Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Chinese! Not Egyptians!

EoR was amused yesterday by the bizarre claims of a whole mastaba full of selftaught egyptologists. Imagine his surprise when he found out it wasn't the Egyptians sailing all over the world in the past, but the Chinese. At least that is the claim of Gavin Menzies in his bestseller 1421. Mr Menzies' story is that Chinese sailors sailed around every continent by 1421, mapping the world.

Unfortunately, Mr Menzies has no idea what he's talking about, no evidence, and no qualifications. Four Corners last night surveyed his success on such a flimsy idea.

Mr Menzies was a submarine commander whose previous claim to fame (not mentioned in the fictionalised author biography in his book) was running his submarine into a US minesweeper and narrowly avoiding court martial.

The program points out many of his bizarre ideas (that the equator was further north in Ming times, that a giant Chinese junk sailed up the Thames to deliver a pair of underpants to Henry V, that the Maoris are the descendents of Chinese concubines and Melanesian slaves). To be fair, his ideas metamorphose with the wind, and he has now slightly changed his racial theories, and also now argues that Kublai Khan's navies sailed the globe even earlier between 1290 ad 1330. As one person interviewed commented, it appears he's already working on his next bestseller.

Such ideas bring the other nutters out of the woodwork (though, to be fair again, Mr Menzies may not be a nutter but just a very canny conman). Cedric Bell is a "1421 Team Member" who has 'discovered' numerous wrecks of Chinese junks on the New Zealand coast that no one else has noticed, and which have been 'compressed' to 35mm wide by a massive tsunami caused by a comet or a meteor. If you're going to make fanciful claims, Mr Bell understands the first rule of the profession: make them BIG!

Strangely, other people whose only right to comment include having history degrees or being a master mariner, don't mince words when talking about Mr Menzies bizarre and unprovable claims (which are frequently based on 'evidence' that is incorrectly dated or of doubtful authenticity). "Cretin". "Fiction". "Bollocks". EoR likes succint summations like that.

Sadly, Mr Menzies can claim to have spoken before heads of state and at numerous universities, which must look really impressive on his CV. If the Melbourne University History department are anything to go by, then they're partly to blame.

I don't think anybody agreed with him at all. I think it was polite.

And then there's the publisher who doesn't care whether a book marketed as fact is fact or not.

It's very hard to prove that something is or is not correct. I mean, we do have to rely on our authors - we - we simply don't have the time. I mean, we work full - flat out publishing the books, bringing them to press, marketing them, publicising them, selling them - we can't possibly go through all our books and check every single one of them out for factual accuracy.

Which is postmodernist code for "who cares whether it's true or not as long as it makes a lot of money". Which it has.

Is it any wonder that people can't tell fact from fiction any more? Mr Menzies concludes the program with a damning statement about the impoverishment of evidential standards these days:

The public are on my side, and they are the people that count.

Only in terms of popularity, Mr Menzies, not in terms of veracity.

More information can be found at

1 comment:

  1. Mr Menzies is to history what ID/creationists are to biology. Chilling to hear "let the public decide" recycled for more mischief.


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