08 April 2008

Finding yet more stars by wandering around Antarctica

Alright, in continuing our discussion of how much navigation detail Mr. Menzies puts in the book, Chapter 6 is no exception. The author spends a lot of time providing evidence for his postulations, which is good. However, I feel like he spends so much time taking about his methods of deduction that I lose track of where the characters of the story are and what they're doing. (this could be just my deficiency and short attention span when reading a non-fiction book) But I frequently feel as though he's stalled out the story with his long descriptions of discovering ways to measure latitudes (didn't we just talk about that in chapters 4 & 5?) and repetitive retracing of his line of deduction.

I find it quite amusing that Mr. Menzies doesn't do much to conceal his disdain of European explorers. Not to say that I think Columbus or Magellan were saintly gentlemen by any means, but it rather seems that Mr. Menzies is indignant on behalf of the Chinese who's nautical achievements have been so overlooked and that indignation manifests in snarky commentary on their European counterparts. Pages 172 and 173 sketch out a description of Magellan that is almost as unflattering as the one for Columbus in earlier chapters. Seriously, I am firmly convinced that history is really all about the historian spinning the tale.

However, I cannot help but be astonished again and again at the amazing aptitude of the Chinese as they sailed around the world and were able to discern the circumference of the earth and triangulate their position with the stars and discovered a way to track longitude. And their sailing prowess; Mr. Menzies description of sailing the Strait of Magellan is a powerful example of the sailors' skill.

It must have been a treacherous journey. I was struck by how much these sailors gave up in agreeing to go on this trek. A ship wrecked off the coast of Australia, and the ship's description fits that of one from the Chinese fleet, and there is a legend among the Aborigines of "yellow men" settling in among them. Can you imagine the change of life that must have been? Yikes.

1 comment:

Ritsumei said...

He really is down on the Europeans, isn't he? Even if they were following in the wake of the Chinese, they were doing so in leaky little boats barely adequate to the job, and battling superstition every step (wave?) of the way. That's no mean accomplishment, regardless of how much information they may or may not have had.

It's interesting, I was looking at Mr. Menzies' website, where he keeps promising more information and more proof, and I wasn't really finding it. Either the website is poorly designed, making it hard to find the stuff that he's found since publishing, or there's not as much there as he'd like the reader to believe. Perhaps his some venom toward the Europeans comes from frustration at the historians and other folks who won't take him seriously. I mean, it sounds like it's completely obvious to him what's going on, from the maps and other evidences. But folks don't like to change their thinking.

To me it seems clear that the Europeans were not first. The quotes he gives from some of the diaries are enough to convince me of that. Unless those quotes are grossly out of context they clearly imply that someone was there first and the great European explorers knew that.

I wonder if part of the problem is that folks don't want to give China that kind of credit. It's much easier to believe that it was all an accomplishment of the wonderful West. Folks are used to thinking of China as kind of backward. To think that China did it first, and that the Europeans couldn't have done it without them, that's going to be a tough pill to swallow for a lot of folks.

At the same time, I wonder if the gentleman doth protest to much: if there are some holes in his theory for some areas of the world, and he wants it to be the whole enchilada, but it's not. What a mess. Spin indeed.