18.1.06



This is an image of the so-called Liu Gang map unveiled, as they say, in a Beijing cafe/bookshop on 16th January ... although they did not exhibit the real map but a copy, the original remaining in a bank vault. It was bought by Lui Gang, a lawyer and map collector, in a Shanghai dealer's store in 2001 for $US500.00 - a relatively small amount of money if it turns out to be what Lui Gang thinks it is. That is, a copy of a 1418 world map drawn as a result of Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He's voyages and showing both the Americas, Australia and even New Zealand. The copy is supposed to have been made by one Mo Yi Tong in 1763 and given to the then Emperor of China. Forensic testing of parchment and ink is being done at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, to determine the authenticity of the object, although clearly they will only be able to establish its 18th century provenance, not the accuracy of its links to 1418. It's a pity that the image above - from the Economist - is so poor, because the map is very beautiful. There was a much better picture, a close-up of the Pacific section, in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which the land is coloured a pale yellow and the sea, translucent blue, inscribed with concentric semi-circular wave forms. Unfortunately, too, Lui Gang has allied himself with Gavin Menzies, the author of 1421 : The Year the Chinese Discovered the World. I bought the hardback of Menzies' book when it came out and began reading with some enthusiasm, but gave up in exasperation about halfway through, after reading the New Zealand and Australian sections. Menzies is a monomaniac who accepts any dubious proposition whatsoever so long as he can make it support his case, as well as wildly distorting known facts to the same end. He ruins a good subject by his uncritical devotion to the cause, alleging that Zheng He not only discovered America but also circumnavigated both the poles and the rest of the globe as well. And yet ... it is probable, if not likely, that Ming Dynasty Chinese sailors did cross the Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean; that they visited at least northern Australia seems almost certain; that they reached New Zealand, a possibility ... it is a shame that we don't have a more scholarly, popular account of this remarkable period of Chinese voyaging, one that would allow a reasonable assessment of what may or may not have been accomplished. Perhaps this map, whatever it turns out to be, might lead to such a book? Hope so ...

2 comments:

MrPaul said...

Well written. Wikipedia now contains a nice image with good detail of this map:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Zhenghemap.jpg

Martin Edmond said...

Thank you, mrpaul - that is indeed a much better image.