In 2001, Shanghai-based lawyer Liu Gang acquired a map from a local map/book dealer that happened to stimulate a curiosity in him that could go on to change the way we look at world history. Liu Gang’s successive research on the origin of the map led him to the conclusion that the map, which can be dated to 1418, can help negate the theory of European dominance in the discovery of modern world.
Illustrated on a piece of bamboo paper, the map is entitled “general chart of the integrated world”. The map maker has further explained it to be a world chart of the “barbarians paying tribute to the Ming dynasty.” The map contains the blue wavy lines which formed an essential aspect of Chinese map making. The impressive details on the map, especially the contours of the continents and the outlines of the two hemispheres, is exactly the way Europeans represented the globe.
Historian Gavin Menzies,who authored the book “1421: the year China discovered the world”, used the map as evidence for his research on who discovered America. He is of the opinion that the locations laid out on the map had been visited by the Chinese explorer and admiral, Zheng He in the fifteenth century.
When the third emperor of the Ming dynasty in China came to acquire imperial power in 1403 he initiated a range of expeditions that would assist in expanding the power of China beyond its borders through trade and friendly alliances. He, therefore, put in charge a Muslim eunuch, Zheng He, who had helped him in usurping power to undertake a number of voyages that would help increase the number of tributary alliances of China.
While the fact that Zheng He had led seven voyages covering most parts of South and South East Asia, Middle East and Africa is undisputed, some say that the the Chinese mariner went even further and laid foot on America. If proven true, then Zheng He would have discovered America close to 70 years before Columbus. If the authenticity of the map is confirmed, then other aspects of world history, such as Ferdinand Magellan being the first person to circumvent the earth in the 16th century, and the European settlement of Australia and South America, would have to be questioned.
Historical sources have most often remained silent about the explorations of Zheng He as against the abundance of written material on European explorers. However, in China, Zheng He is given God like status and several temples are dedicated to him in Malaysia and Indonesia as well. When he undertook the first expedition of the Ming emperor in 1405, his fleet consisted of an astonishing number of 312 ships that can well be compared to the strength of Columbus’fleet in his first voyage several decades later. Apparently, he died in Kerala while on a trading expedition to Calicut and Chinese scholars are currently on the lookout for relics related to his visit and his burial place in the state.
Commenting upon the genuineness of the map, Professor Timothy Brook of the University of British Columbia told “The Economist”, that “this map is a complete nonsense. What you see here is a copy of a European map from the early 17th century. But it is still interesting, because of the stories attached to it and the recent hype surrounding Zheng He. The West had a Columbus and the Chinese needed one.”