visit us at www.chengho.org   |   2009-Aug-01
General News

 

(1)   First International Conference on Zheng He and the Afro-Asian World

After months of hard work and preparations including several rounds of discussion with the Melaka State Government, we are pleased that Perdanan Muzium Melaka (PERZIM) will be the joint organisers with our Society, the Melaka Cultural Museum together with the Shanghai Center for Zheng He Studies, Zhong Hua Zheng He Society as well as other organisations. The Announcements has already been sent out to all members as well as individuals and organisations interested in the study of Zheng He.  Those interested are welcomed to logon to our website (www.chengho.org) for details and are invited to participate in this exciting event which will form a part of the month-long celebrations to commemorate the 2nd Anniversary of Melaka as a World Heritage City. 

(2)   News of our Honorary Chairman, Prof. Wang Gungwu

A Straits Times (Singapore) article published on 10 June 2009 titled ‘Professor Wang Gungwu: An accidental historian” gives an account of how Prof. Wang came to study history rather than literature or economics in the University of Malaya in Singapore and how he opted to become a scholar.  His special interest was and remains the history of China and the Chinese.  He was awarded the prestigious Honorary Doctor of Letters by Cambridge University in June 2009.  This was in addition to his honorary professorships and degrees from several universities in China and Hong Kong.  The report says that “Prof Wang’s work reflects his abiding interest in understanding the human condition, believing as he does that one can attain a deeper understanding of the present by knowing the past…. interest in the past is not the past as such but the present.”  Prof Wang did his Masters on the early trade between China and Southeast Asia and subsequently his doctorate on the period of chaos between the Tang and Sung dynasties at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.  He taught in the University of Malaysia in Singapore and then in 1959 went Kuala Lumpur at the KL branch of the university. Subsequently he became research professor at the Australian National University where he began writing about contemporary China.  In 1985, he was offered the vice-chancellorship at the University of Hong Kong.  Prof. Wang was born in Surabaya and grew up in Malaya. In 1995, he was invited by Dr Goh Keng Swee to take up the directorship at the Institute of East Asian Political Economy now known as the East Asian Institute.  In 2007, he became chairman of its board of directors.

(3)    Articles

Our Vice President, Prof. Leo Suryadinata, the editor of the volume, Zheng He and Southeast Asia (2005 ), published by Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and International Zheng He Society (Singapore) wrote the chapter (5) titled “Zheng He, Semarang and the Islamization of Java: between history and legend” (pp. 72-93). The article originally appeared inAsian Culture, vol. 29, June 2005.  Based mainly on local sources, Prof Suryadinata discusses the likelihood of visit(s) of Zheng He’s fleet to Semarang, Java, although there is no official record of the name of this location in Chinese documents.  This paper is of interest because the research is focused on Zheng He’s activities from the point of view of the country he visited.  Also, local and non-Chinese sources recording events in the destination country had been utilised.

(4)   Book Reviews

Gavin Menzies (2008), 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaaissance, Harper Collins (London), 368 pp. 

A review of the now well-known book appeared in the website www.chinaview.cn on 30 July 2008.  An excerpt is given below:

 

“Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of machines are uncannily similar to Chinese originals and were undoubtedly derived from them, says a British amateur historian in his new book.  Gavin Menzies created headlines across the globe in 2002 by claiming Chinese sailors had reached America 70 years before Christopher Columbus. Now he says a Chinese fleet brought encyclopedias of technology not known to the West to Italy in 1434 and laid the foundation for the engineering marvels such as flying machines, later drawn by the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

"Everything known to the Chinese by the year 1430 was brought to Venice," says Menzies, a retired Royal Navy submarine commander.  From Venice, a Chinese ambassador went to Florence and presented the material to Pope Eugenius IV, Menzies says. I argue in the book that this was the spark that really ignited the Renaissance and that Da Vinci and Italian astronomer Galileo built on what was brought to them by the Chinese. Da Vinci basically redrew everything in three dimensions, which made a vast improvement.

If accepted, the claim would force an "agonizing reappraisal of the Euro-centric view of history", Menzies says in the book, 1434: The Year A Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed To Italy and Ignited The Renaissance. China's legendary sailor Zheng He began his famous journeys in 1405, and made a dozen trips to many parts of the world for 28 years. Which means the Chinese fleet would have made the journey a year after Zheng He brought down his sails.

Menzies says four ships from the same Chinese expeditions reached Venice, carrying with them world maps, astronomical charts and encyclopedias far in advance of anything available in Europe at the time.  Menzies says Da Vinci's designs for machines can be traced back to this transfer of Chinese knowledge. The great painter and polymath born in 1452…. But he also left journals filled with intricate engineering and anatomical illustrations.  Menzies says designs for gears, waterwheels and other devices contained in the Chinese encyclopedias reached Da Vinci after being copied and modified by his Italian Renaissance predecessors Taccola and Francesco di Giorgio.

To support his argument, Menzies has published drawings of siege weapons, mills and pumps from a 1313 Chinese agricultural treatise, the Nung Shu, and from other pre-1430 Chinese books, next to apparently similar illustrations by Da Vinci, Di Giorgio and Taccola.  "By comparing Da Vinci's drawings with the Nung Shu we have verified that each element of a machine superbly illustrated by the Italian polymath had been illustrated by the Chinese in a much simpler manual earlier", Menzies writes.”

This book makes fascinating reading as it is crammed with details of a wide range of technologies comparing with what Menzies holds out as European and what could have been brought in by the Chinese (and the Arabs). Of particular interest to our Society is the account in Chapter 5 of the book that, on Zheng He’s seventh and last voyage in 1432, he ordered Hong Bao while at around Sri Lanka to lead a detachment of the fleet to the Red Sea.  From Calicut, Hong Bao took with him two junks and joined  the fleet of Calicut merchants for Tiangfang (Egypt).  These ships stopped over to visit Mecca before setting off to Cairo through the Red Sea-Nile canal.  Here, Menzies argues that Hormuz was not the same as the Hormuz of today but refers to Cairo then called Mosili (p. 47).  In the next chapter, Menzies shows evidence that the Red Sea was connected to the Nile which enabled Zheng He’s smaller junks to travel through the waterway.  Unfortunately, there was no actual record of Hong Bao’s junks’ journey to and visit to Cairo and presumably from there to Venice. It would be more than surprising that such a visit to the then centre of the European world would have missed being recorded by Zheng He’s scribes.

 

 

 

ZhengHe Epic

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2017. International Zheng He Society

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