29 May 2008

2000 Girls & Chinese Diplomacy

2000 Girls

Geez, no wonder the harems are places of politics and intrigue! 2000 women, cooped up with (at least according to popular depictions) nothing to do, but if they can attract his attention they can have the ear of the Emperor. Or they can have nothing. Yikes. Talk about catty!(pg 50)

History Repeats

I'm neither a student of economics or of Chinese history, but it seems to me that history is beginning to repeat itself:

Rulers paid tribute to China in return for trading privileges and protection against their enemies, but China always gave its trading partners a greater value of goods -- silks and porcelain at discounted prices, often funded by soft loans -- than was received from them. They were thus in perpetual debt to China. (page 52, emphasis added)

The Chinese preferred to pursue their aims by trade, influence and bribery rather than by open conflict and direct colonization. (page 60)

We keep hearing about how China has become a major purchaser of American national debt. Looks like this preference for having other nations in debt to them is a well-established policy. And why not? Any country that we owe money to has that to hold over our heads! "Do what we want or we'll make you pay up." No wonder the dollar is weak. Surely there is a lesson here to be learned: PAY OUR DEBTS!

Halley's Comet

So, my first question is that since the Chinese have been tracking this comet since before Christ (page 55), why in the world is it named after a 17th Century Englishman?? In any case, the information in Wikipedia about Halley's Comet is pretty interesting. I remember its visit in 1986. But I don't know that I should plan on making it as long as 2061 to see the next visit. And this comet is a "short period" comet!

23 May 2008

America's Name - Italian or Bristolian?

I'm not actually finished with Chapter 9 yet, however, this chapter has already sparked my thoughts and led me down some tangential paths and has given me several days worth of information to research and learn about.

So it all started with the world map, Universalis Cosmographia, published in May of 1507, drawn by cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. This map, Mr. Menzies says, is "the first to chart latitude and longitude with precision" (p. 238).

While reading in this book I've always been fascinated by the descriptions of the evolution of the maps. Not so much the actual fundamental details and inner-cog workings of how they did it, but it's fascinating to watch as they get more and more accurate and similar to our world view of today. I have had to reshape my thinking by a new found admiration I have for these early explorers. Their understanding of math and astronomy, and whatever other sciences necessary for them to figure out longitude and latitude and draw amazingly accurate maps while sailing around on wooden boats without any fancy tools, demands greater respect than what I had previously been giving to these people.

ANYWAY, that's not where I was going with this entry.

Mr. Menzies comments only briefly on page 238 that this world map of 1507, that it was the first to have called these two continents "America" in writing. And he leaves it at that. No more details, just moves goes on from there.

However, the statement that this map was "the first ever to call the continent 'America' " made me realize I had no idea where America got its name. Of course it had to come from somewhere, but where?

In doing some searches I found many websites. However, I quickly discovered that the name America is surrounded by as much controversy and conflicting stories as is the history of who discovered her first! Ah, history and its many keepers.

So, here is what I've found:

"America" - Possible Origin #1
Americo Vespucci: Italian explorer who first realized that the Americas were two continents, independent of Asia (c.1499). Along with the world map drawn by Waldseemüller, there was an accompanying book, Cosmographiae Introductio, published by the same author. This book explains that the name was derived from the Latinized version of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci's name, Americus Vespucius, in its feminine form, "America", as the other continents all have Latin feminine names. However, news traveled slowly back in the day and eventually that name was withdrawn by Waldseemüller after he realized that Columbus arrived on that continent before Vespucci. Still, the name stuck.

"America" - Possible Origin #2
Richard Amerike: a wealthy Bristol merchant Richard Amerike, who was an overseas trader living just outside the city in Long Ashton (c. 1480). I found an article that said that previous to this time, Bristol merchants bought salt cod in Iceland until the King of Denmark stopped the trade in 1475. In l479, four Bristol merchants received a royal charter to find another source of fish and trade. This article purports that the new source was the Americas. And, the continent was named as such because Richard Amerike was largely the funder of the expedition. It is indicated that on the fishing map, the name America was used and that Vespucci was given a copy of these maps. Also, there is reported to be a letter in the Spanish National Archives confirming that Bristol merchants had traveled to the Americas first and the maps was also sent to Columbus for his journey. So, that area had been called America before 1507, there just weren't any extant maps to prove it.

Both of these stories have compelling points. However, nowhere do they factor in the Chinese maps that Mr. Menzies indicated were the possible reference maps for that 1507 world map, so who really knows?? I'm inclined to think that due to the largely European slant on all of our current, mainstream history, the name probably caught on from Mr. Waldseemüller's world map. Plus, I think it fitting that Mr. Vespuccio get the naming rights since he's [the European] accredited with the discovery of it being its own continent.

But what if it was a mixture of both? I can see that too. Everybody is sharing maps, right? So, maybe the Bristolians did come first. And it was called America on those maps, and it was just easier to refer to it as that when Americo Vespuccio used the maps for his journey. And what if Mr. Waldseemüller, the poor stay at home cartographer, had no idea why Vespuccio referred to it as America. So, he just guessed in his book, and his book was published and then people believed it forever.

So much speculation! Isn't this fun? :)

Anyway, my conclusion: I just don't know.

However, some purport that it's a shame that America wasn't named for Columbus. However, I think that since the man lived and died thinking he'd found the Indies and never really knew it was its own continent, regardless the origin, it's ok that the Americas weren't named for him.