History 1421: The Year China Discovered America

My comprehension of how Americas was "discovered" is a journey unto itself.

No wait, that sounded cheesy. Stick with me. This story has relevance to the review. No, really.

I first attended a seminar on Christopher Columbus back in my undergraduate days. I learned a lot about just how ridiculous Columbus was, including his insanity, his lack of any true navigating skills, and the fact that he took several useless bushes back to Europe as "rare herbs." By far the biggest joke was that Columbus thought he had discovered China, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Columbus was hardly the paragon of virtue that many Italians hoped to cast him as. And I should know, I'm Italian.

This sort of ethnocentrism can be insidious. There are lots of theories about extraterrestrials colonizing the earth, most of them centered on the anomalies and archaeological oddities that have been discovered throughout the centuries. The thinking goes something like this: any major achievement, like the pyramids, cannot possibly be the work of any non-white race. Therefore…ALIENS MUST HAVE BUILT IT.

The "alien colonization" theory is a new twist on the old belief of Theosophy, the Blavatsky-spawned theory that Atlanteans built everything. In case you're wondering, Blavatsky helped create theosophy, a philosophy the Nazis used as their ideology for exterminating Jews.

So what the heck does all this have to do with Menzies' 1421?

In 1421, the Emperor Zhu Di was the most powerful ruler in the world. With the near-infinite resources of China at his disposal, he performed bureaucratic acts of pharaoh-like proportions: he relocated the capital, diverted a river to serve said capital, and built a massive fleet of gigantic treasure ships for the sole purpose of bringing the world under China's tribute system.

Unfortunately, while the admirals and generals were sailing to all corners of the world, things at home took a turn for the worse. A storm set the new palace on fire, killing the Emperor's favored concubine. The horrible human cost of the Emperor's extravagance eventually empowered the Mandarins to rebel against him. Zhu Di's pioneering treasure fleet became a symbol of his decadence. When the ships returned, they were disgraced and all record of their travels destroyed. China withdrew from the world to take care of its own.

Menzies' theory is that the fleets were much more successful than ever imagined. He sets out in intricate detail how each of the treasure fleets colonized every continent, using evidence ranging from porcelain that only comes from China to DNA evidence of Chinese descendants, from oral history of aborigines referencing "people in white," to structural anomalies built by a mysterious, ancient race on every continent.

In other words, Menzies' references the same evidence supporting the alien and Atlantean theories, down to the Bimini road. Unfortunately, this also means that Menzies' evidence is extremely one-sided. It's difficult to distinguish between what is given as concrete evidence (Chinese chickens on every continent) and what is not quite as concrete (the realignment of every forgotten map so that it fits Menzies' theories).

Ironically, Menzies' hypothesis actually strengthens Columbus' insistence that he had found Asia. Columbus was convinced he had found China because he carried maps that told said it was there. Menzies' detractors do their own arguments a great disservice; suddenly, Columbus doesn't seem quite so insane after all.

Do I believe him? Menzies' research is compelling: he quotes several sources that clearly indicate the Portuguese and later Columbus had evidence of unexplored continents before they stepped foot on them. But the connections are so varied and presented with such authenticity that it's extremely difficult to determine the veracity of all of his findings without being a scholar.

Still, given the choice of theorizing just what caused the similarities across continents in culture and mythology, I'll choose the Chinese over aliens and Atlanteans any day.