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1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance (P.S.) Paperback – June 9, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 158 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Menzies's 1421, the amateur historian advanced a highly controversial hypothesis, that the Chinese discovered America; in this follow-up, he credits the Renaissance not to classical Greek and Roman ideals (a "Eurocentric view of history") but again to the Chinese. His thesis in both works is based on the seven (historically undisputed) voyages undertaken by a large Chinese sailing fleet between 1405 and 1433; while it is known that they traveled as far as east Africa, Menzies believes that they landed in Italy and sent a delegation to the Council of Venice, held in Florence in 1439. There, they provided the knowledge and technique-introducing the painter Alberti, for instance, to the methods of perspective drawing-that sparked the Renaissance. Menzies sets the stage by recapitulating arguments from his first book, including the ingenious method for calculating longitude that Chinese navigators may have used. Though Menzies writes engagingly, his assumption that the Chinese fleet landed a delegation in Florence is highly speculative, and hardly substantiated by any facts (Alberti could just have easily learned perspective from classical sources; the Greeks knew about the relationship between perception of length and distance in the 1st Century BCE).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In his earlier book, 1421: The Year China Discovered America (2002), Menzies, a former British Royal Navy submarine commander, asserted that a mighty Chinese fleet commanded by the eunuch Zheng visited North America. The book generated considerable interest and a cult following among laymen, but professional historians in both China and the West largely dismissed his claims. Now Menzies, still the provocateur, insists that a Chinese fleet visited Italy and imparted the wisdom of the highly advanced Chinese civilization, thus sparking the explosion of scientific inquiry and creativity during the Renaissance. As scholarly history, this work is weak. Menzies takes fragmentary evidence and blows it up into “without a doubt” conclusions. Still, as a combination of nautical tall tale and historical speculation, this is a fun book. Menzies knows how to spin a yarn and does so in the manner of a good detective story. This isn’t serious history, but many will find it an enjoyable read. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061492183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061492181
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #184,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Another fantastic volume in Gavin Menzies's trilogy, "The Fifteenth Century: When China Discovered the Universe". Volume 2, "1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance" follows Menzies's successful and enlightening Volume 1, "1421: The Year China Discovered America". Menzies fans are looking forward to next year's equally profitable final Volume 3 of the trilogy, "1438: The Year China Launched the First Manned Rocket to Mars". Who says history can't be fun...

A comment upon the above review asked for more specifics on my attitude toward Menzies, so...

I'll make a few more comments:

The issues with Menzies are twofold. First, there are many contemporary Chinese descriptions of these voyages which Menzies ignores, all of which describe the voyages (including the 1421 sixth voyage) as being confined to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Second, Menzies just invents out of his imagination events and descriptions and evidence that have no relevance to reality. Hence, his many scholarly detractors.

Zheng He himself in 1431, prior to his seventh and last voyage, left us two engraved inscriptions (at Liujiagang and Changle) that describe the first six voyages, and which describe the 1421 voyage as only delivering ambassadors back to their home countries (such as Hormuz) and returning to China with their tribute in local products. Nine years after the end of the 6th voyage, he knew of nothing extraordinary that took place on any of the 1421 voyages.
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Format: Hardcover
Gavin Menzies' foolish and ridiculous book 1434 claims that a Chinese fleet sailed to Italy and gave the Europeans knowledge which started the Renaissance.
This statement is false.

Allow us to examine several major items of knowledge originated in China and found later in the West. In no case was the knowledge transmitted in 1434.
This information is from Temple's The Genius of China, cited by mangy Menzies as a source but apparently unread by him.
The stirrup was invented in the third century CE and was introduced into the Byzantine Empire in 580. Not in 1434.

Porcelain was invented in China in the third century CE and was independently re-invented in England by Josiah Wedgewood in the eighteenth century. Not in 1434.

Printing was invented in China in the eighth century and was introduced into Europe before the middle of the fourteenth century, not in 1434. Gutenberg did begin to use movable type in 1458, but it did not appear in Italy first, but in Germany; there is no indication of its transmission from a visiting Chinese embassy, as printing had been practiced for more than one hundred years already in Europe.

The idea of the circulation of the blood was brought to the Near East by al-Nafis and the works of this Arab were translated by Servetus, Renaldus Columbus and others, not working from information transmitted in 1434.

The compass was found in Europe by 1180, mentioned first, I believe, by Neckham. Not in 1434.

The rudder was invented in China in the first century CE and found in Europe by 1180, not transmitted in 1434.

The crossbow was invented in China, and was known to the Greeks by 397 BCE, not 1434 CE.

Gunpowder was known in China by the 800s CE, and in the West by the late 1100s, not 1434.

Therefore to claim that vast amounts of knowledge was transmitted all at once in one imaginary voyage is clearly false. Menzies should learn history.
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Format: Hardcover
I wish I had read a few of the reviews prior to purchasing this book. Regardless of whether you believe the author's theory or not, it's just not presented in an interesting or readable fashion. As a lover of history, particularly Renaissance Italy, I was intrigued by the notion that China had provided the spark. After slogging through dense, repetitive and just plain boring verbage, I found that my time could have been better spent elsewhere.
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Format: Paperback
There's no doubt that the Chinese made some amazing voyages in the 1400s. However, this book starts from there and takes a speculative leap. He asserts that Chinese ships visited Italy in 1434, bringing maps of the Americas and numerous other inventions, helping to start the Renaissance. I just don't see that Menzies' evidence supports his conclusions.

In many places the book seems simply sloppy. For example, in Chapter I Menzies says that the Forbidden City of Beijing built by Zhu Di still stands today. Only a few paragraphs later he says that the Forbidden City built by Zhu Di burned to the ground in 1421. I'm sure there's an explanation for this, but this sort of error doesn't incline me to trust Menzies' scholarship.

The book's constant instructions to check the author's website for more information are very annoying. If Menzies has evidence, why not present it?

Menzies believes that the Chinese explorers knew how to calculate longitude at sea from the stars. He also says they knew in 1384 that the sun was the center of the solar system and moves in an ellipse. This strikes me as very doubtful indeed, the more so as Menzies gives very little evidence for it. Of course it's theoretically possible that they might have calculated longitude at sea, but that's a long way from saying that this was a common practice. The calculations involved are formidable.

Menzies believes that the Chinese fleet passed from the Red Sea to the Nile through a canal. My understanding of this is that a shallow canal pre-dating the Suez canal may have existed at various times, starting in antiquity. The older canal may have been usable only at flood times; at any rate, it seems to have frequently silted up and been abandoned for centuries at a time.
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