When I was a small boy our school class visited Whitby on the Yorkshire coast and its Captain Cook Memorial Museum. When we got back to school our teacher instructed us to write about how James Cook discovered Australia in 1770.
Of course, the first European to land in Australia was the Dutchman Willem Janzoon as early as 1606, followed by several other Dutch captains. Much, much earlier, the first nations of Australia, the aboriginal peoples, settled the continent from their homelands on the Pacific Rim of Asia.
My youthful pride in a ‘Great Yorkshireman’ is similar to the pride of many Chinese people in the great fifteenth century seafarer Zheng He – and other imperial eunuch explorers of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The author Gavin Menzies, who I mentioned in my last posting, appears to have done what my junior school teacher did, interpret history to enhance local pride.
Reading Louise Levathes’ well written and securely researched When China Ruled the Seas: the treasure fleet of the dragon throne, 1405-1433 after reading Gavin Menzies’ ‘1421’ is a cheering experience. Her book is a true ‘3-Dimensional’ book. Its well researched in terms of the material (1-D) and textual (2-D) evidence and shows a keen sense of the transmission (and suppression) of knowledge of the voyages over the centuries (making the book truly 3-Dimensional).
Scholars have documented the many factual errors of ‘1421’ at the 1421 Exposed website and the 1421 Bunkum website. For me, the really convincing evidence is the translations by Dr Geoff Wade of the references to the Zheng He voyages found in the Ming Dynasty imperial annals. Dr Wade is a scholar based at the Australian National University in Canberra. In contrast to Mr Menzies, Dr Wade is a specialist in the history of fifteenth century South-east Asia with a knowledge of the languages of the contemporary texts which refer to the Chinese voyages of exploration.
I admit to being wrong about ‘1421’ in my earlier post. The weight of the scholarly evidence shows the book may not quite reach the level of being truly 1-dimensional.