Monday, August 1, 2016
The Discovery of America by the Chinese by C. Welles 1869
The Discovery of America by the Chinese by C Welles 1869
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Was Columbus the first discoverer of America, or did he only rediscover that continent after it had, in remote ages, been found, peopled, and forgotten by the Old World? It is curious that this question has not been more generally raised, for it is very clear that one of two things must be true: either the people whom Columbus found in America must have been descended from emigrants from the Old World, and therefore America was known to the Old World before Columbus's time, or else the aborigines of the western hemisphere were the result of spontaneous human generation, the development of man from a lower species of animal, or descended from a second Adam and Eve whose origin would be equally puzzling. Unless we are prepared to cast aside Holy Writ, and all our general notions of the origin of the human race, we must believe that there was at one time communication between the Old World and the New. Probably this communication took place on the opposite side ot the world to ours, between the eastern coast ot Asia and the side of America most remote from Europe; and I believe it is quite possible that the inhabitants of Eastern Asia may have been aware of the existence of America, and kept up intercourse with it while our part of the Old World never dreamt of its existence. The impenetrable barrier the Chinese were always anxious to preserve between themselves and the rest of the nations of the Old World renders it quite possible that they should have kept their knowledge of America to themselves, or, at any rate, from Europe. The objection that the art of navigation in such remote times was not sufficiently advanced to enable the Chinese to cross the Pacific and land on the western shores of America is not conclusive, as we have now found that arts and sciences which were once generally supposed to be of quite modern origin existed in China ages and ages before their discovery in Europe. The arts of paper-making and printing, amongst others, had been practiced in China long before Europeans had any idea of them. Why, then, should not the Chinese have been equally, or more, in advance of us in navigation? The stately ruins of Baalbec, with gigantic arches across the streets whose erection would puzzle our modern engineers, the Pyramids and other such remains of stupendous works point to a state of civilization, and the existence of arts and sciences, in times of which European historians give no account.
One fact corroborative of the idea that the Old World, or at least some of the inhabitants of Asia, were once aware of the existence of America before its discovery by Columbus is that many of the Arabian ulema with whom I have conversed on this subject, are fully convinced that the ancient Arabian geographers knew of America, and in support of this opinion point to passages in old works in which a country to the west of the Atlantic is spoken of. An Arab gentleman, a friend of mine, General Hussein Pasha, in a work he has just written on America, called En-Nessr-Et-Tayir, quotes from Djeldeki and other old writers to show this.
There is, however, amongst Chinese records not merely vague references to a country to the west of the Atlantic, but a circumstantial account of its discovery by the Chinese long before Columbus was born.
A competent authority on such matters, J. Haulay, the Chinese interpreter in San Francisco, has lately written an essay on this subject, from which we gather the following startling statements drawn from Chinese historians and geographers.
Fourteen hundred years ago even America had been discovered by the Chinese and described by them. They stated that land to be about 20,000 Chinese miles distant from China. About 500 years after the birth of Christ, Buddhist priests repaired there, and brought back the news that they had met with Buddhist idols and religious writings in the country already. Their descriptions, in many respects, resemble those of the Spaniards a thousand years after. They called the country "Fusany," after a tree which grew there, whose leaves resemble those of the bamboo, whose bark the natives made clothes and paper out of, and whose fruit they ate. These particulars correspond exactly and remarkably with those given by the American historian, Prescott, about the maquay tree in Mexico. He states that the Aztecs prepared a pulp for paper-making out of the bark of this tree. Then, even its leaves were used for thatching; its fibres for making ropes: its roots yielded a nourishing food; and its sap, by means of fermentation, was made into an intoxicating drink. The accounts given by the Chinese and Spaniards, although a thousand years apart, agree in stating that the natives did not possess any Iron, but only copper; that they made all their tools, for working in stone and metals, out of a mixture of copper and tin; and they, in comparison with the nations of Europe and Asia, thought but little of the worth of silver and gold. The religious customs and forms of worship presented the same characteristics to the Chinese fourteen hundred years ago as to the Spaniards four hundred years ago.
There is, moreover, a remarkable resemblance between the religion of the Aztecs and the Buddhism of tho Chinese, as well as between the manners and customs of the Aztecs and those of the people of China. There is also a great similarity between the features of the Indian tribes of middle and South America and those of the Chinese, and, as Haulay, the Chinese interpreter of whom we spoke above, states, between the accent and most or the monosyllabic words of the Chinese and Indian languages. Indeed, this writer gives a list of words which point to a close relationship; and infers therefrom that there must have been emigration from China to the American continent at a most early period indeed, as the official accounts of Buddhist priests fourteen hundred years ago notice these things as existing already. Perhaps now old records may be recovered in China which may furnish full particulars of this question. lt is, at any rate, remarkable and confirmative of the idea of emigration from China to America at some remote period, that at the time of the discovery of America by the Spaniards the Indian tribes on·the coast of the Pacific, opposite to China, for the most part, enjoyed a state of culture of ancient growth, while the inhabitants of the Atlantic shore were found by Europeans in a state of original barbarism. If the idea of America having been discovered before the time of Columbus be correct, it only goes to prove that there is nothing new under the sun; and that Shelley was right in his bold but beautiful lines: "Thou canst not find one spot whereon no city stood." Admitting this, who can tell whether civilization did not exist in America when we were plunged in barbarism? and, stranger still, whether the endless march of ages in rolling over our present cultivation may not obliterate it, and sever the two hemispheres once again from each other's cognizance? Possibly, man is destined, in striving after civilization, to be like Sisyphus, always engaged in rolling up a stone which ever falls down.