Photograph of the book cover from my personal library.
Gavin Menzies' book "1421 The year China discovered the World" proposes a highly imaginative and improbable theory by which a fleet of junks that set sail in 1421 (hence the name of the book), navigated around the globe exploring it thoroughly.
He states that they mapped the world and that the Portuguese and Spanish navigators who would later sail around Africa and discover America used these maps. Additionally they collected specimens of plants and animals taking them back to China. Some of their junks capsized and the shipwrecked survivors peopled different spots around the globe with ethnic Chinese and their domestic animals (dogs, otters, chickens).
Far fetched? In my personal opinion, Yes!!
I base this opinion on what Menzies wrote about Patagonia. First of all he calls the Huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) Huemil, spelling it incorrectly. Then he contends that an animal depicted on Piri Reis 1513 World Map is a mylodon (see my post on this map). Adding that:
It would strip the [trees] branches bare of fruit before lumbering off to demolish the next tree. The animal was said to reach three metres, sometimes even more, in height and slept for most of the time. The native people of Patagonia harnessed these 'harmless souls' in caves during the winter, taking them out to graze in summer; their meat apparently tasted like bland mutton.
Amazing creativity and distortion of scientifically established facts:
1. He is repeating something that is known to be untrue. Tehuelche and mylodons co-existing:
- The remains of mylodon found in Patagonia at least 10,400 years old. So nobody could record what their meat tasted like. (Bland mutton? why not tough moose meat or pungent gnu steaks?).
2. Grazing in summer, enclosed in winter? Based on what proof? We know that these creatures were never domesticated.
3. Furthermore, the native people of Patagonia (Paleo-Indians and their Tehuelche descendants) were hunters and gatherers. They never bred or raised cattle.
4. Fruit from trees? The Patagonian forest is made up of “Southern Beeches” (Nothofagus) species like the ñire, lenga and coihue. None of which have juicy or edible fruits. The mylodon would have eaten their leaves not their fruits.
See my post "The Mylodon Saga" for the real accurate facts regarding Patagonian mylodons.
Menzies then says that the Chinese loaded some specimens on their junks to take them back to the Emperor's zoo in Beijing.
Of course there is no proof that there were ever any mylodon at Beijing.
To add even more incredible "facts" to this fantastic tale, he states that in 1831, at Dusky Sound, New Zealand, two sailors "saw a strange animal perching at the edge of the bush and nibbling the foliage", it had a thick an pointed tail, stood nine meters tall. It chomped on the leaves of big branches that it pulled down quite easily. This is not too unusual, it may be the description of some cryptid. But then, he adds:
The animal described corresponds in size, posture and eating habits with the mylodons the Chinese could have taken aboard in Patagonia. Perhaps a pair escped from the [junk] wreck, survived and bred in similar conditions to their home territory in Patagonia - the latitudes are the same.
The only accurate statement in the parragraph is that New Zealand and Patagonia are located at the same latitude (also, there are some Nothofagus species there, similar to the Patagonian ones - a fact Menzies overlooked).
So in other words, we are asked to believe that: in 1421 a group of Chinese explorers [of an unproved voyage] after discovering America [no proof of that either], took mylodons [which were then extinct] from Patagonia and transported them to New Zealand which, by the way they also discovered [unproved]. These mylodons somehow swam ashore after a shipwreck at New Zealand, where they bred and survived [at least four hundred years - because they have not been seen since 1831].
Can anyone top that as the most amazing tale ever told?
If the other "proof" given in the rest of the book is as tenuous and unfounded as this, then I seriously doubt that the Chinese discovered the world in 1421.
 Menzies, G., (2003). 1421 The year China discovered the World. London: Bantam Press.
 Ibid. pp. 150+
 Ibid. pp. 209.
Legal stuff: Regarding Links to other sites, Non endorsement, Brand Names and trademarks and Other products and vendors, such as 1421 The year China discovered the World, please see our Terms and Conditions.
Regarding Copyright of third parties, please see my FAIR USE NOTICE (items 13.a and 13.b) at our Terms and Conditions page. Thank you.
Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©