1421 - The year China discovered the World

Gavin MenziesImage via WikipediaHistory has always been one of my passions, and I devour historical material, including historical "faction" novels. One of my favourite authors is Edward Rutherfurd, who has produced some fabulous works including Sarem, Dublin, The Forest, Russia and my favourite, London.

However, one book I think everyone should read is 1421 by Gavin Menzies, a retired British Submarine Commander. He advances a theory, supported by substantial evidence, that the Chinese were actually the first to circumnavigate the world in 1421 and it was their discoveries and maps that enable subsequent European explorations to occur. Their expedition was led by Zheng He, who commanded an enormous fleet of ships.

"...On the 8th of March, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di's loyal eunuch admirals. Their mission was 'to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas' and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. The journey would last over two years and circle the globe. "

The book challenges much "accepted knowledge" about history and some of the greatest explorers. Everyone I've recommended the book to has come back to say how entranced they were by it and shaken by the compelling case made.

My reason for posting on this matter is that Gavin has followed this book up with another entitled 1434 - The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance.

In the new book Gavin presents evidence that it was Chinese advances in science, art and technology that formed the basis of the European Renaissance and our modern world. Until now, scholars have considered that the Italian Renaissance came about as a result of a re-examination of the ideas of classical Greece and Rome. However, through a detailed analysis of recently uncovered source material, Gavin describes the visit of a sophisticated Chinese delegation to the Papal Court at Florence, Italy, in 1434 - a visit which sparked the Renaissance, forever changing the course of Western civilization and global history. After that date the authority of Aristotle and Ptolemy was overturned and artistic conventions challenged, as was Arabic astronomy and cartography.

The book will be published by HarperCollins in the U.S.A. and U.K. in June 2008 and I am eagerly awaiting getting hold of a copy.

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