According to an amateur historian in a best-selling book, the Chinese discovered America years before Columbus arrived. Gavin Menzies, who wrote "1421: The Year China Discovered America," contends that famed Chinese naval explorer Zheng He landed on the Americas during his voyages in the 15th century, some 70 years before Christopher Columbus. When the book was released around 2002, it spawned a lot of controversy. Menzies followed it up a few years later with another book claiming that Zheng He also helped spark the Italian Renaissance and influenced Leonardo da Vinci's famous technical drawings [source: The Telegraph]
Menzies argues that there is evidence of a Chinese presence in the Americas all throughout local lore, artwork, maps and traditions. Menzies' theory, although fascinating, is not widely accepted in scholarly circles. In fact, although he has certainly drawn interest to his theory, books, television show and Web site, scholars finally banded together to offer up their own proof to refute his claims about the Chinese beating Columbus to America. Menzies claims that Emperor Zhu Di's loyal eunuchs (including Zheng He) were charged with journeying to the far reaches of the seas to seek barbarian treasures and unite the world. Menzies says that the Chinese also discovered Antarctica and made their way to Australia 350 years before Cook [source: Gavin Menzies].
In response to Menzies' claims, several academics set up a Web site refuting his theories, and saying that media coverage of the author's assertions had failed to mention the overwhelming evidence regarding that none of it is based on fact [1421 Exposed]. The site also addresses Menzies' claims about China's involvement in starting the Italian Renaissance.
One thing is certain. In spite of burned records from when the Qing Dynasty took over Chinese rule, there is evidence that Zheng He and the Chinese explored widely. In fact, as recently as 1999, "New York Times" columnist Nicholas D. Kristof reported on an encounter with villagers from a tiny African island called Pate who claimed to have descended from Chinese sailors shipwrecked on the island centuries ago, along with some evidence that their story could be true [source: Hadingham]. Still, Pate is a long way from North America.
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