Michael King is one of New Zealand's foremost historians and he has just had a review of 1421 published in a local weekly magazine (the New Zealand Listener) He discusses those bits of the book that deal with New Zealand.
Given the recent communications on this list I thought others would be interested in the review, which I include as an attachment.
University of Waikato.
The Chinese Colonisation of New Zealand By Michael King ³So,² said my neighbour, ³youıve written a general history of New Zealand.² I admitted I had. ³Iım really looking forward to reading it,² he went on, ³especially the bit about the Chinese link.² This is precisely the kind of comment every historian dreads. You labour away for years on a book. You think it is, if not ³finished², exactly, at least ready for publication - when somebody raises an aspect of the topic youıve never heard about. In this instance, I hoped my neighbour was referring to Winston Petersı election claim that Maori were descended from the Chinese. That at least was explicable and refutable. ³No, no, no,² he said. ³Iım talking about the colony that the Chinese established in New Zealand in the fifteenth century AD. Look², he scrabbled around the papers on his desktop. ³Hereıs an article about it.² The feature in question was from a quality overseas Sunday paper. It was about the book 1421 by former submarine commander Gavin Menzies, who sets out to prove that a fleet of Chinese junks sailed and mapped the entire world between 1421 and 1423. Among other achievements, Menzies alleges, these vessels reached the Magellan Straits sixty years before Magellan was born and discovered America seventy years ahead of Colombus. In the course of this extraordinary expedition, says Menzies, the Chinese navigators ³discovered² Australia and New Zealand and established colonies in Africa, Australia and New Zealand. One likes to preserve an open mind. I was, inevitably, surprised to hear the claim that the Chinese had discovered and colonised New Zealand when not one shred of documentary, artifactual or traditional evidence for such a claim had ever been found here. Perhaps Menzies had come across sensational evidence in Chinese archives or museums? Contrary to public perception, historians are only too willing to change their minds and their stories when there is sound reason to do so. Every historian dreams of unveiling sensational new paradigms backed by solid evidence before a conference of astonished and admiring peers. Consequently, I awaited the arrival of Menziesı book, 1421, The Year China Discovered the World, with considerable interest. It was published internationally by a reputable company, Bantam Press. Pre-publication blurb urged would-be readers to ³forget everything you ever knew or thought you knew. Because 1421 has made every history book in print obsolete Worldwide TV rights already sold for a huge figure.² The book arrived right on Christmas. I fell upon it with a sense of high expectation. Accompanying publicity told me that, in the course of research, Gavin Menzies had visited ³120 countries and over 900 museums and libraries². Among these institutions, according to the authorıs acknowledgements, are the Waikato Museum of Arts and History in Auckland [sic]; and Tepapa [sic] Museum in a place called Tongarewa. Hmmm Not the most promising of beginnings for a New Zealand reader. What about Menziesı claim that the Chinese reached and colonised New Zealand more than five hundred years ago? This, it turns out, is based on the alleged discovery of two enormous Chinese junks cast up on the countryıs west coast. ³The wreck of an old wooden ship was found two centuries ago at Dusky Sound in Fjordland [sic] It was said to be very old and of Chinese build and to have been there before Cook, according to the local people.² Alas, only a fraction of this is true. In 1797 a wrecked ship was found in Facile Harbour, Dusky Sound, by an American vessel, the Mercury. But far from being ³very old² or ³of Chinese build², it turned out to be the East Indiaman Endeavour, which had been deliberately wrecked and abandoned there in 1795 because of its unsafe condition. The crew and passengers escaped from Dusky Sound in a brig which had accompanied the Endeavour and in a 65-ton vessel named Providence, which had been three-quarters built by sealers stranded in the sound two years earlier. Menziesı misidentification of Endeavour as a Chinese junk is as fantastic and as unsubstantiated as his suggestion that there were ³local people² living in the sound long enough to say that the vessel had appeared there before Cook. There were no local people in Dusky Sound when the Endeavour arrived in 1795, nor when the Mercury was there in 1797. Even the single family of Maori that Cook found there in 1770 had disappeared by the time of his next visit in 1773. Menzies cites a further piece of evidence that a Chinese fleet had been in Dusky Sound. He reports that in 1831, two sailors off a Sydney ship ³saw a strange animal perching at the edge of the bush and nibbling the foliage. It stood on its hind legs, the lower part of its body curving to a thick pointed tail they estimated that it stood nearly nine metres high.² Rejecting the more obvious explanation that the sailors might have been affected by substance abuse or were lying Menzies identifies the mysterious creature as a mylodon or South American giant sloth. The Chinese, he goes on to say, ³could have taken [them] aboard in Patagonia. Perhaps a pair could have escaped from the wreck, survived and bred in similar conditions to their home territory in Patagonia.² The conditions in Dusky Sound, where the wet bush hangs right to the water level, are in fact nothing like the environment in Patagonia in which the mylodon lived during the Pleistocene era. And, even leaving aside for the moment the fact that there was no Chinese wreck there, how likely is it that creatures of this size could have survived in Fiordland for 500 years without being seen by Maori or Pakeha visitors or leaving so much as a trace of a carcass, a bone, a scrap of fur? Disappointingly, Menzies claim that a second Chinese junk was beached on the North Island coast is every bit as shonky. He alleges that the wreck of (again) a ³very old ship² was found near the mouth of the Torei Palma River [sic] at Whaingaroa (Raglan Harbour). ³[It] is known as the Ruapuke Ship after the beach of that name.² Ruapuke Beach is in fact on the open coast some 50 km south of Raglan Harbour. But its mystery wreck is well known to historians, one might even call it an old friend. In my professional lifetime this phantom ship has been cited as evidence for Phoenician, Roman, Egyptian, Viking, Tamil, Portuguese and Spanish discoveries of New Zealand. It should be no surprise that Menzies has recruited it as proof of a Chinese discovery. The reason that this marvellously elastic piece of evidence fulfils all these expectations is that nobody can produce the wreck itself, which allegedly keeps appearing and disappearing in the sand dunes; nor, even, photographs or drawings of it. In 1969, determined to subject earlier claims to some kind of test, I sent a piece of the Ruapuke wreck recovered by a local farming family to the Forest Research Institute in Rotorua. The fragment was two ancient pieces of wood, which I was assured was teak, held together by two brass nails. The verdict was disappointingly sober. The wood was totara, and the institute established that, as an artifact, the fragment was little more than 100 years old. The Ruapuke wreck, in other words, was the remains of a vessel built in New Zealand in the nineteenth century. So much for the theories of ancient voyagers reaching New Zealand before Tasman and Cook; so much for Gavin Menziesı claim of a giant junk in the west coast sand dunes. The remainder of Menziesı New Zealand research is on a par with his nonsense about the wrecked junks. He enlists that old favourite the Tamil bell, which he claims was discovered by a ³Bishop Colenso² near Ruapuke Beach (it was found in Northland by Church Missionary Society printer William Colenso); the example of a non-existent stone at Ruapuke Beach covered in Tamil or Chinese inscriptions; the Korotangi bird valued by Maori as a Tainui taonga but identified by Menzies as evidence of a Chinese presence; and the legend about Patupaiarehe or fairy people, which Menzies alleges is a local Ruapuke story when in fact it is common to tribes throughout the North Island. Iım not equipped to evaluate the quality of Gavin Menziesı global research in support of his great Chinese voyage of discovery from 1421-1423. I can say, however, that his New Zealand section exhibits more false information and a more dishonest manipulation of evidence than any that I have encountered in a book issued by a reputable publisher. The book is, in short, a disgrace. But by the time this becomes apparent in professional reviews the deals will have been done, the television documentary made and the enormous print runs sold and author and publisher will be laughing all the way to the bank. For those of us who try to make a living ffrom the writing of accurate and responsible history, the prospect is depressing.
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