A map unveiled in Beijing and London in 2006 could
have lent weight to a theory that a Chinese admiral discovered America
before Christopher Columbus, not that Columbus was the first by any
The map, which shows North and South America,
apparently states that it is a 1763 copy of another map which was
made in 1418. If true, it could have implied that Chinese mariners
had discovered and mapped America decades before Columbus arrived
there in 1492, thinking that he had reached the Indies.
The map faced a good deal of scepticism from experts.
Chinese characters written beside the map say that it was drawn by Mo
Yi Tong and was copied from a map made in the sixteenth year of the
Emperor Yongle, or 1418. It clearly shows Africa and Australia. The
British Isles, however, are not marked.
The map was bought for about $500 (£250 or €360) from
a Shanghai dealer in 2001 by a Chinese lawyer and collector named Liu
Gang. According to the Economist magazine, Mr Liu only became
aware of the map's potential significance after he read a book by
British author Gavin Menzies.
The book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the
World, made the controversial claim that a Chinese admiral and
eunuch named Zheng He sailed around the world and discovered America
on the way. Zheng He, a Muslim mariner and explorer, is widely thought
to have sailed around South East Asia and India, but the claim that he
visited America is hotly disputed.
In 2005 the map was being dated in order to check that
it actually had been drawn up in 1763, with the age of the paper and ink
being subjected to tests, and the results were due in February 2006.
Even if it did prove to have been drawn in 1763, sceptics
would still point out the fact that we still only had the mapmaker's word
that he had copied if from a 1418 map, rather than from a more recent one.
Menzies and his team concluded that the map was genuine, but
several other historians without multiple books to publish on
the subject of Chinese maritime discoveries have pointed out
numerous faults and flaws