In Search of... Chinese Explorers

As a kid I used to watch "In Search of," a show which explored alternative theories. This episode explores the voyages of another pre-Columbian explorer by the name of Hui Shen, who visited America in 499 A.D., long before Columbus, Zheng He or the Vikings.

If you're interested in the Chinese presence in pre-Columbian America, then an interesting book to read is Nu Sun by Gunnar Thompson:

If you're a fan of Gavin Menzies' books on Zheng He, then you'll find this book interesting. Zheng He is the most famous example of Chinese voyages to pre-Columbian America, but there were multiple Chinese explorers and voyages to the Americas prior to Zheng He.

This book examines evidence that the Chinese had set up a trading colony in Central America (where the Mayans arose) during 500 BC to 900 AD. The assertion is that it would have been quite easy for the Chinese to sail to the Americas, because the Pacific currents would have allowed them to sail to and from. When the Chinese arrived they met with the Olmecs and a confederation of proto-Mayan tribes. Because they arrived at a crucial period of cultural development, the Chinese colony influenced the Mayan culture.

Much of the evidence that Thompson points to is the striking similarities in numerous (13 to be exact) motifs found in both Mayan culture and Chinese culture at the same time. The book provides 150 illustrations comparing the similarities in design and religious symbols. For instance, we find the yin-yang symbol in both cultures.

Thompson doesn't delve too much into speculation, and he addresses counter arguments that the Mayan developed solely on their own or were influenced by other Old World cultures. Thompson points to other pieces of evidence that the Chinese were in the Americas (similar hieroglyphs, the sudden appearance of iron tools amidst stone age technology, the rapid rise of Mayan civilization). But since his expertise is in religious and cultural symbols, most of the evidence lies there. Because of this focus, I think this book would be an excellent complement to other books on pre-Columbian voyages to the Americas by the Chinese.