Zhou Zhen-he

Historical research is unrelated to personal emotions

On the fake map published by "The Economist" in Britain

The following comment on the Liu/Menzies map appeared in the Xin-jing bao (The Beijing News) newspaper. It was authored by Professor Zhou Zhen-he, of the Chinese Geography Research Institute of Fu-dan University, Shang-hai.

(Draft translation by Geoff Wade 23 January 2006)

Prior to the retired British commander Menzies' claims, no-one ever suggested that Zheng He's fleets ever reached the American mainland, even though the Zheng He voyages were recognised as one of the greatest events in world navigational history. Two years ago, when Menzies' "1421: the Year China Discovered the World" was published, it created quite a controversy

Only works which makes surprising claims attract great attention, and it appears that Mr Menzies is very cognizant of this fact. However, the fragmentary and incoherent evidence which he has put forward to support his claims, especially this unreliable map, have been successively rebutted by scholars both in China and abroad.

And yet Menzies' theory still has quite some adherents because it accords with the ideas of some anti-Western elements or is considered to be a requirement for promoting patriotism. However, the majority of people, even if they do not absoluteley reject the theory, at least have a suspicious attitude toward it. It was thus that last year, during the 600th anniversary celebrations of Zheng He's first voyage, the theory of Zheng He's discovery of America had cooled off. Then, in the new year, The Economist published an ancient Chinese map which it was claimed could prove that Zheng He definitely discovered America. This map was purchased by a Chinese collector in 2001 from the collector's market in Dong-tai Road, Shang-hai. Menzies assisted in sending the map for dating. He also contacted many of the major media outlets around the world who reported on this and collectors have also reportedly expressed their great confidence in the likely "revolutionary results" which the dating will produce.

Actually, the dating will certainly not produce any "revolutionary results". We know this already. This is because the methods used in producing this fake map are so poor and low-quality, with even descriptions in recent newspapers being sufficient to show that it is a fake "ancient map." The map is named the "Overall Map of the Geography of All Under Heaven" which makes no sense as a map name. The fakers did not even have a basic knowledge of Chinese grammar. What is this when they mention "quan yu" (complete geography) and "zong tu" (overall map) in the one title? If it is "complete", it no longer needs to be described as "overall". Even anyone today with some basic knowledge would not have made such a stupid error, much less a map-maker in 1763. Further, a single map which depicted the entire world or the whole country would generally only be called a "quan tu" (complete map) and not a "zong-tu" (overall map). The term 'zong-tu" (overall map) is generally used for the first map in a map collection, and the remainder are the individual maps. If there are no individual maps, how can one have an "overall map"? Even more incomprehensible are the two characters "quan-yu" (overall geography). The term has never been used in Chinese. The classical terms for geography were "yu-di" or "kun-yu". When the Jesuit Matteo Ricci drew his world maps during the late Ming dynasty, he called them "Shan-hai yu-di quan-tu" (Complete map of the geography of mountains and seas) or "Wan-guo kun-yu quan-tu" (Complete map of the geography of the myriad lands). The world maps drawn by the Jesuits Verbeist and Benoist during the Qing dynasty used the titles "kun-yu quan-tu" (Complete maps of geography). No-one has ever used the incomprehensible title "quan yu zong-tu" (Overall map of complete geography).

Taking a step back, even if this map was really drawn during the Qian-long reign (1736-96), can we, on the basis of the sentence "Copied from a map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court, of the 16th year of the Yong-le reign (1418) of the Ming dynasty" which appears on this map, believe that the basis for this map was an original "map of the barbarians from all under Heaven who offer tribute to the Court" of the Ming dynasty? A faker, in order to seek the best price for the map, will of course try to push the genealogy of the map as far back as possible. Unfortunately, the creator of this map had neither the daring nor the ability to fake a Ming map. Therefore, he could only use such a sentence in an attempt to deceive people. Is not the aim very simple to see? The map published in newspapers was very blurred and it was difficult to distinguish the characters. However, if the characters really are "shi-gong-tu" rather than "zhi-gong-tu", that it is a fatal flaw, because that means the person who wrote this had no idea what a "zhi-gong-tu" (usually an illustrated guide to tributaries -gw) was, and mistakenly wrote "shi" instead of "zhi". If the creator of the map was able to make even such evident mistakes, what value does this map have? However, the most serious defect is that this map is but a poor copy of a European-style map from between 1630 and the middle of the 18th century. How can it be said to be copied from a Ming map? Such maps are not difficult to find, and some people have used them for calendars, postcards, illustrations and so on. In recent days, Professor Gong Ying-yan has done a very detailed comparison of this map with the world maps drawn by the Europeans and has concluded that this map is a fake. It is thus unnecessary to repeat the fact now.

Examining this map, one can see the fake elements without even looking closely. What is the point in sending it for testing? If anyone disbelieves, they can go and have a look at the television serial "In the Dyas of May". The techniques of fakery in that are much higher than those in this map.

The study of Zheng He is primarily historical study, and not aimed at any particularly need. We need to proceed from the facts as only thus will the research have any real significance. Of course, if we can come to the conclusion that Zheng He reached America before Columbus, that would be useful material for developing patriotism. However, even if we do have the historical sources to conclude this, Zheng He's voyages can still be seen as of global importance and still be seen as the most advanced maritime activity in the world at that time. What we should be studying rather is why China's major naval power in the early 15th century was not developed to the extent where China became a strong maritime power, and instread this was to be the final brilliant beacon in China's long leadership of world trends. Such research is important as it can play an important role in further promoting the development of our country and our nation. So, what significance does the current "discovery" have? Actually it does not even constitute a discovery, but rather is a backward step. Did not people some time back believe that Chinese people discovered America during the Northern and Southern dynasties (386-589 C.E.)? Was that not even more glorious than Zheng He?

Zheng he's fleets probably had the capacity to reach the Americas. However, having the capacity is different from actually reaching there. This is a very simple truth. China has been throughout its history a continental country and the main ideology has been a land-based one. There has basically been no ideological push for the development and utilization of the resources of the seas. Thus, there could be no desire to make great discoveries on the seas of the world. We can speculate on the various possible aims of the Zheng He voyages, but we can certainly exclude the possibility that he was going off to explore the world. There is another matter that needs to be clarified. The Chinese were not the first to do everything in the world. Global civilization was created jointly by the peoples of all countries of the world. At the same tim as developing patriotism, we need to respect historical facts. Otherwise, the historical research results we use in our patriotic education will not stand up to scrutiny, and the effects will be opposite to those we aimed for. It is best to wait until the facts are clear, and then on that basis carry them forward. In this way, the results will be better.
 

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