Re-writing the race to America

October 23, 2002
By Nicole Martin


A Chinese admiral's epic voyage around the world may be recreated to promote the theory that China discovered America 71 years before Christopher Columbus.Design experts are hoping to launch a full-size replica of one of the huge junks in which the eunuch Zheng  supposedly traveled with a crew of more than 100 during his two-year circumnavigation of the globe in 1421.It is hoped that the ship will leave China in 2004, 600 years after the admiral embarked on his first journey in a colossal fleet of multi-masted ships.The ambitious project to build one of the expeditionary ships, which were three times the size of Nelson's Victory and dwarfed the 16th-century ocean-going caravels, was revealed at a conference in China last weekend. Among the 110 delegates who attended was Gavin Menzies, a former British submarine commander, who controversially argued in The Daily Telegraph in March that the Chinese beat the Europeans to Australia and the New World.Backed by charts, ancient artifacts and anthropological research, he claims it was Zheng  who first circumnavigated the world, upstaging the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan by a century.Promoting his book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, Mr. Menzies has attracted global interest in his theory. He said the project's realization would recognize the Chinese admiral's incredible voyage. "I spoke to the professors in China and I think that there's almost unanimous agreement that the Chinese did discover America and Australia long before the European explorers did," Mr. Menzies said."There is even a sizeable body of opinion who believed they did it before 1421. "Long before my book came on the scene, there were a large number of Chinese books in which authors claimed that the Chinese did reach America before Columbus, and did circumnavigate the world before Magellan." Zheng  first fleet is said to have comprised 317 vessels and carried 28,000 men. Over three years, the Chinese built or refitted almost 1700 ships with the use of dry docks - anticipating European technology by hundreds of years.But the voyages of exploration came to nothing when a new Chinese emperor, who came to power in 1430, steered the country on a more isolationist and introspective course.