1421: The Year China Discovered America? (TV Movie 2004) Poster

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Re-examining the founding of America
dy15811 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
It has always been accepted in history that it was Christopher Columbus whom discovered America, or the New World as it was called back in the day in 1491. But back in 2002 at the Royal Geographical Society in the United Kingdom, there would be an event which would shatter the conventional wisdom. Author and retired naval officer Gavin Menzies had released a book '1421: The Year China Discovered The World', which would threaten to turn the history of the United States upside down.

Gavin Menzies's claim? It was the Chinese naval explorer Zheng He who had reached the New World 70 years before Columbus did, in 1421. While the claims from the Briton has been disputed by academics and historians since, he has always been intrigued at whom drew the map of the New World 70 years before the arrival of Columbus. This documentary will follow in the footsteps of what made Menzies claimed what he had said in his book of what he felt led to him believing Zheng He had actually reached the New World ahead of Columbus.

According to Gavin Menzies, putting into context of the events of the 15th century when much of Europe was in turmoil, that according to Menzies left only the Chinese able to explore the world. It was already in the midst of the Ming Dynasty (1358-1644) when the third Ming emperor's favourite eunuch Zheng He was dispatched in the early 1400s as expressed by the third Ming emperor's wish to expand Chinese influence around the world. The Ming Dynasty at its height was when trade and diplomatic contacts were established throughout the known world, via the ambassadors who came to the palace.

While Gavin Menzies's claim that Zheng He's fleet had travelled as far as the New World has been disputed, there was someone who had travelled with Zheng He and chronicled the places the latter had went on his travels which the records have survived in the official chronicler Ma Huan. Before Menzies established the claim of Zheng He reaching the New World, Zheng He had been to Southeast Asia where among the places explored by the fleet led by Zheng He in the documentary being Malacca in Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka (or known as Ceylon then), the Persian Gulf, Arabia and parts of Africa. What supported Menzies's claim was the maps available in the day apparently describing the fleet in the New World and apparent writings of the presence of Chinese, though even that has been disputed in the documentary as well.

Whatever one's belief of how the New World came to be discovered is which time and again academics and historians had challenged Gavin Menzies's claims throughout the course in the documentary, China's emergence in the world in recent years (as when the documentary was first aired in 2004) in terms of its influence had led to the Briton with the hope that this would start a conversation amongst the Chinese rediscovering their own country's imperial history and the role it played in establishing peaceful relations around the world. It may be easy to dismiss a claim from someone like Menzies given of the reputation he has carried since the publication of his book, but it is a reminder that history is not always what was being taught in the textbook.
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