A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
Re: Zheng He steered by the stars?
Date: 2002 Nov 24, 22:53 +1100
Date: 2002 Nov 24, 22:53 +1100
I haven't seen Menzies' book, but my initial reaction to your post is one of scepticism. Nowhere in my recollections of history do the Chinese appear as navigators, sea explorers or sea traders of great note. Apart from coastal hopping, trade with the Molluccas, etc., they seemed to have preferred to let the world come to them, with its trade. There were two major Chinese government sea expeditions, one in the 400'sAD and one in the 1400's, the subject of the book . Both followed the existing Arab (read Phoenecian/Persian) trade routes back from China to the Red Sea, Straits of Hormuz, North Africa, etc.. I think both expeditions made it to Madagascar (1). I have never seen any reputable claims that they made it anywhere else. The Chinese were in regular trade with the Arabs, and they were following the Arabs back to their home. As such, I personally would think it inconceivable that they did not carry the current Arab navigation technology on board, perhaps to the point of having a few arab navigators on board (2). But I have never seen that mentioned in any reliable history of those events. As to the compass....my EB and other historical sources indicate the Chinese invented it sometime in the 600's AD (no reliable record as to exactly when or by whom). It first appeared in Persian writings in 1127, and migrated within a couple of years to the Vikings, appearing in (what little is left of) their historical records in 1132. (Remember that the Vikings were in regular trade with the Persians via the major European river systems). The Chinese regarded the compass as a toy, failing to recognize its navigational significance; I'm unclear about the Arabs, but feel they must have seen its navigational potential; and the Vikings of course (with their experience with sun compasses) recognized it instantly for the tool that it is. Obviously, by the 1400's, the compass had long returned to the Chinese as a navigational tool. However, various editions of our bible, Bowditch, "dance" around the origins of the compass. Earlier editions from the 1900's make mention of the chinese, arabs , Marco Polo, etc., but end up tipping all that into the urban legend basket and plumping for the Vikings as the inventors. The 1995 edition cuts the crap and says simply that the Vikings invented it. Hmm, history is confusing for amateurs such as I Lee Martin (1) The populating of Madagascar fascinates me. Apparently humans arrived about 2500 years ago. The current ethnic mix shows a strong infusion of malays, indonesians, indians, arabs, some chinese, and of course, negroes. However, despite Madagascar being no more than 200 miles from Africa the negroes do not necessarily appear to be the ethnic/racial base for the population. The indonesian/malay infusion , and when it occurred, is a question. (2) Let us not forget that the Arabs probably had the greatest hold on mathematics/navigation/astronomy of the time, having preserved and extended the legacy of the Greeks, with that hold about to be overtaken by the European renaissance. And the Arabs were mercenaries....for example, in about 800 BC the Egytpians commissioned them for the first successful (recorded) circumnavigation of Africa. ----- Original Message ----- From: "Peter Fogg"
To: Sent: Sunday, November 24, 2002 12:28 PM Subject: Zheng He steered by the stars? > That the Chinese were very innovative in all sorts of technical areas > seems clear. > > However a new book '1421, The Year China Discovered the World', by Gavin > Menzies, published in Australia by Random House, postulates that the > Chinese admiral Zheng He and his fleet of massive 9 masted junks > explored much of what we assume was left to European navigators to > 'discover' some centuries later. > > Its fascinating stuff. The contention is that not only did his vice > admirals Hong Bao and Zhou Man in different ships circumnavigate > Australia (hitherto first credited to the Englishman Flinders in the > early 19th century) but that settlements were established complete with > observation towers and mines were exploited for a variety of minerals. > I should add that this theory is being contested, not least by Chinese > historians who thought they already knew all about Zheng He. > > The part that intrigues me is the idea that these sailors 'steered by > the stars'. > > The history of European navigation is fairly well known and documented. > But does anyboby know about what instuments and techniques Chinese junk > sailors may have had at their disposal? I know they had the compass, and > may have been introduced it to the west, but star measuring instruments? > > Polynesians had a compass that was the night sky itself, knew the > diffferent stars as they rose and set and could set course according to > them. I suppose any people that studied the stars for long enough could > have independantly devised ways of using star positions. > > Does anyone know any more? >