1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance

1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance

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The brilliance of the Renaissance laid the foundation of the modern world. Textbooks tell us that it came about as a result of a rediscovery of the ideas and ideals of classical Greece and Rome. But now bestselling historian Gavin Menzies makes the startling argument that in the year 1434, China—then the world's most technologically advanced civilization—provided the spark that set the European Renaissance ablaze. From that date onward, Europeans embraced Chinese ideas, discoveries, and inventions, all of which form the basis of Western civilization today.

The New York Times bestselling author of 1421 combines a long-overdue historical reexamination with the excitement of an investigative adventure, bringing the reader aboard the remarkable Chinese fleet as it sails from China to Cairo and Florence, and then back across the world. Erudite and brilliantly reasoned, 1434 will change the way we see ourselves, our history, and our world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433214622
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 06/01/2008
Edition description: Unabridged
Pages: 8
Product dimensions: 6.85(w) x 6.03(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Gavin Menzies is the bestselling author of 1421: The Year China Discovered America; 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance; and The Lost Empire of Atlantis: History's Greatest Mystery Revealed. He served in the Royal Navy between 1953 and 1970. His knowledge of seafaring and navigation sparked his interest in the epic voyages of Chinese admiral Zheng He. Menzies lives in London.

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Chapter One

Last Voyage

In the summer of 1421 the emperor Zhu Di lost a stupendous gamble. In doing so, he lost control of China and, eventually, his life.

Zhu Di's dreams were so outsized that, though China in the early fifteenth century was the greatest power on earth, it still could not summon the means to realize the emperor's monumental ambitions. Having embarked on the simultaneous construction of the Forbidden City, the Ming tombs, and the Temple of Heaven, China was also building two thousand ships for Zheng He's fleets. These vast projects had denuded the land of timber. As a consequence, eunuchs were sent to pillage Vietnam. But the Vietnamese leader Le Loi fought the Chinese with great skill and courage, tying down the Chinese army at huge financial and psychological cost. China had her Vietnam six hundred years before France and America had theirs.1

China's debacle in Vietnam grew out of the costs of building and maintaining her treasure fleets, through which the emperor sought to bring the entire world into Confucian harmony within the Chinese tribute system. The fleets were led by eunuchs...brave sailors who were intensely loyal to the emperor, permanently insecure, and ready to sacrifice all. However, the eunuchs were also uneducated and frequently corrupt. And they were loathed by the mandarins, the educated administrative class that buttressed a Confucian system in which every citizen was assigned a clearly defined place.

Superb administrators, the mandarins recoiled from risk. They disapproved of the extravagant adventures of the treasure fleets, whose far-flung exploits had the added disadvantageof bringing them into contact with "long nosed barbarians." In the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), mandarins were the lowest class.2 However, in the Ming dynasty, Emperor Hong Wu, Zhu Di's father, reversed the class system to favor mandarins.

The mandarins planned Hong Wu's attack on his son Zhu Di, the Prince of Yen, whom Hong had banished to Beijing (Nanjing then being the capital of China). The eunuchs sided with Zhu Di, joining his drive south into Nanjing. After his victory in 1402, Zhu Di expressed his gratitude by appointing eunuchs to command the treasure fleets.

Henry Tsai paints a vivid portrait of Zhu Di, also known as the Yongle emperor:He was an overachiever. He should be credited for the construction of the imposing Forbidden City of Beijing, which still stands today to amaze countless visitors from lands afar. He should be applauded for sponsoring the legendary maritime expeditions of the Muslim eunuch Admiral Zheng He, the legacy of which still lives vividly in the historical consciousness of many Southeast Asians and East Africans. He reinforced the power structure of the absolutist empire his father the Hongwu emperor founded, and extended the tentacles of Chinese civilisation to Vietnam, Korea, Japan, among other tributary states of Ming China. He smoothed out China's relations with the Mongols from whom Emperor Hongwu had recovered the Chinese empire. He made possible the compilation of various important Chinese texts, including the monumental encyclopaedia Yongle dadian.?.?.?.?

Yongle [the alternative name for Zhu Di] was also a usurper, a man who bathed his hands in the blood of numerous political victims. And the bloodshed did not stop there. After ascending the throne, he built a well-knit information network staffed by eunuchs whom his father had specifically blocked from the core of politics, to spy on scholar officials [mandarins] who might challenge his legitimacy and his absolutism.3

Under Zhu Di, the mandarins were relegated to organizing the finances necessary to build the fleet. But for generations of mandarins who governed the Ming dynasty and compiled almost all Chinese historical sources, the voyages led by Zheng He were a deviation from the proper path. The mandarins did all they could to belittle Zheng He's achievements. As Edward L. Dreyer points out, Zheng He's biography in the Ming-Shi-lu was deliberately placed before a series of chapters on eunuchs "who are grouped with 'flatterers and deceivers,' 'treacherous ministers,' 'roving bandits' and 'all intrinsically evil categories of people.'"?4

As long as the voyages prospered, and tribute flowed back to the Middle Kingdom to finance the fleet's adventures, the simmering rivalry between mandarins and eunuchs could be contained. However, in the summer of 1421, Zhu Di's reign went horribly wrong. First, the Forbidden City, which had cost vast sums to build, was burned to ashes by a thunderbolt. Next, the emperor became impotent and was taunted by his concubines. In a final indignity, he was thrown from his horse, a present from Tamburlaine's son Shah Rokh.5 It appeared that Zhu Di had lost heaven's favor.

In December 1421, at a time when Chinese farmers were reduced to eating grass, Zhu Di embarked on another extravaganza. He led an enormous army into the northern steppe to fight the Mongol armies of Aruqtai, who had refused to pay tribute.6

This was too much for Xia Yuanji, the minister of finance; he refused to fund the expedition. Zhu Di had his minister arrested along with the minister of justice, who had also objected to the adventure. Fang Bin, the minister of war, committed suicide. With his finances in ruins and his cabinet in revolt, the emperor rode off to the steppe, where he was outwitted and outmaneuvered by Aruqtai. On August 12, 1424, Zhu Di died.7

Zhu Gaozhi, Zhu Di's son, took over as emperor and promptly reversed his father's policies. Xia Yuanji was restored as minister of finance, and drastic fiscal measures were adopted to rein in inflation. Zhu Gaozhi's first edict on ascending the throne on September 7, 1424, laid the treasure fleet low: he ordered all voyages of the treasure ships to be stopped. All ships moored at Taicang were ordered back to Nanjing.8

The mandarins were back in control. The great Zheng He was pensioned off along with his admirals and captains. Treasure ships were left to rot at their moorings. Nanjing's dry docks were flooded and plans for additional treasure ships were burned.

1434. Copyright © by Gavin Menzies. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Introduction     xi
Setting the Scene
A Last Voyage     3
The Emperor's Ambassador     7
The Fleets are Prepared for the Voyage to the Barbarians     17
Zheng He's Navigators' Calculation of Latitude and Longitude     29
Voyage to the Red Sea     39
Cairo and the Red Sea-Nile Canal     49
China Ignites the Renaissance
To The Venice of Niccolo Da Conti     63
Paolo Toscanelli's Florence     83
Toscanelli Meets the Chinese Ambassador     94
Columbus's and Magellan's World Maps     101
The World Maps of Johannes Schoner, Martin Waldseemuller, and Admiral Zheng He     110
Toscanelli's New Astronomy     132
The Florentine Mathematicians: Toscanelli, Nicholas of Cusa, and Regiomontanus     141
Leon Battista Alberti and Leonardo Da Vinci     155
Leonardo Da Vinci and Chinese Inventions     166
Leonardo, Di Giorgio, Taccola, and Alberti     177
Silk and Rice     197
Grand Canals: China and Lombardy     206
Firearms and Steel     216
Printing     231
China's Contribution to the Renaissance     238
China's Legacy
Tragedy on the High Seas: Zheng He's Fleet Destroyed by a Tsunami     257
The Conquistadores' Inheritance: Our Lady of Victory     278
Acknowledgments     289
Notes     311
Bibliography     331
Permissions     347
Photograph Credits     351
Index     353

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1434 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Tom_Ucity More than 1 year ago
Not only was this a very difficult book to plow through; in the end there was only speculation, nothing factual. It reminded me of the unscientific and fact free speculation of "Chariots of the Gods" where conclusions depended on so many assumptions that there was no fact, only imagination. This might have made a good basis for an alternative history novel, but was actually a waste of time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
1434 is the contentious sequel to retired submarine commander Gavin Menzie's first book, 1421. In his maiden effort, he proposed that the Chinese discovered America. Here, he says they sparked the Renaissance. Menzies - not a trained historian - says it all began when a large Chinese fleet arrived in Italy in 1434 via Egypt. They brought a treasure trove of knowledge - calendars, maps, encyclopedias and technical drawings - and unlocked the spirit of inquiry. Even the great Italian painter and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci benefited from the Chinese, the author claims. Menzie's writing style is engaging and peppered with stories of his travels. In one instance, he and his wife Marcella go to the French town of Saint Die to find out more about German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller, who drew a globular world map in 1507 showing South America and the Pacific. Menzies points out that Waldseemuller could not have known of those regions before Ferdinand Magellan 'the first European to cross the Pacific' set sail and traces the depictions of the Americas to a globe that the Chinese gave the pope in 1434. While this is an interesting read, the jury is still out on whether Menzies is to be believed. Historians agree that Chinese ideas did make their way to Europe but point out there is no written record of Chinese junks arriving in Italy. Menzies' evidence comes from among other things, a translation of a letter written by Italian mathematician Toscanelli, who claimed to have spoken to a Chinese ambassador who visited Pope Eugenius in 1434. This is just one of Menzies theories that academics have cited as 'far fetched'. But to the casual reader of history, 1434 is an exciting way of revisiting history. It is worth a read, if only to see if you can be convinced.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is not an amazingly new theory, he is just the first modern author to write about it. The problem i have is that it is such a dry read. With such amazingly controvetsial information the reader expects this information to be spun into an epic tale. It isn't. I have had more fun reading outdated text books. So frustrated by this purchase.
jhmJM More than 1 year ago
Be advised that the author is not a trained historian, and his methods and conclusions are highly questionable and not taken seriously by the academic community. I find his writing style dense and difficult to follow and have decided that I won't be wasting anymore time on him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting continuation of 1421. A little long in the tooth in some of the explinations. It relys too much on references to the web site for explanations and illustrations. You need to read it with a computer in front of you to get all the detail. COuld have been simplified as to examples and more of the illustrations and explanations ilncluded. An interesting read.
GiggleMonster More than 1 year ago
I had read 1421 and had enjoyed it and was looking forward to reading this book. While the subject was well researched I found several things that frustrated me about the book. First, the author would talk about a subject and then say for more details to go to his website instead of having an appendix at the end of the book. I had the trade paperback and in the text he kept refering to maps that I could not find in the book. The last thing is that it did not read as well as his first book. It seemed more like a travelogue than a research book. The subject is very throught provoking in that he questions the Eurocentric view of history. He has done a lot of research to back up his thesis and his explination of events seems very logical.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
1434 is the horrible sequel to Gavin Menzies' bestselling 1421, which already went way beyond the facts (aka fibbing) to "support" its thesis. At least, Menzies promoted the achievements of the Chinese medieval fleet and Zheng He around the world. The commercial success of that venture led the author and his publisher HarperCollins to produce this titanic shipwreck. Given the equally flawed sequel Superfreakonimcs, HarperCollins has massive quality control issues bordering on intellectual prostitution.Gavin Menzies' second book is dishonest, shoddy and lazy beyond repair. The level of ignorance is stunning and hits you machine-gun style: "In the 1430s, Europeans had no unified calendar, for they had not yet agreed how to measure time. The Gregorian calendar did not come into use until a century later." Never heard of the Julian calendar, proposed by Gaius Julius Caesar, inventor of the Cesar salad? Obviously, the editors and account managers at HarperCollins haven't either or were blinded by those shiny, shiny coins. This is history's equivalent to Creationism. It is only fitting that HarperCollins is also the publisher of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, going rogue on facts and reality. Well, there is a sucker born every minute. Fortunately, I did not spend any money on this icky title.
ros.peters on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not bad as far as history books go. Offers some interesting ideas with regard to the Renaissance in Europe. Even if not all the ideas prove to be truel, it certainly paints the Chinese as a superior nation who were more advanced than the rest of the world at this point in time (1434). Food for thought.
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markusmaximus More than 1 year ago
A very well written piece of history. Mr Menzies has spent countless hours researching and traveling the globe to put this together. Very stimulating if you love history. A must read.
loraxFL More than 1 year ago
Author backs up his theory by pulling together facts from maps and historical evidence of a super-sized fleet of monster Chinese junks travelling the globe spreading knowledge of navigation, gunpowder, movable type, distant lands, and the most accurate maps of the world. Christopher Columbus used Chinese maps to "discover" America and Magellan used Chinese maps to circumnavigate the world. The Europeans were gifted knowledge that spurred the era of exploration and the Renaissance. Big claims with which historians disagree but this former Navy navigator pieces together enough evidence to call into question the entire Europe-centric myth of the Renaissance. Even if you are not convinced, the author provides interesting tidbits of little known history, links together well-know facts in different ways. Explains the mongol DNA in widespread places. Explains how the Chinese solved the longitude problem using star charts developed over centuries of observation whereas Europeans didn't have accurate longitude location until they had accurate timepieces on ships. Beyond here dragons be!
s70fan More than 1 year ago
You know Menzies just makes this stuff up right?