Evidence of Chinese oceanic voyages in 1421
In the year 1405 AD, Chinese emperor Zhu Di ordered a fleet of 100 ships to sail to the ends of the earth in what was the first effort at globalization. There is evidence that the Chinese oceanic voyages in 1421, which were the sixth of what was to be a total of seven voyages, actually circumnavigated the globe.
The plans for these explorations that the Admiral Zheng He (1371-1435) was to command were laid generations before he was born.
The lands near the shipyards at Nanjing were planted with forests of trees to supply the builders of huge junks, some 400-600 feet long and 190 feet wide, along with a multitude of smaller vessels. Each consecutive voyage contained a larger number of ships, finally totaling 1600 and carrying almost 30,000 people.
History records the first five of these seven voyages quite well, even though they consist of amazing feats of navigation for the age. Over 100 years before the European "discoverers" found the lands and sea routes that these Arab and Chinese explorers had already surveyed and mapped.
The Chinese had been welcoming Arab immigrants and visitors since the Han dynasty (220 BC - 220 AD), valuing their mathematical, astronomical and navigational skills. Admiral Zheng He was a Chinese Muslim and every ship of the fleet had Persian speaking officers on board as it was the universal language of the times.
The Arabs had been sailing and charting the seas from the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean east to China, Java and the islands around the north coast of Australia, trading in commercial goods and knowledge. Existing maps such as the Java sea chart created by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizimi c.820 AD that shows the tip of Cape York Peninsula as well as the shape of the Carpentaria Gulf and the map charted by Abu Al-Farisi Ishtahari c.934 AD that clearly shows the trade routes from south China to Borneo, Timor and the northern Australian coastline give clear evidence that these were established commercial sea routes.
These maps were verified in 1998 by Tilman Walterfang when he discovered the wreck of an Arab dhow near Buton Island off the south east coast of Sulawesi. The remains of this ship contained 60,000 pieces of pottery from the Tang dynasty (618-907) that had been made in China specifically for export. This evidence backs up the finds on the east coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria of quantities of pottery shards dating from the Han dynasty (220 BC - 220AD) to the early Ming dynasty (1368-1433).
The first three of the seven voyages of the multi-national fleets commanded by Admiral Zheng He and his four captains Zhou Wen, Hong Bao, Zhou Man and Yang Qin (each a duration of two years 1405-07, 1407-09, 1409-11) left Quonzhou China to visit India and Ceylon and back to China. The 1413-15 voyage returned to Quonzhou by way of Hormuz and Bengal, while the 1417-19 trip took the huge fleet all the way to the east coast of Africa before returning home.
On March 3, 1421 the Admiral and his four captains sailed for Malucca and then on to India. Splitting up here, the Admiral Zheng He and 9,000 of his followers made a disastrous return to China, Zheng He arriving home with less than 1,000 of the original group. Captain Yang Qin's fleet remained in the Indian Ocean where they stationed astronomers to make a successful attempt at a method of determining longitude 300 years in advance of John Harrison's invention of the chronometer.
The other three fleets captained by Zhou Wen, Hang Bao and Zhou Man continued on their way to the east coast of Africa and then south around the Cape of Good Hope and on to the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The evidence of the Chinese oceanic voyages of 1421 from this point on is a work in progress, based on artifacts rather than historical record.
At this point Captain Zhou Wen took his fleet west along the equatorial currents to the Caribbean Islands, losing nine ships in a hurricane off Puerto Rico, while Hang Bao and Zhou Man sailed southwest to land in Venezuela.
Gathering together the remnants of his scattered ships Zhou Wen headed north along the Atlantic coast of North America stopping at various points and leaving artifacts along the way, then heading east to the Azores. Here the ships divided into two groups, one returning to the Cape Verde Islands then retracing their original route back around the Cape of Good Hope then crossing the Indian Ocean to China. The other group sailed north along the west coast of Greenland over the top and south to land on Iceland. From there they sailed the Arctic Ocean, through the Bering Straits then south past Japan and then home to China.
Captains Hang Bao and Zhou Man left Venezuela to sail along the Atlantic coast of South America to the Straits of Magellan reaching there nearly a century before Magellan did. Here the two fleets split up with Hang Bao going south to sail past Antarctica eastwardly to Kergeulen Island and after landing embarked for the west coast of Australia, landing near Bunbury where they lost three junks. The rest of the ships returned home by way of the South China Sea, losing two more ships before reaching home.
The remaining fleet captained by Zhou Man traversed the Straits of Magellan and headed north to the coast of what is now Peru where they caught the prevailing currents and headed west to French Polynesia and then on to Norfolk Island and making landfall near Newcastle Australia where they built a garrison.
Leaving Australia the fleet headed south of New Zealand to Campbell Island where they lost a ship before returning to the west coast of Australia, losing two more junks on the way. Sailing north they lost another four ships before arriving at Gympie where they stayed for awhile.
Leaving Gympie they divided to sail on either side of the Great Barrier Reef, charting it and then meeting again at Arnhem Land. Only 100 days of sailing from their homeland Captain Zhou Man set sail to the east taking the Kuroshio current to the Pacific coast of North America, landing at Vancouver Island. The fleet traveled south along the Pacific coast founding a number of colonies along the way until they again reached the coast of Peru and headed west finally reaching China using the prevailing currents as before.
The artifacts that constitute the evidence, such as it is, consists of debris fields of shipwrecks in the Caribbean, metal artifacts in North Carolina, wood carvings from the Gulf of Mexico, bronze artifacts from California and Chinese coins on the west coast of Vancouver Island all of Chinese origin and from the period of the 1400's. As well there is a carving of a pumpkin and an illustration of an armadillo in a Chinese book from 1430, both only found in the America's at that period.