23 April 2006

[design, cartography] My Skepticism Is Noted In Indonesia

While hardly the most popular or oft-read blogger in these parts, never mind the world, I wonder how many of you can say that your words were assayed in Indonesia?

I'm serious about this. Please follow:

A few weeks back, following the ruckus generated when a Chinese attorney claimed to have found a map purporting to be drawn from information said to prove the chinese mariner Zheng He visited America and circumnavigted the globe about 70 years before Columbus first visited what we now call the West Indies, I wrote a short article.

After subequent testing of the paper, which is claimed to have verified the claimed provenance of the map (which I call the "Mo Yi Tong" map, after its purported drafter), the attorney held an invitation-only event where the findings were released. Predictably, the owner claimed that the scientific test, combined with various naked-eye examinations by experts, prove that the map was done at about the time that was claimed (1798 AD). This is felt, by the advocates, to lend weight to the claim that the map itself was drawn from a lost source that records the Chinese admiral's western hemisphere visits in approximately the year 1418 AD, on the Western calendar.

I wrote about that on Designorati:Cartography here.

The map itself suffers from a variety of stylistic problems which more learned experts than myself can articulately explain; the most glaring even to this layman's eyes are the representation of California as an island (which was actually widely regarded as incorrect when it was popular and is, on this map, nearly identical to its depiction on French maps of the day) and the peculiar two-lobed hemispherical display, which is apparently very much unlike the style that Mo Yi Tong would have been prone to acutally use (if we believe that Mo Yi Tong existed).

Most importantly, I feel that finding that the map may have been authentic, if we take this as true for the sake of the argument, proves little else than this map may well be authentic. The crucial link, that the map itself was based on authentic and true records of a voyage that have since gone lost, is neither proved nor disproved by Mo Yi Tong's authenticity. It's still a matter of faith, and is therefore a very weak link indeed.

The proving or disproving of that link is of, per se, crucial importance, since it is the rock upon which credence of the claim (which I call the Menzies conjecture, after the British author who made it popular with his book 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered the World (the claim that the map was drawn from records dated 1418 also generate problems with this conjecture)) is based.

Anyway, I was Googling my own name and I found this link:

http://www.geografiana.com/dunia/budaya/peta_china_1418_otentik_1

which leads to an article on the Indoesian site Geografiana which makes reference to the article I wrote on Designorati analyzing the news of the authenticity announcment. I don't know any Indonesian (which I understand is a standardized version of Malay) but I believe that my conclusions are not exactly viewed with favor. The currency of the Menzies conjecture seems widely-approved of in eastern Asia, at least for the purpose of world-historical bragging rights, and in China, naturally, Zheng He is a national hero–all the more now since his name has been in the news of late.

The grown-ups remain unconvinced that Zheng visited the Western Hemisphere, and the weakness of the Mo Yi Tong map-based claim has not dissuaged the Menzies partisans from their position. From my layman's perspective, I find the Menzies conjecture interesting, but as a skeptic, I believe that such astounding claims require similarly strong proof–and it just hasn't yet been provided.

3 comments:

geografiana said...

Hi,
It was me who wrote the article in Geografiana. I neither agree nor disgaree on what you wrote about Mo Yi Tong's map. I just wrote your note that Liu only analyzed the media.

On my previuos article ( http://www.geografiana.com/dunia/budaya/china_penjelajah_dunia_pertama ) I'm also still questioning the map orientation. On my knowledge, by that time in Chinese people drew maps with south on top while Mo Yi Tong make it with north on top, and Liu Gang missed to explain this.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Hello to you! Thanks for the comment.

I am sorry if it looked as though I was trying to interpret your words in any other sense than what they were meant. I have no skill whatsoever in Indonesian, so my evaluation of what you may have been saying was definitely, as we say here, "out of school."

I can see by your comment that we are probably very much on the same wavelength with regard to Liu Gang's conclusions. While I am hardly an antiquties expert I feel I too comprehend the style arguements being made against the Mo Yi Tong document, and feel that they have not been well-answered; moreover, the validity of the document seems to have been predicated on just one thing; its age.

And, in this case, merely being as old as they think it is doesn't support anything but its being as old as they thing it is!

Thanks for commenting, and I'm quite flattered that not only did you refer to my Designorati article but also you took the time to visit my personal 'blog.

geografiana said...

no problem

google is your friend