The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America

Overview

In 2003, Paul Chiasson climbed a mountain he never explored on the island where he grew up. Cape Breton, one of the oldest points of exploration in the Americas, is littered with remnants of old settlements. The road he found that day was unique. Consistently wide and formerly bordered with stone walls, the road had been a major undertaking. For the next two years, he surveyed the history of Europeans in North America, and came to a stunning conclusion: The ruins he came upon did not belong to the Portuguese, ...

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The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America

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Overview

In 2003, Paul Chiasson climbed a mountain he never explored on the island where he grew up. Cape Breton, one of the oldest points of exploration in the Americas, is littered with remnants of old settlements. The road he found that day was unique. Consistently wide and formerly bordered with stone walls, the road had been a major undertaking. For the next two years, he surveyed the history of Europeans in North America, and came to a stunning conclusion: The ruins he came upon did not belong to the Portuguese, French, or English and pre-dated John Cabot's "discovery" of the island in 1497. With aerial and site photographs, maps, drawings and his expertise in the history of architecture, Chiasson pieces together clues to one of the world's great mysteries. The Island of Seven Cities reveals the existence of a large Chinese colony that thrived on Canadian shores well before the European Age of Discovery and unveils the first tangible proof that the Chinese were in the New World before Columbus.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Good-bye, Columbus. Well, not exactly; but Paul Chiasson's The Island of Seven Cities does provide tantalizing arguments that Chinese settlers populated parts of North America long before the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María set sail. Architect Chiasson's foray into pre-Columbian history began with a mountain climb on his native Cape Breton Island. On his ascent, he discovered a stone-walled lined road and ruins unlike anything else he had seen in the region; eventually, after two years of research, he concluded that he had blundered upon a pre-European town site once occupied by Chinese settlers. A revisionist view of New World history.
From the Publisher
"Paul Chiasson's The Island of Seven Cities is riveting, beautifully written, powerful and compelling."—Gavin Menzies, author of 1421: The Year China Discovered America

"A fascinating piece of historical detective work..."—Library Journal, STARRED Review

"A groundbreaking new book...This is exemplary historical reporting that is compelling, powerful and stimulating."—The Tuscon Citizen

"A model for others to follow."—Betty Meggers

Library Journal
In contrast to its epic title, this is a personal account of the author's own research into a stone road he found on his native Cape Breton Island, Canada. Chiasson, an architect, was driven by intellectual curiosity, his family's Acadian ancestry, and his awareness that he was living with HIV and might not have the time or energy to complete the project. Writing in a modest style, he describes his research into early sources (500 years of maps and written records), his visits to the stone road and ruins on the mountaintop of Cape Dauphin, and aerial photography, all leading him to the conclusion that the ruins are those of a Chinese settlement established during the Ming dynasty in the early 15th century, well ahead of John Cabot's European discovery of the island in 1497. He posits that the Chinese may have been in search of coal or gold. Realizing the magnitude of his hypothesis, he reviews his evidence again and again, comparing similarities in culture between Cape Breton's indigenous Mi'kmaq and the Chinese, highlighting the architectural features of the ruins, and identifying Cape Breton Island with the fabled Island of Seven Cities, supposedly inhabited and predating Columbus and Cabot. Finally, he met with Gavin Menzies (1421: The Year China Discovered America), who visited the site and concurred with Chiasson that it was a pre-European Chinese settlement. It remains for archaeologists and experts in Chinese history and culture to validate Chiasson's findings, but the book stands as a fascinating piece of historical detective work. Essential for readers of 1421, whatever their beliefs, and for lay readers in general.-Joan W. Gartland, Detroit P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312362058
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 834,488
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

PAUL CHIASSON, a Yale-educated architect with a specialty in the history and theory of religious architechture has taught at Yale, the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and the University of Toronto. He lives in Toronto.

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Read an Excerpt

The Island of Seven Cities

Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America
By Paul Chiasson

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2007 Paul Chiasson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312362058


Chapter One

chapter ­one

Cut Stones in the Wilderness
From my chair in the front row, I looked around the Mumford Room of the Library of Congress in Washington at an assembly of people who were about to sit in judgment of me. It was May 16, 2005, and the library was hosting an international symposium on the early naval voyages of the Chinese, with a special emphasis on China’s mapping of the globe before the European age of discovery had even begun. This notion had once seemed extremely controversial, but throughout the morning one speaker after another drew on genetic profiles, methods for determining latitude, original documents and ­centuries-­old maps to present ideas that clearly had the power to reconfigure our history of the New World. The atmosphere was electric, as if all of us could see a window opening on the past and begin to make out something astonishing on the ­horizon.

Unlike the men and women around me, I was neither an archaeologist nor a historian. I was an architect from Toronto and had never imagined myself in this context–an accidental discoverer at ­best. But two years earlier I had stumbled onpreviously uninvestigated – and ­long-­forgotten – ruins on a mountaintop on a small island in the North Atlantic, an island that happened to be the place where I was born and raised.

Waiting for my introduction, and a little anxious about speaking in front of such an audience, I cast my mind back to the stillness of the ruins, isolated on their abandoned mountaintop. I was only too aware that as soon as my presentation was over the arguments would begin about the various elements of this once vast settlement, the reasons for its construction and its demise, and the consequences of its forgotten history. For a last moment, I concentrated on the cut stones I’d discovered in the wilderness, the magnificence and the mystery of a site that until I stood to speak had been mine alone to experience.

At the end of my very first climb to the ruins, I’d sat gazing down over the open Atlantic, a vista that stretched farther and wider than my eye could take in. The ruined site below me, gently sloping towards the sea, held the marks of an ancient design. Its rectangular geometry had been cut sharply into the hillside, but was now softened on its edges by dense spruce forest. The ruined terraces and stone platforms stepping down the mountainside had been conceived and built with this panorama in mind. The stones had been untouched for centuries, and were covered in layers of lichen and mosses that still held the morning dew. Faint traces of mist lay in the hollows amid the ruins. It was a place of great beauty, approached by a long difficult road, and it struck me that it had been designed to ease the frightened spirits of people a long way from home.

Even in those first moments, I had known that these were not the remnants of a humble fishing outpost or farm or fortification, but of a lost settlement that had been inhabited by hundreds or thousands of people for decades–long before Columbus ever dreamed of sailing. After two years of historical investigation I had concluded that the settlement was Chinese. I was here to announce and describe this discovery for the first time in public. If the academics in this room believed me–if my years of intense work proved sound–then the vision we had been glimpsing on the horizon all day would suddenly come into ­view.

The session moderator called my name. The elderly couple who sat next to me leaned over and wished me good luck. I clutched my notes and walked to the ­podium.

The path that led me to that mountaintop began in 1993, when I discovered I was ­HIV-­positive. At the time I believed I could lick the disease. I sat my family down and told them what it meant, but I told myself that I come from tenacious Acadian and Scots stock, pioneer blood that had helped build the communities of Cape Breton Island. I had moved from Washington two years earlier–giving up my teaching position at the Catholic University there – to Toronto. When I tested positive I met Dr. Anne Philips, an HIV specialist. She was the mother of three daughters and was married to another doctor, and her kindness and intelligence won my trust. In the ­mid-­nineties, when drugs were just becoming an option and I was debating their pros and cons, she told me I would be dead in six months if I didn’t start them immediately. I did and, as a result, was able to settle into a fulfilling career in Toronto as an architect and designer. I didn’t look sick, after all. Someday, I believed, I would get better; someday this affliction would just go ­away.

By the end of the decade that sense of invincibility had dissipated. The virus had mutated to meet the onslaught of medications, and my strength was in decline. Yet perhaps as a consequence of HIV – and though I was not prone to romantic notions of death – I developed an increasing passion for the architecture of the past. Architecture was the discipline in which I had been trained, but now I found comfort in the evidence that ruins provided: nature will destroy even the most magnificent of human plans. I had limited time left to me, but there were still places that fascinated me and buildings I had never seen. I was hungry for ruins. I knew the architecture of the West: I’d taught it to university freshmen in one form or another for years, and I’d lived and studied in France and Italy. But the Middle East – Egypt’s pyramids and the markets and mosques of Damascus – were still foreign to me. In the early spring of 2000 I’d persuaded my friend Beth to drive a rented car with me through the back roads of the region. With a suitcase full of guidebooks, we travelled from the Krak des Chavaliers in northern Syria to Petra in southern Jordan, then on to Egypt, the Sinai Desert, the Nile temples and the monuments of Karnak. We billed it as my last great ­adventure.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Island of Seven Cities by Paul Chiasson Copyright © 2007 by Paul Chiasson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Cut stones in the wilderness 1
2 Finding the edges of the world 25
3 John Cabot : a father effaced 43
4 Lost brothers 62
5 After the Portuguese 73
6 The French settle in 91
7 More brothers 107
8 A puzzling change of mind 123
9 Island of the dispossessed 145
10 Mysteries of the Mi'kmaq 157
11 A light in the east 180
12 Learning anew 195
13 An unexpected discovery 212
14 A family gathering 219
15 The summit 233
16 The wall and beyond 250
17 Parallel threads 267
18 Gavin and gold 290
19 Washington 298
20 The first visitors 307
21 Family reunions 319
22 Before the snow 325
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