Gavin Menzies' Theory about Discovered America

One of the more controversial topics currently under debate in the field of Asian history is that if the Chinese discover America before Columbus. In 1405, a Chinese eunuch, Zheng He, launched the first of seven voyages west from China across the Indian Ocean. Over the next thirty years, he commanded of the world’s largest fleet at the time and was financed by the Ming emperor, he sailed to the east coast of Africa and deep into the Persian Gulf. However, some people believe he went much further. One of them is Gavin Menzies, a retired British Royal Navy submarine commander, who argues in his bestseller book “1421: The Year China Discovered America” that groups from Zheng He's fleets, between 1421 and 1423, did indeed get to America. Unfortunately for the advocates of this theory, Menzies offers no clear proof, only a huge number of circumstantial pieces of evidence presenting in a not enough persuasive way. Those pieces of evidence are also affected badly by their dubious credentials.

Menzies has no piece of incontrovertible evidence that proves his theory because the Confucian officials, who were against people from other countries had advised the later Ming emperors to destroy all records of their sea voyages. Therefore, Menzies relies a lot upon the other two types of evidence. First, he bases upon supposedly physical evidence dating back to before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, which shows contact between Asia and America, such as the vegetation and animals (Asiatic chickens, camellia rose, maize, sweet potatoes, coconuts) that are indigenous to China but appeared in America, which he insists must have been brought there by humans (the Chinese), wrecks of Chinese ships and medieval Chinese anchors found in California, and DNA evidence that links American Indians to the Chinese. He also said that “...on the coast of there held substantial quantities of Ming blue and white ceramics”. It was thought that those Ming porcelains were brought there by the Spanish, but because of other evidence like the Chinese anchors, Menzies started to doubt that those Ming ceramics came in the Spanish ships. Secondly, Menzies relies upon and keep reminding the reader of his naval expertise, which gives him insight and understanding that people who are unfamiliar with the sea or sailing may lack. He usually starts the sentences with “I” and uses the phrase “I was certain that…” quite a few times.

However, writers that aim to question many years of established and accepted history should rely less on subjective arguments and more on valid hard, physical evidence. Yet Menzies eventually fails to do that. He can not read Chinese; hence, he cites no primary sources, an existing problem even though the records were all destroyed. Even worse to his argument, Menzies often fails to provide validating data for many of his claims. Some examples of that are when he fails to provide documents proving the discovery of Chinese anchors off the coast of California, does not provide documents for the DNA evidence allegedly connecting the Native American and the Chinese, and was drawn to unidentified 'local experts'.

Menzies’ chapter nine on the first colony in America proposes that a Chinese sailing vessel sank in the Sacramento River and that the survivors built a colony seventy miles to the northwest from the wreck. Menzies quotes several studies but does not provide the names of these studies, or any footnotes that would help the readers check out his claims. Nonetheless, if those pieces of evidence he mentions are true, then a single Chinese sailing vessel might have been blown off course across the Pacific where it crashes on the North American coast. The sailors leave the wreck and seek shelter in California, eventually starting their inland colony, far from the sea. If that vessel had been a part of a bigger treasure fleet, the other ships from the fleet would have rescued it and the sailors on it. If the Chinese wanted to establish a trading colony, they would have built their colony near the shore where further trade could have been carried out more easily with China. So we have evidence of Chinese in California, but no clear evidence that a treasure fleet ever visited those shores. Though Menzies might believe that the Chinese had no intention of a trading colony at the time and just wanted to set up a colony in the new land that they found. However, that still leaves a question that needs to be answered. How can those Chinese artifacts that turned up in America got there in the first place because there was no proof of any Chinese maritime vessel got washed up at American shore?

In chapter thirteen named Settlement in North America, Menzies quotes the famous Venetian explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano, who arrived at Rhode Island in 1524. The Venetian describes the local people as: “the color of brass, some of them incline more to whiteness: others are of yellow colour, of comely visage, with long and black hair, which they are very careful to trim and deck up; they are black and quick eyed, and of sweet and pleasant countenance… The women are of the conformity and beauty; very handsome and well favoured, of pleasant countenance and comely to behold; they are as well-mannered and continent as any woman, and of good education use other kinds of dressing themselves like unto the women of Egypt and Syria; these are of the elder sort: and when they are married, they wear divers toys according to the usage of the people of the East, as well men as women.” Women with Asian features appeared in North America?. Menzies describes how some explorers of America came across fair skinned people with white tunics. Were these Chinese as Menzies suspects or were these people of other races like the Arabs or Egyptians? This kind of speculation is interesting, but it is certainly not a conclusive corroboration that the Chinese ever setting foot in that region. Menzies protests that Syrian or Egyptian sailors would never have reached the Atlantic and that their women would not have been taken on long voyages. However, what Menzies does not realize is that the notes on the side of the Piri Reis map boldly proclaims that Arab sailors visited the shores of North and South America during the time of the Ptolemy rulers.

However, after all, if Menzies’ theory has indeed happened, it matters since it rewrites history, as it shows that Zheng He went around the world and most importantly, he discovered America more than 70 years before Christopher Columbus. Moreover, due to this, many social issues in the United States might appear differently, especially those that are related to races.


  1. Menzies, Gavin. 1421: The Year China Discovered America. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. 
07 July 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now