WAS AMERICA DISCOVERED BY THE CHINESE? 1892
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The literature on the subject of the discovery of the American continent by Chinese Buddhist priests in the middle of the fifth century exceeds in bulk that on the discovery by Columbus or the Norsemen. Ever since the year I76l, when the great French sinologue, De Guines, gave to the world for the first time the ancient account of the Chinese Hoei-Shin, describing a distant land to which the name of Fusang was given, the .world has been flooded with books, tractates, and pamphlets bearing on the same interesting topic, in which Fusang is identified as America.
The weight of mere opinion has favored the theory of a Chinese discovery of the American continent, and even as early as 1752 the eyes of European scholars and geographers were greeted with the map of Buache, showing De Guines' hypothetical route of the Chinese across the Pacific in the year 458 to the coast of America. English, French, German, and American savants have contended among themselves; yet, although much real scholarship has been expended, the weight of evidence to those versed in Chinese history and the Chinese language has never appeared great enough to warrant the conclusions of a Chinese discovery and occupancy of the American continent.
Many of those who have been engaged in this controversy have been only slightly acquainted with Chinese subjects, and their statements are at variance with established facts. Some never studied the Chinese language, and were therefore wholly incompetent for the basing of arguments (as some really did) on linguistic grounds. Others became interested and took part in the controversy from its novelty, as was the case with those who have written in the interest of the old Norse navigators. Again, the basis of argument has frequently been exceedingly narrow, investigations having been carried on from a single point of view; as. for instance, the mythological, without reference to the mores ubstantial points of departure which ought to enter into every archaeological question. The mythology of ancient Mexico may indeed be shown to have been comparable with that of China, yet a Chinese discovery and occupancy of America cannot be proved in this way.
Archaeology is still in its formative state—it has not yet been erected into a science; but the time must come when it will hold as dignified a station in the scientific world as geology. Archaeology is now a mass of theories. Anybody can become an archaeologist and gain audiences, provided he has a theory to promulgate. Two chemists analyzing a similar substance could not think of attaining correct results by violating chemical laws, though the details of their methods might lawfully vary. Thus must it be in the future with archaeology. The day is coming when archaeologists will proceed with their investigations according to scientific methods, whether they concern the question of America's discovery or the beginnings of Egyptian civilization. Had archaeology been a science for the past century the question of the Chinese discovery of America would have been settled long ago, instead of continuing to burden us with theories that render a very simple subject very abstruse and difficult of solution.
The basis of the theory that the Chinese discovered our country, or rather what is now Mexico, is found in the following:
First, The story of a Chinaman named Hoei-Shin, extant in the Chinese language, and translated by several scholars into English, French, and German. This account tells us of a voyage to a land named in Chinese Fusang, in about the year 458; the said Chinaman, a Buddhist priest, having returned to China, according to the account, in 499. Fusang is said to be America. This is what may be called a supposed. literary or historical discovery.
Second, The supposed discovery that the geography of the Chinese Fusang is identical with the geography of Western America.
Third, The supposed discovery that the early accounts of aboriginal Mexico and the Chinese description of Fusang show the same myths and customs.
Fourth, The supposed discovery that Buddhistic traditions are still prevalent among the Mexican natives.
Fifth, The supposed discovery that the Otomi tribe of Mexico has a monosyllabic language, and that Sanscrit roots are found in the different Mexican languages—relics (it is believed) of the infusion of the Sanscrit language into the native tongue by the Buddhistic Chinese priests, who were acquainted with the Sanscrit language—the sacred language of all Buddhists.
Sixth, The supposed discovery of Chinese jade ornaments in Nicaragua.
Seventh, The supposed discovery by Dr. Harvey of the Chinese symbol tac-kai (“the essence of all things") on a monument in Copan.
Let us examine these supposed discoveries according to the above order. First: No sooner was the account of the Chinaman Hoei-Shin given to the world by the French savant De Guines in 1761, than he recognized the country of Fusang as America. Why did he decide upon this so suddenly? What reasons did he assign for this identification? None that are of any weight to the scientific mind of the nineteenth century. The amount of the Buddhist priest seemed to speak of a distant land reached by sea, but in what direction it lay, and by what marks it could be identified, were enigmas that neither De Guines nor those who favored his theory (even to our own day) have been able to solve. On the arbitrary supposition that Fusang was America, it was very easy and natural for the theorizers to trace out on a map the route of the Chinese across the Pacific by way of the Keurile and Aleutian islands. The route naturally followed the theoretical identification. Thus we see that the very beginnings of the theory of a Chinese discovery of America arose without the presence of a single fact, historical, geographical, or archaeological, to lend it support. A theory is a necessary step toward the acquisition of a great truth, but science demands the concurrent support of facts, since a theory is otherwise merely a guess. Such was De Guines’ so-called theory; it was mere supposition or guesswork, since not a single fact was advanced in support of Fusang having been America. It is needless to waste more time in the consideration of De Guines’ theory, since his own work on Researches on the Navigation of the Chinese to the Coast of America does not advance a single fact. The French scholars did what any other novelty-loving persons might have done—guessed at it. If De Guines had even offered one important proof in connection with his identification of Fusang with America, that coming from so learned a man would commend our respectful attention.
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Second, Is the geography of Fusang and Mexico identical? I deny the possibility of elaborating from any Chinese work on travel, by sea or land, a system of “geography." In the Chinese writings many places have been identified, but their geography of the regions traversed is only a mere outline. and no opinions can be formed as to the nature of wide stretches of country. In every Chinese itinerary we may read of “rivers " and “mountains ’ and “valleys, of “islands," “seas," “bays," and “promontories,” but the idea of “geography” is as remote from these writings as is that of geology. The account of Hoei-Shin is not an exception among these works on travel. Its “geography” may as easily be the local description of a small area as of a continent, and may as easily apply to a spot on the Pacific coast of China or Asia as to the whole coast of Mexico or North America. Nature, in her aspects of land and water, mountain and valley, island and peninsula, trees and flowers, does not vary as extensively in the general plan as we are apt to suppose, and the written description is apt to show even more uniformity. A vivid description of the rugged shores of the Great Lakes might readily be taken by the average person for a presentation of the characteristics of the shores of Norway and Sweden, so much alike are they in a general sense; and when the portrayal is by the hand of a Buddhist priest, ignorant of the nature of geographical relations, ignorant of science, and compelled to use the cumbersome Chinese language as a medium, the probability is that his geographical story will be of so universal a nature that it may apply to a large number of widely separated localities.
Is the geography of Fusang that of Mexico? He does not say it is not, but something even stronger may be affirmed. We do not find a single fact to warrant our spending one moment on American soil in attempting to identify the geography of Fusang with that of America (or Mexico)!
Third, The identity of Mexican myths and customs with those of the Fusang story rests upon as frail a foundation as the preceding. What do we know of them? We are possessed of no native written sources of information. Of the mythology and religion of Mexico, only those of Aztec times are known to us, and even these are vague. Prior to the Aztec came the Toltec, which arose about 700, and the supposed discovery of America (Mexico) by the Chinese took place nearly two hundred and fifty years before this, in 458. Only the exhumed idols and temples afford us any aid in gaining an idea of the religion and mythology of Toltec times, and this knowledge, after successive conquests of the land, without a knowledge of the hieroglyphics, is still very scant. If we know so little of the proud Toltec times, how much less do we know of preToltec days. Of the Toltec celestial hierarchy we have some evidence that there was one supreme god, spiritual and invisible, with a council of thirteen chief gods, over two hundred inferior ones, and these may have been the gods of the land before the coming of the Toltecs. But we know so little of those early days in Mexico that no comparison can be made with the mythology and customs of any other nation or country. If even one fact could be advanced in support of the identity of the mythology of pre-Toltec Mexico and that of the Fusang record, it ought to gain our sincere attention; but as we know nothing of this pre-Toltec mythology, how can we discuss it?
Fourth, No greater exertion of the imagination has been made in the subject of America’s discovery by the Chinese than in the supposed discovery of Buddhistic traditions among the Mexican natives. We fail to recognize any facts in this argument. Men in every clime hand down from age to age identical traditions. Men have been the same the world over in their gropings after the Infinite, in their search for truth. Iceland and Babylon, with civilizations separated by an interval of three thousand years, tell the same story of primeval chaos and of the first parents of the race—not in detail, to be sure, but in the main points.
Many traditions of ancient Mexico may be among those held by Chinese Buddhists, yet they are not thereby Buddhistic. They are universal. In all the theorizing on this subject not a single tradition distinctively Buddhistic has yet been recognized in Mexico.
Fifth, It is said that the Otomi tribes in Mexico have a monosyllabic language, and that therefore it is a descendant of an early monosyllabic tongue; or, at least, it is a native tongue made largely monosyllabic by long contact with the monosyllabic language of a superior race “supposed" to be the Chinese. This argument is based upon the old and even still surviving idea that the Chinese language is monosyllabic, which is not the truth. The Chinese is, of all languages, the most polysyllabic. I will admit that quite the opposite has been held by great men. In our cyclopadias and numerous works on language and history, the Chinese language is said to differ from all others in being monosyllabic. Yet it is quite the opposite. In Chinese hardly any object or idea is expressible by a single sign or syllable. The English, Scandinavian, and German languages are far more monosyllabic than Chinese. In English we have God, German Gott, Swedish and Danish Gud, and Icelandic Gudh, for the Supreme Being. Not so in Chinese, since there God is a polysyllabic word, Shang-Ti, the “Upper Ruler." Were the Chinese monosyllabic, the translation of our Bible into that language would certainly have rendered the name “Christ" by a monosyllabic term. On the contrary, it is given in Chinese as Ke-fok. It is true there are monosyllabic proper names in Chinese, but were it intrinsically a monosyllabic tongue, all words would of necessity be monosyllables, including proper names. It would be impossible to render “Christ" Ke-fok if the language were not polysyllabic. In fact, it is hard for a Chinaman to interpret a monosyllable; to him it generally has no meaning whatever. It is the connection of one syllable with another that he understands. Of Course, there are upward of two hundred radical signs, forming the basis of the language, which are monosyllables as in all languages, such as “man," “woman," “horse," “ox," “moon,” “sun,” “dark," “white,” or “clear," which express the earliest attempts of the Chinese to name the various objects and aspects of nature. These do not differ as regards the syllable from corresponding words in English. But beyond these primitive types no idea can be clearly expressed in Chinese with no less than two syllables. Even such a familiar idea as friend must be thus written or spoken. The great Chinese scholar Summers, in his handbook of the Chinese language, distinctly asserts the polysyllabic nature of the Chinese language. Is the Otomi language of Mexico monosyllabic? Perhaps it is; but it does not affect the case at hand, since the Chinese is itself eminently polysyllabic.
Sixth, Regarding the supposed Chinese jade ornaments found in Nicaragua and elsewhere, we will accept this as a fact when the ornaments are shown to be Chinese. It does not require much of an eye to detect any object of art coming from Chinese hands, no matter how aged it is. Of the thousands of “jade ornaments " found and called Chinese, not one has been recognized as such by Chinese scholars.
Seventh, Among the countless emblems of a mythological nature amid the ruins of Copan there are hundreds which might be referred as well to Babylon as to China. To form the basis of a theory, the symbol found by Dr. Harvey must be proved to be Chinese. It is merely supposed to be Chinese in origin, although the nature of it would place its origin at the spot where it was discovered, in Copan. All nations are given to symbols. Every nation has had its “type of the endless and unknown," every land has had its “symbol of the essence of all things." Why is the Copan symbol Chinese? Simply because it bears a faint resemblance to a Chinese character. Among thousands and thousands of symbols found in Mexico, one lone emblem is set down as Chinese! Here, as heretofore, a supposition is made part of the basis for a theory.
We have passed in review all the main arguments for a Chinese discovery of America. Are they at all stable? Are there any facts brought forward to support the theory? Not one. The natural conclusion is that there never was any ground for believing that the Chinese discovered America. The island of Formosa, lying within one hundred miles of the greatest maritime province of China, was not discovered by the Chinese until the year 1430, and moreover was not colonized by them until the year 1661, and this discovery was only by accident. Yet the Chinese theorists of America's discovery would have us believe that it was discovered at least as early as the fifth century. The other great islands of the archipelago have been known to China only a few centuries, and their extensive trade with India arose only after the Mahometan conquests gave the Arabs control of the sea trade with the extreme Orient. Even the Chinese themselves did not become venturesome sailors. They put all of their sea trade into Arabian hands, and only a few Chinese got as far as Ceylon. Yet the advocates of America’s discovery by these people would have us believe that the Chinese junks braved the Pacific in 458 and colonized our coast! It is claimed that the Chinese discoverers of America in 458 were Buddhist priests, bent on converting the world to Buddhism. The Japanese were not converted to Buddhism until the middle of the sixth century, and yet it is claimed that the Buddhists a hundred years before this had left Japan behind and planted their religion in America, five thousand miles across a trackless waste! The idea of America having heard the doctrine of Buddha a century before the Japanese empire is so preposterous as to be alone a final and sufficient proof that America was not discovered by Chinese Buddhist priests.
But is the Fusang country a myth? Could all the writers for the past century have been dealing with a land that never existed? By no means. The Chinaman Hoei-Shin wrote of a definite region, and so have De Guines and others. But had they known more of Asiatic geography— had they lived in this age, when Fusang is known as well as China itself, the theory of America’s discovery by the Chinese would never have been promulgated. To-day we can take passage from ’Frisco in an elegant steamer, and after stopping in Japan go direct to Fusang on the Pacific coast of Corea, in latitude 35° 6' north and longitude 129° 1' east. There is the long-sought Fusang of the fifth century. It was there then, and has been there for untold centuries. Fusang and Ai-Chin (on the west coast of Corea) have been through long centuries the “loop-holes," as one writer has it, of the “hermit nation." To the Chinese and Japanese Fusang has been known for ages. It has been and is to-day a great cosmopolitan Entrepot of commerce. No wonder the Buddhists went there, for its soil was rich, its productions varied and numerous. In the war of 1592—97 Fusang was taken by the Japanese and held until 1868, but was then closed to the latter until 1876, since which time it has steadily gained in commercial importance, and exports what it undoubtedly did when the Buddhist priests began to preach there—~silver, hides, fish, rice, silk, cotton, paper, furs, shells, timber, hemp, jute.
Fusang has been known for centuries. Why it was ever transported to America we cannot tell. In that great work, Corea the Hermit Nation, Fusang is mentioned upward of twelve times on as many different pages. Fusang has always been in Corea, is now, and ever will be, and therefore America was not discovered by Chinese Buddhist priests.
Alfred Kingsley Glover
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