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0084 | 1421 – Gavin Menzies

1421 - Gavin Menzies

Context: Finished this in Shanghai at the house of my mate Gavin
whose collection of novels got me back into fiction after many years away.

According to Menzies, it wasn’t the explorers of the western powers that ‘discovered’ the world, it was the Chinese and they did it in 1421 way before anyone else. Hence, the title of this book that somebody bought me for something some time ago.

Thought I’d better read it while I was in China and I did get through it but it wasn’t exactly an easy read. While I was reading it, I met two other people who said they’d given up halfway through. By the time I was halfway through, I knew why. A picture paints a thousand words:

1421 lulls me to sleep on the Shanghai Ferry out of Osaka

Within the first few chapters of the book, Menzies presents some good reasons why it was the Chinese who discovered the entire globe and mapped it. He then goes on to present some more fanciful evidence before concluding the main body of text with an explanation of how the Chinese knowledge of the globe formed the basis for the European exploration that we know so well.

The most controversial piece of the argument is a very strong argument indeed for the fact that Columbus actually discovered squat all, let alone America. He was simply following in the footsteps of others and the Chinese had even established colonies in North America by the time he blundered into the Caribbean. Can’t see any North Americans changing their school syllabuses anytime soon though!

While the book is, for the  most part, very well argued. It really does go on a bit. By the time you get to halfway, you’re thinking “Okay, okay, I believe you, I believe you.” But Menzies drags it out for the rest of the book before adding a long postscript. And as if that weren’t enough, he then nails on an appendix of “evidence” that is, at 150 pages, longer than many a good novel. Oh, and don’t forget the website which he refers to very often. Clearly, this is a man on a mission and good luck to him.

It didn’t change my world. I don’t really care who ‘discovered’ what. There were people in most of the places the Chinese went before they got there. But hats off to the Chinese though – more people in the west should be more aware of their cultural achievements. What I did get from the book is a good appreciation of just how amazing their culture was for its time. It blew British ‘culture’ (if you’ll forgive me for using the word) away completely, and a visit to the Shanghai Museum confirmed that these people were incredibly inventive. After four days in Shanghai though, I can’t help wondering where it all went.

Menzies starts out by

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

2 comments… add one
  • Geoff Wade 20 March, 2008, 7:10 am

    The book is a hoax

    Check out http://www.1421exposed.com


    geoff Wade

  • Arukiyomi 20 March, 2008, 9:44 am

    very interesting… thanks for the link.

    I had a read but I’m not sure that I’m bothered if it’s a weak theory or not and I’m not sure that Menzies is out to deliberately deceive – yet. What I did learn from this, as I said in the review, was that I should have and now do have a better appreciation of the technological achievements of China at that time whether or not they really achieved all that he states in terms of exploration. So, it was worthwhile for me to read.

    thanks for the comment


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