Episode 05 – The Rise and Fall of the Chinese Navy

We continue looking at migration from the mainland to the islands off eastern China, largely due to shifting politics from the 1100s to the 1400s. With the 15th Century comes the appearance of China’s famous treasure fleet and its voyages to acquire vassal tributes lead by Admiral Zheng He. The sixth voyage has become infamous due to Gavin Menzies’ book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (published in the USA with the word “World” replaced with “America”). This theory has proven quite controversial.

I have found it difficult to find good articles reviewing Gavin Menzies’ book. Sadly the internet is full of noise. Having finally got around to reading the book myself, I find it quite compelling. Most of the attacks on his work revolve around the argument that he has very little clear-cut evidence. Much of his thesis uses speculation and guesswork. The artefacts that he does use often have not been fully examined through means like carbon dating or lab testing (though not for lack of effort on his part, as various authorities have denied access). Other artefacts, such as the raised stones, have been victims to time and vandalism. People complain that he strings various artefacts and historical elements together and builds a theory around them… but isn’t that essentially what historical investigation is?

Personally, I think there is a lot of merit to his work. While some of his evidence is not (and often cannot) he confirmed absolutely, it does seem to fit the overall picture he has created. Too many elements line up for there not to be at least some truth in his theory.

My recommendation is to read the book yourself and come to your own conclusions.

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