Palm Beach History:
From the Big Bang to Martin Luther, hammer in hand, nailing 95 theses on
that door in Wittenberg, Germany. That's our class. This week we're asking
the question, "Which Chinese Dynasty had the greatest long term
impact on Chinese history?"
National History Day
Highly Effective Brains!
The Teen Brain
History End of Term Exam and Study Guide
The Chinese Beat
Here's a story with a
bit of intrigue. It's a paradigm smasher versus the traditional
version of history.
Ol' Chris Columbus has
been coming under heavy fire as of late. Everyone agrees his first
voyage was one of discovery and exploration.
It's voyages two through four that have people talking. The second
voyage consisted of 17 ships, attack dogs, cannon, a bunch of
soldiers, and a plan to conquer everything they saw. His treatment
of the people he met was bad enough to have him brought back to
Spain in chains after his third voyage!
Now we come to find that
Columbus was seventy years late
and on the wrong side of the planet when he made his epic discovery.
In the book, 1421: The
Year China Discovered America (William
Morrow), Gavin Menzies claims that a massive
Chinese fleet of huge junks and support ships made a two-year
circumnavigation of the globe, with extensive exploration of the
Americas, nearly a century before Magellan and Columbus. His
assertion has raised an international flurry of debate. This is big
news in history classes all over the world.
All is not rosy in the land of bilk and
The book garnered mixed reviews from the British media, as
well as skeptical articles from The
New York Times Magazine and
Salon.com. When those august reviewers panned the book they failed
to glean one important fact: Menzies is right.
the author was surprised!
Menzies is, as he should be, unfazed by the reviews. Indeed, even he
was surprised at the results of his research, he said in an
interview in the New York offices of his American publisher, Morrow.
When he uncovered the evidence he was taken aback. Now it's your
turn, dear student and truth seeker, to, "Trust, but verify."
"It was a complete freak," the author
said. Menzies, a former Royal Navy submarine commander, is a
soft-spoken and, quite frankly, puny presence, not at all the obsessive
eccentric he's been painted in the press. Apparently his medication
was working on this day. You see, Menzies has been portrayed by main
stream historians as a raving lunatic. He's not! He's quite sane,
thoughtful, and approaches his study of history in a very scholarly
While on an anniversary trip to China
with his wife, Menzies recalled, he became fascinated with the
history of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, coincidentally
completed in 1421. Delving further, Menzies found himself enmeshed
in a 10-year research project on the instigators of the two
monumental constructions, the Chinese emperor Zhu Di and his
nemesis, the Mongol Tamerlane.
Then, while vetting the manuscript
(which would have been titled "Two Emperors on Horseback") among
historians, Menzies learned of a Portuguese chart (a chart is
what we landlubbers refer to as a map), dating from 1424,
depicting islands in the Caribbean. A paradigm was about to be
"So here was a Portuguese claim that the
whole world had been charted 70 years before Columbus.
By whom?" Menzies said.
He matter-of-factly presents the answer.
"I looked at other charts, and found it was the Chinese. So I
abandoned my book, and started this one.
"At the time," he added, "I was really
brassed off (that's a classy English way of saying, "angry") about it."
The book, 1421, draws on Menzie's navigational
experience, as well as the findings of a team of experts he
assembled to collate and decipher an ever-growing body of
multilingual, cartographic, and biological evidence. There's some
high quality research here.
As with any epic, 1421 begins
with a history lesson. In the year of the title, the emperor Zhu Di
ordered the dispatch of a fleet of treasure ships to bring back
tribute to his kingdom. According to Menzies' findings, an armada of
800 massive junks set sail in the spring to return delegates who had
attended the Forbidden City's inauguration to their nations, and to
explore, map, and bring tribute from the uncharted reaches beyond the
Menzies focuses on a fortuitous
synchronicity: the presence of a Venetian trader named Niccolo da
Conti, who met with the Chinese in the southwest Indian trading hub
of Calicut. Of course you recall that Calicut is a city on the
Malabar Coast in southern India. That's huge! West meets East in the
middle in 1424. This is serious history. Da Conti made detailed records of his contact. By
Menzies' reckoning, it was da Conti who corroborated the thesis that
Chinese junks (You do know that "junk" is a Chinese ship--they're
pictured at the top and the very--as in way down--bottom of this
page?) rounded the Cape of Good Hope, westward bound for
Such synchronicity followed Menzies as
his research took him deeper along the Chinese trade routes. He
retraced the junks' routes around the globe and found shoreside
marker stones, carved in a host of Asian languages, all over the
discoveries convinced him he was on the right track:
provided evidence of Chinese-speaking peoples in the pre-Columbian
New World (backed, the author claims, by anthropological evidence
supported by carbon-dating and DNA analysis). So did the presence of
"I started off with all sorts of
peripheral information," he recalled. "The first Europeans who came
to the Americas found Chinese chickens, rice, Chinese porcelain and
jade, they found Chinese-speaking peoples. I put all that
information on a map, and then I decided to look at the
accounts of the first European explorers. ... Now, I put this team
together, and they have been translating into English, for the first
time, the complete accounts of these European explorers. They found
Chinese people everywhere. California, Mexico, Arkansas, Florida and
so on. And they found not only Chinese people, but Chinese junks. So
I say, that's it. Game, set and match for me." (A complete collation
of these accounts can be viewed on the book's website, www.1421.tv.)
Historians range from dismissive to
troubled regarding Menzies' determinations. "He
has not, unfortunately, discovered anything new," Chinese historian
Louise Levathes told Salon.com. "What he's done is to present it in
a jumbled manner so you have no idea what's going on and what the
time frames are."
Other experts were taking a wait-and-see
attitude. "There's a definite logic to his analysis," Phillip
Sadler, a celestial navigation expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics, told Space.com.
Menzies presented his findings in a talk
at the Royal Geographical Society in London roughly three years ago
(which an article in Salon.com cites as an affair rented by the
author himself). By coincidence, Menzies said, a Chinese TV crew was
in London and beamed the talk to China. Reaction was then picked up
by CBS and ABC, he said. (continued after the map...)
"So, by a complete freak of luck, I had
a worldwide audience for my talk. This resulted in a torrent of
information which helped me
enormously," he said. "I got literally thousands of letters asking,
did I know about this or that. For instance, a walnut farmer from
around Sacramento [California] rang me up and said, 'I've got a
Chinese junk in my backyard which predated Columbus, and my family's
known about it for 50 years.' It was subsequently investigated and
it turns out it is a junk. That's happened all over the world."
Indeed, after giving lectures in China,
he was shocked to have his findings corroborated by two Chinese
professors who had had no prior contact with him, and whose research
provided hard evidence supporting a Chinese-Brazil connection dating
from 1511 and earlier. One of the conferences sifted through the
"The conference was stumped," Menzies
said. 'The conference split into three groups, each taking a third
of my evidence and trawled through it, and after three days they
said, 'If only half of your evidence is true, it's unarguable that
China got to the Americas before the Europeans did.' "
At the least, Menzies' work will prompt
new research of his findings, whether they're corroborated or
debunked. And he's not finished yet, he said -- especially with the
response he's gotten to his book, already topping best-seller lists
in the UK and U.S.
"I've got a team that does nothing else
but analyze this incoming stream," he said.
Link to a
great review and synopsis of "1421".
Dennis Yuzenas and Colleen Dolan
teach this class at Oxbridge Academy.
This article is written
by H. G. Wells. It was originally printed in Liberty
Most History Is Bunk
of us realize how rarely it has happened that any people at any
time has had access to such a quantity of criticized historical
truth as our favored generation--I write of the English-speaking
communities--has available. Generally rulers and militant religious and
political organizations have kept a tight hold upon the supply of
historical information to the people under their sway. Propaganda seems
inseparable from history, and it is only when all sides get a hearing
that its influence can be neutralized. When they have not, then history
for popular use has been exactly what Mr. Henry Ford called it, bunk.
I am all for Mr. Ford in that oft quoted utterance. It is much to
his credit. Most history is bunk. Bunk with a purpose.
have heard a lot of the “debunking” of history in recent years, but at
the present time, over large areas of the world, history is being
converted into bunk for political ends more vigorously and
unhesitatingly than ever before. Without bunk in the place of history
few existing political movements could hope to carry on.
young Russian is made obedient and serviceable by a monstrous caricature
of the story of the world’s economic development. In Italy another
distortion of history concentrates the national imagination of an
entire generation upon the role of Rome and the Latins in human affairs.
In Germany teachers are forced to teach about a superior Aryan race
unknown to critical anthropology. “Aryans” are no more a race than
Esperantists or Golfers or Diabetics, and the whole fabric of the new
Hitlerian legend which is being imposed upon every German schoolboy is a
tissue of planned and deliberate lying resting on a fundamental
English-speaking folk can not affect much superiority to other peoples
in this matter. Neither British nor American school history has ever
been bunk-free even nowadays one could cite things — and in the past it
has been shocking bunk. Even when the broad lines of history seem to be
near the facts, it is very doubtful whether the treatment of any of the
great individual figures in history can be regarded as veracious
portraits. At best they are exaggerations. More often they are libels.
If you're reading this for credit
in World History through the Arts, here's your assignment:
After reading the article please answer the following questions using
complete sentences and standard English. Please preplan your writing.
Email your answers with the Subject line: Bunk
1. Who first said, “Most history is bunk?”
2. What does the
phrase, “Most history is bunk,” mean?
3. What evidence
does Wells use to support his thesis: Without bunk in the place of
history few existing political movements could hope to carry on.
4. When Wells says,
“Propaganda seems inseparable from history,” what does he mean? (Clue:
Bunk with a purpose?)
5. Please find an
example from today that would/could support what Wells said in 1933.
(This may require you to jump online and search some news outlets. Start
with CBS.com. Research!)
The author was HG Wells. What gives him the moral authority to offer up
his opinion on this subject?