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1421: The Year China Discovered America
1421 The Year China Discovered America
Actor: Larry Belling
Director: David Wallace
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
NR     2004     2hr 0min

This special examines the theories outlined by Gavin Menzies in his best-selling book. An amateur historian and former submarine commander in the British Navy, Menzies poses an argument that could change the way we perceiv...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Larry Belling
Director: David Wallace
Genres: Television, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Educational, Biography, History
Studio: Pbs (Direct)
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 08/17/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 2hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Well-balanced production gives Menzies' critics their say
chefdevergue | Spokane, WA United States | 11/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Gavin Menzies claims that the gigantic imperial fleet commanded by Admiral Zheng He was the first to visit the Americas and the first to circumnavigate the globe. His book has engendered a fair amount of controversy, in no small part to the lack of physical or documentary evidence supporting Menzies' claims.

We have all encountered our fair share of TV productions that discuss off-beat or unconventional theories (Atlantis, UFOs, Noah's Ark, etc. etc. etc.) that credulously present the theory in question without offering any critical analysis. The result of these pseudoscientific "documentaries" is that we are told that the only plausible explanation for various tidbits of evidence can only be the particular off-beat theory in question. Rarely, if ever, are critics or mainstream scholars given a chance to rebut the theory.

Such is not the case with this program, which is basically divided into three parts. The first part is a basic history of the known voyages of Zheng He, which went as far as East Africa, making contact in Malaya, India, Arabia, among other lands. The program is valuable just for this alone, since most of us have never heard of Zheng He and tend to have a rather Eurocentric view of world exploration. The second portion gives Gavin Menzies the floor, where he puts forth his theory that Zheng went beyond the Cape, made numerous contacts in the Americas, and the Caribbean, and then completed the circumnavigation of the globe (although this aspect is barely discussed in the program). Menzies picks out the odd tidbit (a map here, a mysterious mound there, a possible European link with China as evidenced by a non-Chinese statue) to bolster his argument.

Most programs would have left it at that, and for that matter, most authors like Menzies would have consented only to present their side of the argument rather than get into a scholarly debate. However, the third part of the program allows all of Menzie's critics to open up broadsides on his theory, and they blast away with great vigor. I have to give Menzies credit for consenting to sit down on camera and admit that he has no evidence to rebut a number of his critics' arguments. Sometimes he admits, with great discomfort, that he simply doesn't know enough about a particular field to be able to discuss it. Not everybody would be willing to do that. He tenaciously defends his contentions, but at least does not dismiss the criticism out of hand.

Meanwhile, Menzies' critics have a field day with him, and one is left with the distinct impression, when all is said and done, that even though Zheng's fleet probably could have made it to the Americas (and maybe around the world) there simply is nothing in historical record to suggest that this ever happened, and there really isn't much circumstantial evidence to support Menzies' claim either. Of course, this assumes that the viewer has stuck it out through all of the scholarly thrusts & parries. All in all, I was pleased to see a production that wasn't hopelessly slanted one way or the other. Well done."
Good story
CHIEN-CHIANG SHENG | New York, NY USA | 07/24/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Well, I watched it on PBS. Very good story with missing links to be investigated in the future. Sadly the travel logs of the fleets went missing (burned), otherwise this video would be more interesting. We knew that Zheng He went as far as Africa and according to a map some Chinese junk passed the southern tip of Africa and moved on to the Atlantic. The book author has the zeal for naval history and thanks to his investigation, we get to know more about what happened some six hundred years ago. The first hour of this video is about history, retracing the ports Zheng He had visted; the second hour is Q and A between the filmmaker and book author Gavin Menzies. I enjoyed viewing it and would like to see further update on the investigation."
Important book.
Sahra Badou | Tokyo, Japan | 08/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Did the Chinese discover America in 1421, a century before Columbus? Not only does the author believes so, but he also convincingly argues that the Chinese were the first to circumnavigate the world.

The author argues that all great European navigators, such as Columbus and Magellan, had maps in their possession that already outlined the continents of North and South America, as well as Cape Horn, before they ever set sail there. This proves that someone else must have discovered those continents first. According to the author, it was the Chinese.

During the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese emperor Zhu Di ordered a fleet of over one hundred ships, some 400 feet long (much bigger than the ships of Columbus) to be built for the purpose of both exploring and intimidating the world. A Muslim eunuch led the fleet.

This is an exciting and very convincing tale.

The author argues that many European explorers later said that they encountered Chinese settlers in both North and South America. DNA testing has shown that Indians in the Americas are very close in DNA to Chinese. Archaeological remains were found pointing to Chinese settlers in the Americas.

However many scholars debate the author's theories due to the fact that not much evidence on these voyages comes from China. When the survivors of this great fleet returned to China, the Emperor had died, and the new Emperor, wanting to shield his empire from the outside world, ordered all documents relating to the discoveries of the fleet to be burned. All maps and logs of the fleet were burnt!

Also, if the Chinese did visit the Americas first, they would have infected the indigenous population with disease such as the flu, which would have wiped out a big percentage of the population, but would also have immunized the later generations against infectious diseases when the Europeans finally came. This of course did not happen.

Why did the Chinese not visit Europe on their way to the Americas? This is a puzzling fact. There are also no European record of the Chinese fleet.

The DVD is worth watching and is very entertaining and informative. This is a compelling theory, and the book reads like a novel. If the author's theories are proven correct, then history will have to be rewritten. I highly recommend it.
Surprisingly well-balanced approach to a controversial theor
DWD | Indianapolis, IN | 05/29/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I fully expected this DVD to be a whole-hearted film adaptation of the book without any criticism of the central thesis. If you are not aware of the thesis, British naval officer Gavin Menzies proposes that the gigantic Chinese "Star Fleet" not only explored the Indian Ocean and the coasts of Africa, India and Arabia, but also went around South Africa, into the Atlantic and eventually landed in the Caribbean, North America and South America. Menzies asserts that they went around Tierra Del Fuego, entered the Pacific and eventually returned to China, thus being the first the circumnavigate the globe.

The DVD is very sketchy about the latter half of this trip (The Pacific Ocean leg). The first hour does a strong job of explaining why you may have never heard of Zheng He or his fleet. It also tells about the voyages that historians are confident that Zheng He completed. This lasts about an hour.

The second half of the DVD focuses on the suggestion that Xheng He went to the Americas. Menzies lays out his case and the casual observer comes away convinced.

Then, the experts are brought out and Menzies solid case becomes more of an interesting speculation, which is really where this belongs. Under close scrutiny, this fun bit of theory develops a lot of holes (including New World and Old World diseases, a topic not even mentioned by the experts but that occurred to me).

It turns out that Menzies has very little solid data to hold up his proposal. That being said, it should not be entirely dismissed. I encourage Menzies to address the shortcomings that were brought up and make the necessary adjustments to his thesis. Will he? I certainly hope so."