With best wishes,

Geoff Wade
National University of Singapore

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For holidays or short absences send post to:
<> with message:
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Anonymous said...

Sounds like someone can't handle the fact that they're account of history is inaccurate. Grow up Greg.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the truth be refreshing--whatever that is?

Anonymous said...

dude, about the mylodons, eh. menzies says that darwin ( a reputable source) found a mylodon carcass, complete with flesh, on the beach. if darwin found one, how could they have been extinct for so long. r u calling darwin a liar or are u just wrong. i agree with the first post. grow up

Billy said...

This Geoff guy from the National Uni of Singapore certainly sounds like an angry man. There is really nothing to dispute Gavin, if any is the fact that the chinese reached america way before 1421 - as early as during the Yuan dynasty, they have been vsiting america. Read those books related to Marco Polo, Geoff. Learn to accept that not only whites could sail ships.