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1421: The Year China Discovered The World (Anglais) Broché – 1 mars 2004

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The Voyage of Zhou Wen

In October 1421, when the fleets of hong bao and zhou Man had sailed south-west from the entrance to the Caribbean towards the coast of South America, they had left the fleet of Admiral Zhou Wen taking a course to the north-west following the northern branch of the equatorial current. I already knew that this fleet must have later reached the Azores, at the latitude of Beijing, for the islands appear on the Kangnido map, drawn before the first Europeans discovered those islands. My task was now to find where Zhou Wen had sailed between those two landfalls.

When Admiral Zhou Wen reached the Cape Verde Islands he had already sailed across a substantial part of the globe and must have known that the mysterious land of Fusang lay to the west of him. By the time of the great cartographer Chu Ssu Pen (1273-1337), the Chinese had made an accurate estimate of the distance from the Pacific to the Atlantic, but how far to the west Zhou Wen thought Fusang lay would depend on how far he considered he had already sailed. The Kangnido shows that, because of the effects of the ocean currents, the Chinese fleets had underestimated their voyage across the 'bulge' of Africa by a couple of thousand miles. As he lay at anchor at Santo Ant‹o in the Cape Verde Islands, Zhou Wen might well have assumed that Fusang lay four thousand rather than two thousand miles to the west of him, but that was still well within his range, without the need for fresh provisions or water en route.

North of the equator, the Atlantic is a vast oval-shaped wind and current system rotating clockwise day in, day out, throughout the year. British Admiralty sailing directions advise mariners on how to make use of these winds and currents: 'From Madeira the best track is to pass just west of, but in sight of, the Cape Verde Archipelago . . . from Cape Verde steer a direct course [for the Caribbean] . . . thereafter . . . the north equatorial current and south equatorial current converge, forming a broad band of current setting west. Average rates reach 2 knots.' From the Cape Verde Islands they carry the mariner due west to the Caribbean, then north-west towards Florida and north up the American seaboard before taking him clockwise to the east, where the current becomes the Gulf Stream carrying the mariner across the Atlantic to the Azores, a thousand miles west of Portugal. It then hooks southwards, back once again to the Cape Verde Islands. The commander of a ship with sufficient provisions can hoist sail off the Cape Verde Islands and sit back and do nothing. Provided he is not capsized by a storm, a common occurrence in the North Atlantic, he will eventually end up more or less where he started.

The westerly current from the Cape Verde Islands reaches its strongest flow when approaching the Caribbean at the latitude of the island of Dominica. As a result, explorer after explorer down the centuries - Columbus on his second voyage, the Spanish explorers Rodrigo de Bastida and Juan de la Cosa in the early years of the sixteenth century, the French and English fleets during the Napoleonic Wars - has entered the Caribbean through the passage between Dominica and Guadeloupe. I would put the likelihood as high as 80 per cent that if, having replenished with fruit and fresh water, the Chinese had sailed from the Cape Verde Islands in October they would have been entering the Caribbean by early November.

The track of the junks of Admiral Zhou Wen's fleet through the Caribbean should logically have been the same as that of Columbus, for the winds and tides have remained unaltered from that day to this. Whatever the Chinese discovered should have been rediscovered by Columbus seventy years later. By examining Columbus's diaries of his second voyage, I should be able to reconstruct the most likely track. If the Chinese had found any islands or land on their voyage across the North Atlantic, I could expect those discoveries to be recorded on charts drawn after they returned to China in 1423. Just as I had done for South America and Australia, I now began to search for a chart that, like the Piri Reis and Jean Rotz maps, appeared to depict lands Europeans had yet to discover.

In that era, Venice, the base of Fra Mauro, the Venetian cartographer working for the Portuguese government, led the West in mapmaking. As I expected, Venetian and Catalan charts (Catalonia was then part of the Kingdom of Aragon; the Catalans were redoubtable seafarers) drawn before 1423 disclosed nothing new in the western Atlantic, but a chart dated 1424 and signed by the Venetian cartographer Zuane Pizzigano was an entirely different matter. The Pizzigano chart was rediscovered some seventy years ago and in the early 1950s it was sold to the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota. Its authenticity and provenance have never been questioned and several books have been written about it by distinguished historians.

[The 1424 chart] is a document of capital importance to the history of geography. From the historical point of view, it is undoubtedly one of the most, if not the most, precious jewel yielded by the disclosure of the almost unknown treasures contained in the unique collection of early manuscripts assembled by Sir Thomas Phillips during the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century. The great importance of this chart lies in the fact that it is the first to represent a group of four islands in the western Atlantic, called Saya, Satanazes, Antilia and Ymana . . . there are many and good reasons for concluding that the Antilia group of four islands shown for the first time in the 1424 chart should be regarded as the earliest cartographic representation of any American lands.

This was high praise indeed. I made a close study of the chart (see Introduction). It is markedly different from its contemporaries. It is not centred on the Mediterranean, as earlier charts were, but looks westwards across the Atlantic, where two large islands, Antilia and Satanazes, hitherto unknown to Europeans, are depicted. Two smaller islands are also shown: Saya, a parabolic island to the south of Satanazes, and the box-shaped island of Ymana to the north of Antilia.

Other accounts of the era put the islands '700 large leagues' west of the Canaries, which would put them near the Bahamas, but no large islands are located there. Were the islands imaginary? Other chartmakers clearly believed they were genuine, for the group was subsequently represented on at least nineteen fifteenth-century maps and two globes, all of them drawn before Columbus set sail (see chapter 17). But as time went by, successive cartographers relocated the islands further and further to the south-west, until they ended up in the Netherlands Antilles.

The Portuguese names on the chart had made me presume that they were the original cartographers, but the names on the Piri Reis and the Jean Rotz charts were also in Portuguese and they could not possibly have been the discoverers of the Antarctic, Patagonia or Australia. Portuguese records in the Torre do Tombo, the National Archives of Portugal in Lisbon, state unequivocally that Henry the Navigator sent caravels to discover Antilia after he had received a similar but slightly later chart (the 1428 World Map discussed in chapter 4). Moreover, in 1424 the Portuguese simply did not have the capacity to survey the islands with such accuracy - for the carto-graphy of Antilia was amazingly good. I concluded that it could only have been the Chinese. However, I needed further proof that this was the case, and I found once again that the best way of tackling this puzzle was to put myself in the cartographers' shoes. When in submarines, we used to spend time in the Barents Sea photographing military installations. Part of our training was in periscope photography and the obscure art of constructing charts from near sea level. At the time I was working from about the same height as the cartographers of the Pizzigano chart, standing on the deck of a medieval ship.

As Zhou Wen's ships approached the Caribbean, they would have had warning some two days out that they would shortly sight land. Clouds, winds, weather and sea-bird types would all change, and finally, a few hours before the islands became visible, the crew would have begun to detect the soft, subtle smell of wet foliage. Because Columbus sailed through the Dominica Passage on a Sunday, he named the island to the south Dominica, the Spanish name for that day of the week; that to the north was named Marie-Galante after his flagship. He first landed at Marie-Galante but found little and pushed on northwards with the current, landing the next day at an island he named Guadeloupe in memory of his visit to a monastery of that name in Extremadura in Spain. Had they known, the monks might have raised objections to his choice of name, for the inhabitants of the island were Carib cannibals. Dr Chanca, a chronicler of Columbus's second voyage, recorded his men striding through the soft sand into the coconut groves where they found 'houses, about 30, built with logs or poles interwoven with branches and huge reeds and thatched . . . with palm . . . square and cottage like . . . For dishes [they use] calabashes [a gourd] . . . and, oh horrors!, human skulls for drinking vessels.' Only women were left in the villages; the native men had fled to the hills in terror at the sight of the sails of Columbus's fleet.

The stench of bodies horrified Columbus's men. 'Limbs of human bodies hung up in houses as if curing for provisions; the head of a youth so recently severed from the body that the blood was yet dripping from it, and parts of his body were roasting before the fire, along with savoury flesh of geese and parrots.' The natives used arrow-heads made from human bones, and in their attacks upon the neighbouring islands, these people capture as many of the women as they can, especially those who are young and beautiful, and keep them as concubines . . . they eat the children which they bear to them . . . Such of their male en...

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"A book as engrossing as any adventure story" (Daily Mail)

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Commentaires en ligne

3.8 étoiles sur 5

Meilleurs commentaires des clients

Format: Broché
This brillant book makes for a very entertaining read because it challenges pages after pages our beliefs and what our history books have been telling and more importantly have not told us. We tend to forget in our self-assured euro-centric culture that China was indeed the centre of the world until the 15th century and that most of our discoveries (continent, sciences, etc.)were in fact coming from China. The very reason someone like Manzies was able to put forward this view after a 15 year study is because he is not an academic. It takes a pluridisciplinary approach to be able to put together the pieces of such a complex jigsaw and a lack of pride in what one knows and doesn't.
The evidence and facts brought to us are very rich and compelling. It keeps the "western world" humble and we need this nowadays don't we? Anybody who wants to at a very minimum expand his/her vision of the world should read it. A must!
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Par FrKurt Messick TOP 1000 COMMENTATEURS le 28 décembre 2005
Format: Relié
I am of two minds about this book by Gavin Menzies. I find it absolutely fascinating to read some of the speculations and interpretations that he puts on different maps and findings. I find it credible to believe that Chinese fleets of the early 1400s would be trading in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, making regular journeys to places as far as Africa, and perhaps reaching the Pacific Coasts of North and South America a few times.
However, I don't know what to think of such issues as Puerto Rico not only having been discovered by Chinese Fleets, but that based on this information, the Portuguese would have colonised areas in the Caribbean a generation prior to Columbus' journey - there seems no credible reason why Prince Henry the Navigator, being given such acclaim in history as he has been, would not also be credited with discovery of the New World if in fact he and his companions had found a passage across the Atlantic and discovered islands there.
Menzies is a good writer. I enjoyed reading the text very much. His description of the history of imperial China in the generation of the 1421 fleet is very engaging. The description of the politics and culture of China of the early Ming dynasty is good. The building of the Forbidden City, the repair of the Great Wall, and the dredging and expansion of the Great Canal are all projects from this period. It is also well known in historical circles that the period from 1400 to the 1430s was a time of exploration, with Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch in the court of the emperor, in charge of seven different fleets that reached Africa, Japan, and many islands of the South Pacific.
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Format: Broché
Sans un minimum de connaissance historique, on se laisse facilement embarquer.
A l'analyse, la jonque prend l'eau de toutes parts!
L'auteur a une forme de pensée circulaire édifiante: d'un élément possible (...on a raconté qu'une jonque avait passé le cap de bonne espérance...), ce passage devient avéré au chapitre suivant....pour devenir une escadre et même une flotte se subdivisant en de multiples escadres.
Bref, les suputations deviennent des preuves pour des affirmations suivantes qui elles-même deviennent de nouvelles preuves, etc...
Dans la vie courante, ça s'appelle de la mythomanie.
Au bout de quelques aller-retours de chapitre en chapitre: en relisant ce qui précède pour être bien certain de ne pas avoir loupé une marche, on se rend compte que cette histoire n'est qu'une pyramide inversée: un truc gigantesque qui est supporté par une toute petite pointe..;et donc ça ne tient pas debout.
Bien sûr, certains faits sont réels ou interpelants...mais les conclusions de l'auteur sont souvent ridicules, pas sur le fond (...à chacun ses croyances...) mais sur la forme.
En gros: la première partie sur la Chine du 15e siècle est sympa.
La partie centrale (tout de même 60% du livre) est pour rire.
La 3e partie sur le contexte des grands explorateurs européens est intéressante.
Donc ça vaut 2/10.
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