Amateur Rewrites Geography Books. (Editorial)

Article excerpt

An amateur researcher, who readily admits he has `discovered nothing new', recently attracted a level of media attention of which most academics can only dream.

Gavin Menzies, a retired submarine commander, spent 14 years part-time researching the eunuch explorer Admiral Zheng He. To thank those who had helped in the course of his research Menzies hired the Society's lecture theatre for a small evening event, and to promote his forthcoming book he notified the press. The Daily Telegraph featured an article on his theory. Remarkably, there followed what must have been close to 100 media enquiries, numerous articles in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. Over the course of three days, Menzies featured on at least 26 radio and television programmes and had his `thank you' lecture broadcast live on Chinese TV.

Menzies' theory is simple. Weaving together information from 16th-century maps, shipwrecks, artefacts and anthropological research he claims that the Chinese were the first to circumnavigate the globe, doing so between 1421 and 1423. Simple, yet stunningly controversial in that it requires a re-writing of history.

The accepted version of Western exploration and discovery is that Columbus was the first to sail to America in 1492; Magellan's expedition was the first to circumnavigate the world in 1520; and Cook was the first to sail to Australia in 1770. …