There are at least three possible routes from China to America in ancient times. Each has its own merit.

Note, the references made to countries below are for ease of understanding only. Of course, between 209 B.C. to 1368 A.D., which is the period this project focuses on, those parts of world were called completely different names. Moreover, apart from the people living there, probably no one even knew those parts of the world existed.

In fact, the North Pacific Rim is one of the last areas of the world to be mapped by Westerners. It was only after Dane Vitus Bering crossed the Strait in 1728 that it started showing up on maps as proven to exist, though older European maps do refer to the Strait of Anian in that general location, based on hear say from Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th Century.

There are at least three possible routes to America

Route 1: Overland via the Bering Strait

The first route is an overland route from China, through Mongolia and Siberia, across the Bering Strait to Alaska and then down through Canada and the USA to Mexico. This route entails only one 82km passage by sea in order to get across the Bering Strait. This includes 2 possible stops on two islands in the middle of the Bering Strait which are less than 4km apart, Big Diomede, belonging to Russia and Little Diomede, belonging to Alaska. So the trip across the Bering Strait can be cut in three, reducing the longest passage at sea to 36km.

That is crazy to think about. To get from Beijing to Mexico City on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the widest stretch of water you need to cross is only 36km, or to put it another way, only 3km wider than the English Channel!

But would the ancient Chinese have chosen to travel over land through Mongolia and Russia to get to the Bering Strait? It is doubtful. The Chinese have throughout history been afraid of the Barbarians from the North. That is why the first emperor of China, the Qin Shi Huang, ruler of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.), made sure the Great Wall was built so that the Barbarians from the North could be kept at bay. That worked well until the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 A.D.) when China was conquered by the Mongols from the North and came under foreign rule. The Chinese kicked out the Mongols in 1369 A.D. and founded the Ming Dynasty, but in 1644 another group of Barbarians from the North, the Manchus, invaded China and founded China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty that lasted until 1911, when China became a republic.

It is therefore likely that if the Chinese went North, they would have given the overland route a wide berth and preferred sailing via Korea and Japan where relations were friendlier.

The Kurils and Aleutians form a pearl string of islands all the way to America

Route 2: Coastal Sailing & Island Hopping

The second route comprises coastal sailing and island hopping from China down the coast of the Korean peninsula, across to Japan, up the islands of Japan, through the Kuril islands, up the coast of Kamchatka peninsula, across the Aleutian Islands to Alaska and then down the coast of Canada to USA and Mexico. A variation of this route would be to continue sailing North up to the Bering Strait and crossing there instead of island hopping across the Aleutians.

The Korean Peninsula is landlocked with China. The shortest distance from Korea across to Japan is 180km, but by island hopping this total distance can be broken into segments, making the longest passage by sea 50km. The longest distance between two islands up the coast of Japan, through the Kuril Islands to the bottom of the Kamchatka Peninsula is 70km. The longest distance between two islands in the Aleutians, Ostrov Mednyy and Attu Island, is 340km. Perhaps not surprisingly, this gap is also where the border is between Russia and Alaska, not to mention the Date Line.

So to get from Beijing to Mexico City by Coastal sailing & island hopping the longest sea passage is 70km, when crossing the Bering Strait, and 340km when island hopping through via the Aleutians. For comparison, the distance across the North Sea from Dunkirk to Ramsgate is about 70km and the distance from Amsterdam to London is about 370km.

Route 3: Coastal Sailing and Trans-Pacific Voyage

The third possible route is to sail down the Korean Peninsula across to Japan and then catch the Kuroshio Current off the East Coast of Japan across the Pacific Ocean to somewhere on the North American Pacific West Coast, where the California Current can be used to travel South to Mexico. The return journey would leave from around Acapulco and use the North Equatorial Current to return to China.

In fact, when the Spaniards operated their Trans-Pacific Manila galleons between Manila and Acapulco from 1565 to 1815 in order to trade with China, they relied on these three currents for their round trips.

The Aleutians consist of more than 200 islands
The Kuroshio Current flows south of the Aleutians

The distance between Japan and California via the Kuroshio Current is about 8,000km of open ocean with no islands along the way. It therefore seems unlikely that the pre-Columbus Chinese would have chosen this route to get to America. Firstly, you have to be able to stay alive for months at sea. Secondly, if you do island hopping of up to a few hundred kilometres you are likely to meet some people who have been to the next island and can tell you what is there. But if you are setting out on an 8,000km ocean voyage who, at that time, would be able tell you anything about what was on the other side?

Therefore, if the Chinese did sail to America using this route, then at least the first voyages are more likely to have been more by accident than by design. Ancient vessels had limited capability to sail into the wind, so if a vessel got caught in the Kuroshio current by accident, then it may have had no other choice but to go with the flow to America as returning to Japan against the current would have been impossible.

It is interesting to note that there are shrines to Xu Fu on islands off the East Coast on Japan in the middle of the Kuroshio current, so perhaps Xu Fu and his 3,000 youth sailed for Japan and accidentally ended up in America.

Comparison with the Vikings' voyages to America

The Vikings had to travel less total distance to get to America, but the distances between islands were much greater than what the Chinese faced

The Vikings who visited America in year 1000 A.D. came from Norway (then arguably part of Denmark). If they had island-hopped as much as possible from Norway to America and taken the shortest distances between these islands, then the Vikings would have had to cover the following minimum distances at sea: Norway to Shetland Islands = 310km; Shetland Islands to Faroe Islands = 290km; Faroe Islands to Iceland = 420km; Iceland to Greenland = 280km; and Greenland to Newfoundland = 820km.

From a navigation perspective the Chinese had to cover much less open water than the Vikings (either 70km or 340km depending on which sea route vs. Viking’s 820km) in order to get to America, in relatively similar climate conditions.

There are at least three possible routes from China to America in ancient times. Each has its own merit.

There are at least three possible routes to America

Note, the references made to countries below are for ease of understanding only. Of course, between 209 B.C. to 1368 A.D., which is the period this project focuses on, those parts of world were called completely different names. Moreover, apart from the people living there, probably no one even knew those parts of the world existed.

In fact, the North Pacific Rim is one of the last areas of the world to be mapped by Westerners. It was only after Dane Vitus Bering crossed the Strait in 1728 that it started showing up on maps as proven to exist, though older European maps do refer to the Strait of Anian in that general location, based on hear say from Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th Century.

Route 1: Overland via the Bering Strait

The first route is an overland route from China, through Mongolia and Siberia, across the Bering Strait to Alaska and then down through Canada and the USA to Mexico. This route entails only one 82km passage by sea in order to get across the Bering Strait. This includes 2 possible stops on two islands in the middle of the Bering Strait which are less than 4km apart, Big Diomede, belonging to Russia and Little Diomede, belonging to Alaska. So the trip across the Bering Strait can be cut in three, reducing the longest passage at sea to 36km.

That is crazy to think about. To get from Beijing to Mexico City on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the widest stretch of water you need to cross is only 36km, or to put it another way, only 3km wider than the English Channel!

But would the ancient Chinese have chosen to travel over land through Mongolia and Russia to get to the Bering Strait? It is doubtful. The Chinese have throughout history been afraid of the Barbarians from the North. That is why the first emperor of China, the Qin Shi Huang, ruler of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.), made sure the Great Wall was built so that the Barbarians from the North could be kept at bay. That worked well until the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 A.D.) when China was conquered by the Mongols from the North and came under foreign rule. The Chinese kicked out the Mongols in 1369 A.D. and founded the Ming Dynasty, but in 1644 another group of Barbarians from the North, the Manchus, invaded China and founded China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty that lasted until 1911, when China became a republic.

It is therefore likely that if the Chinese went North, they would have given the overland route a wide berth and preferred sailing via Korea and Japan where relations were friendlier.

Route 2: Coastal Sailing & Island Hopping

The second route comprises coastal sailing and island hopping from China down the coast of the Korean peninsula, across to Japan, up the islands of Japan, through the Kuril islands, up the coast of Kamchatka peninsula, across the Aleutian Islands to Alaska and then down the coast of Canada to USA and Mexico. A variation of this route would be to continue sailing North up to the Bering Strait and crossing there instead of island hopping across the Aleutians.

The Kurils and Aleutians form a pearl string of islands all the way to America

The Korean Peninsula is landlocked with China. The shortest distance from Korea across to Japan is 180km, but by island hopping this total distance can be broken into segments, making the longest passage by sea 50km. The longest distance between two islands up the coast of Japan, through the Kuril Islands to the bottom of the Kamchatka Peninsula is 70km. The longest distance between two islands in the Aleutians, Ostrov Mednyy and Attu Island, is 340km. Perhaps not surprisingly, this gap is also where the border is between Russia and Alaska, not to mention the Date Line.

So to get from Beijing to Mexico City by Coastal sailing & island hopping the longest sea passage is 70km, when crossing the Bering Strait, and 340km when island hopping through via the Aleutians. For comparison, the distance across the North Sea from Dunkirk to Ramsgate is about 70km and the distance from Amsterdam to London is about 370km.

Route 3: Coastal Sailing and Trans-Pacific Voyage

The third possible route is to sail down the Korean Peninsula across to Japan and then catch the Kuroshio Current off the East Coast of Japan across the Pacific Ocean to somewhere on the North American Pacific West Coast, where the California Current can be used to travel South to Mexico. The return journey would leave from around Acapulco and use the North Equatorial Current to return to China.

The Aleutians consist of more than 200 islands

In fact, when the Spaniards operated their Trans-Pacific Manila galleons between Manila and Acapulco from 1565 to 1815 in order to trade with China, they relied on these three currents for their round trips.

The distance between Japan and California via the Kuroshio Current is about 8,000km of open ocean with no islands along the way. It therefore seems unlikely that the pre-Columbus Chinese would have chosen this route to get to America. Firstly, you have to be able to stay alive for months at sea. Secondly, if you do island hopping of up to a few hundred kilometres you are likely to meet some people who have been to the next island and can tell you what is there. But if you are setting out on an 8,000km ocean voyage who, at that time, would be able tell you anything about what was on the other side?

The Kuroshio Current flows south of the Aleutians

Therefore, if the Chinese did sail to America using this route, then at least the first voyages are more likely to have been more by accident than by design. Ancient vessels had limited capability to sail into the wind, so if a vessel got caught in the Kuroshio current by accident, then it may have had no other choice but to go with the flow to America as returning to Japan against the current would have been impossible.

It is interesting to note that there are shrines to Xu Fu on islands off the East Coast on Japan in the middle of the Kuroshio current, so perhaps Xu Fu and his 3,000 youth sailed for Japan and accidentally ended up in America.

Comparison with the Vikings' voyages to America

The Vikings who visited America in year 1000 A.D. came from Norway (then arguably part of Denmark). If they had island-hopped as much as possible from Norway to America and taken the shortest distances between these islands, then the Vikings would have had to cover the following minimum distances at sea: Norway to Shetland Islands = 310km; Shetland Islands to Faroe Islands = 290km; Faroe Islands to Iceland = 420km; Iceland to Greenland = 280km; and Greenland to Newfoundland = 820km.

The Vikings had to travel less total distance to get to America, but the distances between islands were much greater than what the Chinese faced

From a navigation perspective the Chinese had to cover much less open water than the Vikings (either 70km or 340km depending on which sea route vs. Viking’s 820km) in order to get to America, in relatively similar climate conditions.

There are at least three possible routes from China to America in ancient times. Each has its own merit.

There are at least three possible routes to America

Note, the references made to countries below are for ease of understanding only. Of course, between 209 B.C. to 1368 A.D., which is the period this project focuses on, those parts of world were called completely different names. Moreover, apart from the people living there, probably no one even knew those parts of the world existed.

In fact, the North Pacific Rim is one of the last areas of the world to be mapped by Westerners. It was only after Dane Vitus Bering crossed the Strait in 1728 that it started showing up on maps as proven to exist, though older European maps do refer to the Strait of Anian in that general location, based on hear say from Marco Polo’s travels to China in the 13th Century.

Route 1: Overland via the Bering Strait

The first route is an overland route from China, through Mongolia and Siberia, across the Bering Strait to Alaska and then down through Canada and the USA to Mexico. This route entails only one 82km passage by sea in order to get across the Bering Strait. This includes 2 possible stops on two islands in the middle of the Bering Strait which are less than 4km apart, Big Diomede, belonging to Russia and Little Diomede, belonging to Alaska. So the trip across the Bering Strait can be cut in three, reducing the longest passage at sea to 36km.

That is crazy to think about. To get from Beijing to Mexico City on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the widest stretch of water you need to cross is only 36km, or to put it another way, only 3km wider than the English Channel!

But would the ancient Chinese have chosen to travel over land through Mongolia and Russia to get to the Bering Strait? It is doubtful. The Chinese have throughout history been afraid of the Barbarians from the North. That is why the first emperor of China, the Qin Shi Huang, ruler of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.), made sure the Great Wall was built so that the Barbarians from the North could be kept at bay. That worked well until the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 A.D.) when China was conquered by the Mongols from the North and came under foreign rule. The Chinese kicked out the Mongols in 1369 A.D. and founded the Ming Dynasty, but in 1644 another group of Barbarians from the North, the Manchus, invaded China and founded China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty that lasted until 1911, when China became a republic.

It is therefore likely that if the Chinese went North, they would have given the overland route a wide berth and preferred sailing via Korea and Japan where relations were friendlier.

Route 2: Coastal Sailing & Island Hopping

The second route comprises coastal sailing and island hopping from China down the coast of the Korean peninsula, across to Japan, up the islands of Japan, through the Kuril islands, up the coast of Kamchatka peninsula, across the Aleutian Islands to Alaska and then down the coast of Canada to USA and Mexico. A variation of this route would be to continue sailing North up to the Bering Strait and crossing there instead of island hopping across the Aleutians.

The Kurils and Aleutians form a pearl string of islands all the way to America

The Korean Peninsula is landlocked with China. The shortest distance from Korea across to Japan is 180km, but by island hopping this total distance can be broken into segments, making the longest passage by sea 50km. The longest distance between two islands up the coast of Japan, through the Kuril Islands to the bottom of the Kamchatka Peninsula is 70km. The longest distance between two islands in the Aleutians, Ostrov Mednyy and Attu Island, is 340km. Perhaps not surprisingly, this gap is also where the border is between Russia and Alaska, not to mention the Date Line.

So to get from Beijing to Mexico City by Coastal sailing & island hopping the longest sea passage is 70km, when crossing the Bering Strait, and 340km when island hopping through via the Aleutians. For comparison, the distance across the North Sea from Dunkirk to Ramsgate is about 70km and the distance from Amsterdam to London is about 370km.

Route 3: Coastal Sailing and Trans-Pacific Voyage

The third possible route is to sail down the Korean Peninsula across to Japan and then catch the Kuroshio Current off the East Coast of Japan across the Pacific Ocean to somewhere on the North American Pacific West Coast, where the California Current can be used to travel South to Mexico. The return journey would leave from around Acapulco and use the North Equatorial Current to return to China.

The Aleutians consist of more than 200 islands

In fact, when the Spaniards operated their Trans-Pacific Manila galleons between Manila and Acapulco from 1565 to 1815 in order to trade with China, they relied on these three currents for their round trips.

The distance between Japan and California via the Kuroshio Current is about 8,000km of open ocean with no islands along the way. It therefore seems unlikely that the pre-Columbus Chinese would have chosen this route to get to America. Firstly, you have to be able to stay alive for months at sea. Secondly, if you do island hopping of up to a few hundred kilometres you are likely to meet some people who have been to the next island and can tell you what is there. But if you are setting out on an 8,000km ocean voyage who, at that time, would be able tell you anything about what was on the other side?

The Kuroshio Current flows south of the Aleutians

Therefore, if the Chinese did sail to America using this route, then at least the first voyages are more likely to have been more by accident than by design. Ancient vessels had limited capability to sail into the wind, so if a vessel got caught in the Kuroshio current by accident, then it may have had no other choice but to go with the flow to America as returning to Japan against the current would have been impossible.

It is interesting to note that there are shrines to Xu Fu on islands off the East Coast on Japan in the middle of the Kuroshio current, so perhaps Xu Fu and his 3,000 youth sailed for Japan and accidentally ended up in America.

Comparison with the Vikings' voyages to America

The Vikings who visited America in year 1000 A.D. came from Norway (then arguably part of Denmark). If they had island-hopped as much as possible from Norway to America and taken the shortest distances between these islands, then the Vikings would have had to cover the following minimum distances at sea: Norway to Shetland Islands = 310km; Shetland Islands to Faroe Islands = 290km; Faroe Islands to Iceland = 420km; Iceland to Greenland = 280km; and Greenland to Newfoundland = 820km.

The Vikings had to travel less total distance to get to America, but the distances between islands were much greater than what the Chinese faced

From a navigation perspective the Chinese had to cover much less open water than the Vikings (either 70km or 340km depending on which sea route vs. Viking’s 820km) in order to get to America, in relatively similar climate conditions.