Objective

To determine whether the History of Discovery as we know it in the West is wrong and whether the Chinese, like the Vikings, should be credited with having visited America before Columbus. 

The Kuroshio Current, together with the California Current and the North Equatorial Current, form the North Pacific Gyre, which greatly assists vessels in sailing from Asia to America and back

Historical Basis

From the 16th to the 19th centuries many European academics (and clergy – the scientists of the day) agreed that the Chinese had somehow visited America long before Columbus, either via the Bering Strait, or by island hopping across the North-Pacific Rim, or directly across the Pacific Ocean aided by the Kuroshio Current.

However, Western positive sentiment towards China changed as a result of the 19th century Opium Wars (it is difficult to justify peddling drugs to high-culture people for commercial gain), and when Danish historian Carl Christian Rafn claimed in 1837 that, according to the Icelandic Sagas, the Vikings had visited America around year 1000, focus shifted onto the Vikings and the idea that the Chinese could have visited America before Columbus was increasingly ridiculed. Yet, eminent sinologists, such as Joseph Needham, believed the Chinese had visited America before Columbus, but were unable to get traction on the subject.

Then in 2002 Gavin Menzies published his international bestseller “1421, The Year China Discovered the World”. For what the book lacked in historical facts it made up for in readability. As a result, instead of becoming a new beginning for academic interest in whether the Chinese had indeed visit America pre-Columbus, it became a death blow, as academics around the world turned their back on Menzies and his ‘historical facts’. But what is the truth? Did the Chinese, like Christian’s Viking ancestors, visit America before Columbus? This is what he aims to find out.

But what is the truth? Did the Chinese, like Christian's Viking ancestors, visit America before Columbus? That is what he aims to find out.

Christian focuses on the period, which spans from the beginning of the Qin Dynasty in 221 B.C. to the end of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 A.D.. On purpose, the research stops before Zheng He’s seven voyages during the Ming dynasty, which Menzies and many other writers have already exhausted, and in which academics find no evidence of possible visits to America. There is no doubt that Zheng He’s voyages mark the pinnacle of China’s maritime ability, but getting to that level of sophistication will have taken centuries. Very little research has focused on China’s seafaring ability before the Ming, and even less on Chinese maritime voyages in a North-Easterly direction because Zheng He’s voyages in a South-Westerly direction have stolen the thunder. So maybe there are some historical “gold nuggets” out there waiting to be discovered, both in the history books and physically in the ground.

It was only in 1960, 123 years after the Danes had proposed that the Vikings had visited America before Columbus, that the archaeological proof validating this hypothesis was discovered in Newfoundland by Norwegian husband and wife team, explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, who specifically went looking for it. The fact that no Chinese archaeological evidence has been found in America to date does not necessarily mean it does not exist. Maybe it simply has not been found yet, because no one has looked for it in a systematic manner.

There are two well known stories in Chinese history about possible visits to America.

The first is about Xu Fu, alchemist and conman extraordinaire, who left China by sea in 210 B.C. with 3,000 boys and girls to establish a colony somewhere East of China. Xu Fu tricked the Qin Emperor into believing he was going into the Eastern Seas in order to bring back an Elixir of Immortality for the Emperor, which he would obtain from the Gods by bartering the 3,000 children.

Xu Fu of course never returned to China. Japan was already known to the Chinese at the time, so where else eastwards of China could Xu Fu safely have settled, beyond the reach of the Emperor?

Extract from Philippe Bauche's 1753 map, which places the Chinese colony Fusang (Fou-sang) north of California
Xu Fu heading into the eastern seas with 3,000 boys and girls. Where East of China could he have settled, when Japan at the time was already known to the Chinese?

The second, and best known story, is about Fusang. In 1761 French orientalist Joseph de Guignes published an academic paper  “Investigation of the Navigations of the Chinese to the Coast of America, and as to some Tribes situated at the Eastern extremity of Asia”, which caused quite a stir. 

According to the official historical records of the Liang Dynasty, as recorded in the Book of Liang (梁书), then in 499A.D., a Buddhist monk by the name of Hui Shen showed up at the Liang Dynasty Court in China, having spent 50 years teaching Buddhism in Fusang with four other monks.

Since the Liang Court had never heard of Fusang, Hui Shen’s relatively detailed descriptions of the country and its habits were recorded. Fu Sang, according to Hui Shen, was very far East of Japan.

As a result, most European academics agreed that Fusang must have been a Chinese colony in America somewhere from Vancouver down to Mexico. Louis XV’s cartographer, Philippe Buache, even published a map in 1753, placing Fou-sang des Chinois north of California.

However, as sentiments towards China changed and the story that the Viking had visited America emerged, the interest in locating Fusang, or other Chinese pre-Columbus settlements in America, fizzled out.

Methodology

For this project Christian combines “boring” desk top academic research with “exciting” real life adventuring. The purpose of combining the two is to make the project interesting for more people to follow. No one has ever dug out all the historical facts and archeological finds proving where the Chinese have been along the North Paficic Rim in pre-Columbus times and then gone to visit these places to validate their existance. By travelling by human power from China along the North Pacific Rim to America and interacting with local people along the way, Chistian may uncover additional proofs of Chinese visits, which academia is unaware of.   

Why is it important to travel the North Pacific Rim looking for a bread crumb trail of where the Chinese have visited pre-Columbus, when there are many academic books claiming that the Chinese have been in Mexico pre-Columbus, based on the similarity of ancient Mexican and Chinese relics?  The reason is that this argument is not bought by all. Some (the school of Diffusionists) argue that because the relics are similar, this proves the Chinese taught the Mexicans how to make them. Others (the school of Isolationists) disagree and claim that the Mexicans could just as easily have created those relics without the help of the Chinese and it is a mere coincidence that they look similar. Both have a point and both love to disagree, so the academic debate is stuck, because there is no new information to break the deadlock. 

Therefore, creating a bread crumb trail of there the Chinese have visited along the North Pacific Rim pre-Columbus has the potential to unlock the loggerhead position between the Diffusionists and the Isolationists. If Christian can prove that there is a bread crumb trail all the way to America, then that will provide the Diffisionists with new amunition. If not, the Isolationists will have reason to feel smug. In any case, whatever the outcome of Christian’s project, it will help the academic debate move on and the process of doing so will be one hell of an adventure.  

4 + 1 Stages

The project has been divided into several stages of doing academic research followed by validation and looking for further proof in the field: 

Stage 1: China to Japan. The academic research is completed and in May 2021 Christian, together with his trans-Atlantic rowing partner Sun Haibin, will row from China to Shingu in Japan following in the footsteps of Xu Fu. 

Stage 2: Japan to Kamchatka via the Kurils. Targeted for 2022.

Stage 3: Kamchatka to Alaska via the Aleutians. Targeted for 2023.

Stage 4: Alaska to Mexico. Targeted for 2024.

Stage 5: Provided the academic research from stages 1-4 makes it plausible that the Chinese have visited America pre-Columbus then Christian will build a replica of a possible ancient Chinese vessel on a beach in China, crew it with people from stakeholder countries, and try and sail it directly across the Pacific Ocean to America, thereby showing the Chinese could also have traveled to America in this manner, in addition to island hopping across the North Pacific Rim.   

Christian will build a replica of a possible ancient Chinese vessel on a beach in China, crew it with people from stakeholder countries, and try and sail it directly across the Pacific Ocean to America to further validate the hypothesis.

Summary

So, if all goes to plan, this project will result in the re-writing of the History of Exploration as we know it in the West and start to shift focus from a White Man centric world view to a more nuanced view of the History of Discovery. The ultimate success will be if in 10 years’ time the sign at the British Museum recognising that the Viking visited America before Columbus will have been updated to include the Chinese (and/or maybe other Asians countries).

You can follow the ups and downs of this adventure via Facebook.

Display Case 21, The Americas exhibition, British Museum

The objective of this adventure is quite modest. It is merely to re-write the History of Discovery as we know it in the West.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries many European academics (and clergy – the scientists of the day) agreed that the Chinese had somehow visited America long before Columbus, either via the Bering Strait, or by island hopping across the North-Pacific Rim, or directly across the Pacific Ocean aided by the Kuroshio Current.

The Kuroshio Current, together with the California Current and the North Equatorial Current, form the North Pacific Gyre, which greatly assists vessels in sailing from Asia to America and back

However, Western positive sentiment towards China changed as a result of the 19th century Opium Wars (it is difficult to justify peddling drugs to high-culture people for commercial gain), and when Danish historian Carl Christian Rafn claimed in 1837 that, according to the Icelandic Sagas, the Vikings had visited America around year 1000, focus shifted onto the Vikings and the idea that the Chinese could have visited America before Columbus was increasingly ridiculed. Yet, eminent sinologists, such as Joseph Needham, believed the Chinese had visited America before Columbus, but were unable to get traction on the subject.

Then in 2002 Gavin Menzies published his international bestseller “1421, The Year China Discovered the World”. For what the book lacked in historical facts it made up for in readability. As a result, instead of becoming a new beginning for academic interest in whether the Chinese had indeed visit America pre-Columbus, it became a death blow, as academics around the world turned their back on Menzies and his ‘historical facts’.

But what is the truth? Did the Chinese, like Christian's Viking ancestors, visit America before Columbus? That is what he aims to find out.

There are two well known stories in Chinese history about possible visits to America.

The first is about Xu Fu, alchemist and conman extraordinaire, who left China by sea in 210 B.C. with 3,000 boys and girls to establish a colony somewhere East of China. Xu Fu tricked the Qin Emperor into believing he was going into the Eastern Seas in order to bring back an Elixir of Immortality for the Emperor, which he would obtain from the Gods by bartering the 3,000 children.

Xu Fu heading into the eastern seas with 3,000 boys and girls. Where East of China could he have settled, when Japan at the time was already known to the Chinese?

Xu Fu of course never returned to China. Japan was already known to the Chinese at the time, so where else eastwards of China could Xu Fu safely have settled, beyond the reach of the Emperor?

The second, and best known story, is about Fusang. In 1761 French orientalist Joseph de Guignes published an academic paper  “Investigation of the Navigations of the Chinese to the Coast of America, and as to some Tribes situated at the Eastern extremity of Asia”, which caused quite a stir.

According to the official historical records of the Liang Dynasty, as recorded in the Book of Liang (梁书), then in 499A.D., a Buddhist monk by the name of Hui Shen showed up at the Liang Dynasty Court in China, having spent 50 years teaching Buddhism in Fusang with four other monks.

Extract from Philippe Bauche's 1753 map, which places the Chinese colony Fusang (Fou-sang) north of California
Extract from Philippe Bauche's 1753 map, which places the Chinese colony Fusang (Fou-sang) north of California

Since the Liang Court had never heard of Fusang, Hui Shen’s relatively detailed descriptions of the country and its habits were recorded. Fu Sang, according to Hui Shen, was very far East of Japan.

As a result, most European academics agreed that Fusang must have been a Chinese colony in America somewhere from Vancouver down to Mexico. Louis XV’s cartographer, Philippe Buache, even published a map in 1753, placing Fou-sang des Chinois north of California.

However, as sentiments towards China changed and the story that the Viking had visited America emerged, the interest in locating Fusang, or other Chinese pre-Columbus settlements in America, fizzled out.

Phase 1 of this project is to go over existing historical sources with a fine tooth comb in order to establish whether it is plausible that the Chinese visited America pre-Columbus. If it is, then Phase 2 of the project will be to research what type of vessel could have been used, which route is the most likely, and what era is the most likely. Phase 3 of is then to build a replica of the chosen ancient Chinese vessel on a beach in China, crew it with volunteers from stakeholder countries and, Phase 4, attempt to sail it from China to America to “prove” the hypothesis.

If/when the project gets to the vessel building and sailing stages then, as usual, the adventure will be used to fundraise for Christian’s alma mater United World Colleges. Moreover, it will be possible to follow life onboard the vessel via satellite link-up as the crew make their way cross the Pacific and a maritime focused educational program will be offered with teaching from the vessel, focusing on subjects such as marine life, ocean pollution (the North Pacific Gyre is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), and pre-GPS navigation.

Christian will build a replica of the chosen ancient Chinese vessel on a beach in China, crew it with volunteers from stakeholder countries and attempt to sail it from China to America to “prove” the hypothesis.

The historical research spans from the beginning of the Qin Dynasty in 211 B.C. to the end of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 A.D.. On purpose, the research stops before Zheng He’s seven voyages during the Ming dynasty, which Menzies and many other writers have already exhausted, and in which academics find no evidence of possible visits to America. There is no doubt that Zheng He’s voyages mark the pinnacle of China’s maritime ability, but getting to that level of sophistication will have taken centuries. Very little research has focused on China’s seafaring ability before the Ming, and even less on Chinese maritime voyages in a North-Easterly direction because Zheng He’s voyages in a South-Westerly direction have stolen the thunder. So maybe there are some historical “gold nuggets” out there waiting to be discovered, both in the history books and physically in the ground.

It was only in 1960, 123 years after the Danes had proposed that the Vikings had visited America before Columbus, that the archaeological proof validating this hypothesis was discovered in Newfoundland by Norwegian husband and wife team, explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, who specifically went looking for it. The fact that no Chinese archaeological evidence has been found in America to date does not necessarily mean it does not exist. Maybe it simply has not been found yet, because no one has looked for it in a systematic manner.

Display Case 21, The Americas exhibition, British Museum
Display Case 21, The Americas exhibition, British Museum
So, if all goes to plan, this project will result in the re-writing of the History of Exploration as we know it in the West and start to shift focus from a White Man centric world view to a more nuanced view of the History of Discovery. The ultimate success will be if in 10 years’ time the sign at the British Museum recognising that the Viking visited America before Columbus will have been updated to include the Chinese (and/or maybe other Asians countries).

In summary, this adventure has four phases:

  1. Academic research: Based on historical records, is it plausible that the Chinese, like the Vikings, visited America pre-Columbus? If yes, the adventure continues, if no, it stops. In any case, Christian will write a book about my findings (scheduled for end 2020).
  2. Provided it’s a go, then research what era and what type of vessel would have been most likely (2021).
  3. Build the vessel on a beach in China, using ancient tools and techniques, like when Scandinavian Viking museums build replicas of ancient Viking ships (2022-3).
  4. Sail the vessel to America and back to China to “prove” that such voyages could have taken place in ancient times (2023-4).
You can follow the ups and downs of this adventure via Facebook.

The objective of this adventure is quite modest. It is merely to re-write the History of Discovery as we know it in the West.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries many European academics (and clergy – the scientists of the day) agreed that the Chinese had somehow visited America long before Columbus, either via the Bering Strait, or by island hopping across the North-Pacific Rim, or directly across the Pacific Ocean aided by the Kuroshio Current.

The Kuroshio Current, together with the California Current and the North Equatorial Current, form the North Pacific Gyre, which greatly assists vessels in sailing from Asia to America and back

However, Western positive sentiment towards China changed as a result of the 19th century Opium Wars (it is difficult to justify peddling drugs to high-culture people for commercial gain), and when Danish historian Carl Christian Rafn claimed in 1837 that, according to the Icelandic Sagas, the Vikings had visited America around year 1000, focus shifted onto the Vikings and the idea that the Chinese could have visited America before Columbus was increasingly ridiculed. Yet, eminent sinologists, such as Joseph Needham, believed the Chinese had visited America before Columbus, but were unable to get traction on the subject.

Then in 2002 Gavin Menzies published his international bestseller “1421, The Year China Discovered the World”. For what the book lacked in historical facts it made up for in readability. As a result, instead of becoming a new beginning for academic interest in whether the Chinese had indeed visit America pre-Columbus, it became a death blow, as academics around the world turned their back on Menzies and his ‘historical facts’.

But what is the truth? Did the Chinese, like Christian's Viking ancestors, visit America before Columbus? That is what he aims to find out.

There are two well known stories in Chinese history about possible visits to America.

The first is about Xu Fu, alchemist and conman extraordinaire, who left China by sea in 210 B.C. with 3,000 boys and girls to establish a colony somewhere East of China. Xu Fu tricked the Qin Emperor into believing he was going into the Eastern Seas in order to bring back an Elixir of Immortality for the Emperor, which he would obtain from the Gods by bartering the 3,000 children.

Xu Fu heading into the eastern seas with 3,000 boys and girls. Where East of China could he have settled, when Japan at the time was already known to the Chinese?

Xu Fu of course never returned to China. Japan was already known to the Chinese at the time, so where else eastwards of China could Xu Fu safely have settled, beyond the reach of the Emperor?

The second, and best known story, is about Fusang. In 1761 French orientalist Joseph de Guignes published an academic paper  “Investigation of the Navigations of the Chinese to the Coast of America, and as to some Tribes situated at the Eastern extremity of Asia”, which caused quite a stir.

According to the official historical records of the Liang Dynasty, as recorded in the Book of Liang (梁书), then in 499A.D., a Buddhist monk by the name of Hui Shen showed up at the Liang Dynasty Court in China, having spent 50 years teaching Buddhism in Fusang with four other monks.

Extract from Philippe Bauche's 1753 map, which places the Chinese colony Fusang (Fou-sang) north of California
Extract from Philippe Bauche's 1753 map, which places the Chinese colony Fusang (Fou-sang) north of California

Since the Liang Court had never heard of Fusang, Hui Shen’s relatively detailed descriptions of the country and its habits were recorded. Fu Sang, according to Hui Shen, was very far East of Japan.

As a result, most European academics agreed that Fusang must have been a Chinese colony in America somewhere from Vancouver down to Mexico. Louis XV’s cartographer, Philippe Buache, even published a map in 1753, placing Fou-sang des Chinois north of California.

However, as sentiments towards China changed and the story that the Viking had visited America emerged, the interest in locating Fusang, or other Chinese pre-Columbus settlements in America, fizzled out.

Phase 1 of this project is to go over existing historical sources with a fine tooth comb in order to establish whether it is plausible that the Chinese visited America pre-Columbus. If it is, then Phase 2 of the project will be to research what type of vessel could have been used, which route is the most likely, and what era is the most likely. Phase 3 of is then to build a replica of the chosen ancient Chinese vessel on a beach in China, crew it with volunteers from stakeholder countries and, Phase 4, attempt to sail it from China to America to “prove” the hypothesis.

If/when the project gets to the vessel building and sailing stages then, as usual, the adventure will be used to fundraise for Christian’s alma mater United World Colleges. Moreover, it will be possible to follow life onboard the vessel via satellite link-up as the crew make their way cross the Pacific and a maritime focused educational program will be offered with teaching from the vessel, focusing on subjects such as marine life, ocean pollution (the North Pacific Gyre is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), and pre-GPS navigation.

Christian will build a replica of the chosen ancient Chinese vessel on a beach in China, crew it with volunteers from stakeholder countries and attempt to sail it from China to America to “prove” the hypothesis.

The historical research spans from the beginning of the Qin Dynasty in 211 B.C. to the end of the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 A.D.. On purpose, the research stops before Zheng He’s seven voyages during the Ming dynasty, which Menzies and many other writers have already exhausted, and in which academics find no evidence of possible visits to America. There is no doubt that Zheng He’s voyages mark the pinnacle of China’s maritime ability, but getting to that level of sophistication will have taken centuries. Very little research has focused on China’s seafaring ability before the Ming, and even less on Chinese maritime voyages in a North-Easterly direction because Zheng He’s voyages in a South-Westerly direction have stolen the thunder. So maybe there are some historical “gold nuggets” out there waiting to be discovered, both in the history books and physically in the ground.

It was only in 1960, 123 years after the Danes had proposed that the Vikings had visited America before Columbus, that the archaeological proof validating this hypothesis was discovered in Newfoundland by Norwegian husband and wife team, explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, who specifically went looking for it. The fact that no Chinese archaeological evidence has been found in America to date does not necessarily mean it does not exist. Maybe it simply has not been found yet, because no one has looked for it in a systematic manner.

Display Case 21, The Americas exhibition, British Museum
Display Case 21, The Americas exhibition, British Museum
So, if all goes to plan, this project will result in the re-writing of the History of Exploration as we know it in the West and start to shift focus from a White Man centric world view to a more nuanced view of the History of Discovery. The ultimate success will be if in 10 years’ time the sign at the British Museum recognising that the Viking visited America before Columbus will have been updated to include the Chinese (and/or maybe other Asians countries).

In summary, this adventure has four phases:

  1. Academic research: Based on historical records, is it plausible that the Chinese, like the Vikings, visited America pre-Columbus? If yes, the adventure continues, if no, it stops. In any case, Christian will write a book about my findings (scheduled for end 2020).
  2. Provided it’s a go, then research what era and what type of vessel would have been most likely (2021).
  3. Build the vessel on a beach in China, using ancient tools and techniques, like when Scandinavian Viking museums build replicas of ancient Viking ships (2022-3).
  4. Sail the vessel to America and back to China to “prove” that such voyages could have taken place in ancient times (2023-4).
You can follow the ups and downs of this adventure via Facebook.