Friday, February 21, 2014

Columbus did not discover America

History – the science of perpetuating a myopic euro-centric opinion of past events.

At the lower end of the renown, La Rambla Mall in Barcelona, Spain is an imposing bronze statue of an Italian explorer. The 197 feet statue depicts a man with an outstretched arm pointing at the ocean towards the Americas. The Monumento a Colón was constructed in 1888 in honor of Christopher Columbus who is remembered annually in the US as the person who discovered America in 1492.

But Columbus never once set foot on North America.

He himself never claim that he landed on the continent. He simply stumbled upon the Bahamas, later Hispaniola, the modern day Haiti and colonized the islands. His mission was not to explore but to exploit the new world in search for gold, expand Spanish imperialism, proof that the world was not flat and spread Christianity.

Why then would Spain honor an Italian who turned out to be a criminal in Hispaniola arrested and brought back in chains to Spain? Perhaps the colonisation of Hispaniola by Columbus, did provide the launchpad for Spain to expand its Empire into the Americas and the Spaniards were eternally grateful. Or perhaps it was a case of close-enough-was-good-enough during 15th Century Europe when the Fraternity of Christians were looking for a hero to represent their success in the Americas.

Even disregarding the first landing in America thousands of years ago by true explorers – the ancestors of Native America from Asia via the Bering Strait – there was a motley collection of first arrivals many centuries before Columbus. Joining this list was Japanese fishermen landing in Peru, Jews escaping from Roman persecution in 1st Century and Saint Brendan the Irish Monk in 6th Century. But none of these have generated greater debate and controversy than the notion that the Chinese arrived in North America in the 5th Century.

Hui Shen -
could he have
discovered America
Joseph De Guignes, a French historian, published 'Recherches sur les Navigations des Chinois du Cote de l' Amerique' in 1761, providing evidence that an unknown Buddhist Monk named Hui Shen sailed east from the East coast of China travelling 20,000 li to reach a place called Fusang. 20,000 Li is equivalent to today’s distance between Shanghai and California across the Pacific ocean. In an 18th Century map provided by Guigneas, this place Fusang was located North Coast of California. Further supporting evidence of this journey was found in the records of a 7th Century 'Book of Liang' by Yao Silian describing an existing Bronze Age civilization in Fusang.

By 1885, a good 3 years before the statue erected at Barcelona, Edward P. Vining published his book 'An inglorious Columbus: Evidence that Hui Shan and a Party of Buddhist Monks from Afghanistan Discovered America in the fifth Century'. In his eight-hundred page book he went further and provided detail evidence of Hui Shen's journey, further re-igniting the debate started in 1761.

There are certainly no shortage of evidence refuting Columbus' purported discovery, yet despite these overwhelming evidence the annals of history still bestow the first-discovery honor on this man.

We can see why history as we now know it is both myopic and euro-centric. Perhaps it is only written for Western consumption. 

I wish my history teacher knew about this, then at least I would be spared from this lifetime myth that is still being told in schools.

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