21

CHINA’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE RENAISSANCE

Maps of the World

After 1434, European world maps changed. There was a shift away from the circular maps centered on Jerusalem, emphasizing religious subjects, to depictions of the world as it really is.

Toscanelli sent Columbus a map of the Americas; Regiomontanus advertised a world map for sale.1 Magellan possessed a world map. Andrea Bianco showed Florida on his Atlantic chart of 1436 (Newberry Library, Chicago); on his 1448 map, he described Brazil. Then, in 1507, Waldseemüller published his amazing world map accurately rendering North and South America.

All of these maps had something in common: they accurately depicted parts of the New World before Europeans ever reached those parts. The Waldseemüller showed the Pacific before Magellan set sail, Andrea Bianco showed Florida and Antilia fifty-six years before Columbus; the Cantino planisphere of 1502 depicted the Florida coast before Ponce de León “discovered” the place.

There is something else these maps had in common. All are copies in whole or in part of Zheng He’s 1418 map. It was a logical and deliberate policy of Zheng He’s mission to distribute Chinese maps of the world. For if the barbarians did not have accurate maps, how could they reach the Middle Kingdom to pay tribute?

At the Nanjing conference on Zheng He held in December 2002, Professor Liu Manchum described his research into judicial records of the early Ming dynasty, notably those of Fujian Province.2 He came across an account of a Brazilian delegation that had reached Fujian in 1507, after a five-year voyage. The delegation bore expensive tribute, notably emeralds, and had their plenipotentiary powers engraved on a golden plate. They had found their way to China by means of a map.

Professor Liu Manchum realized that, at the time the Brazilian delegation left Brazil for China in 1502, Europeans had not reached both Brazil and China by sea.3 Consequently, the map that guided them from Brazil to China could not have been European. He then searched Zheng He’s records and found accounts of his fleets reaching the Americas. He concluded that Zheng He’s fleets had reached Brazil before 1434, after which Chinese overseas voyages were prohibited by the emperor. Professor Manchum intended to write a book claiming that Zheng He, not Columbus, discovered the Americas. He then learned of my book 1421 and decided to postpone his own.

Brazil also appears on a Javanese map published before Europeans reached Java. In an April, 1512–letter to King Manuel of Portugal, Alfonso de Albuquerque, the first European to reach Malacca, refers to a world map he has acquired from a Javanese pilot and kept aboard his flagship, the Fiore de la Mar. (The Fiore de la Mar sank before reaching Portugal.):

I am also sending you an authentic portion of a great map belonging to a Javanese pilot, which shows the Cape of Good Hope, Portugal and the territory of Brasil, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and the Spice Islands. It also shows where the Chinese and the Gores sail, with the Rhumbs and the routes taken by their ships and the interiors of the various kingdoms and which kingdoms border on which. It strikes me as the finest piece of work I ever saw and I am sure Your Highness would be delighted to see it. The names were written in Javanese script and I found a Javanese who could read and write the script. I send your Highness this fragment that Francisco Rodrigues copied from the original, in which Your Highness will see where the Chinese and the Gores really come from and the route your ships should follow to reach the spice islands, where the gold mines are located and the islands of Java and Banda, where nutmeg and mace come from and the territory of the King of Siam. You will see the extent of Chinese navigation and where they return to and the point beyond which they will not sail. The main part of the map is lost in the Fiori de la Mar. I worked out the meaning of this map with the pilot Pero de Alfoim so that they would be able to explain it to Your Highness. You may take this portion of it as very authentic and accurate because it shows the routes they take in both directions. It does not show the archipelago called Celate which lies between Java and Malacca.

Your Highness’s creature and servant, Alfonso de Albuquerque, Caesar of the East.4

Albuquerque does not find it necessary to point out that when Europeans first reached the East, the Javanese (and the Chinese) already knew the locations of Portugal and Brazil on a world chart. His letter reveals details of the interiors of kingdoms, implying authentic knowledge. Manuel Stock, to whom I am indebted for this information, has also found a reference to Brazil on a map dated 1447.5 The Duchess of Medina Sidonia’s Library at Sanlucar de Barrameda has maps of Brazil before Dias or Cabral.

In addition to their knowledge of Brazil and a route to the Spice Islands—before European explorers set off for such places—both the Venetians and the Portuguese knew of Australia by 1516 at the latest. Giovanni di Fontana, the Venetian doctor, in 1450 already knew of Australia, the Indian Ocean, and America.6

The National Library of Australia holds a letter, dated 1516, written by a Venetian, Andrea Corsali, who had traveled aboard a Portuguese ship. The letter, written from Cochin, is addressed to the doge of Venice. Corsali describes his voyage around the Cape of Good Hope as far as New Guinea and Timor. He illustrates the Southern Cross with sufficient accuracy to prove he must have seen it. The letter asserts that the Portuguese knew of large lands to the south called India Australis (Southern), later referred to as Java la Grande.

Professor Jaime Cortesão, in “The Pre-Columbian Discovery of America,” describes the first Portuguese voyage to Brazil and includes a report to King John of Portugal. The King is advised to “please command that they bring you the world map of Pedro Vaz Bisagudo. And Your Highness will be able to see on it the position of this land. Notwithstanding this map does not declare whether this land [Brazil] is inhabited or not. It is an old world-map, but the Mina is registered there.”7

So here we have a declaration that Brazil was on a world map before the first European expedition there. This squares with Brazil’s appearance on Andrea Bianco’s map of 1448 and is further proof that the Southern and Western Hemispheres were documented on maps long before European voyages of exploration started.

If, as I claim, Zheng He’s 1434 visit provided maps of the world to the barbarians in order to enable them to pay tribute, then the Venetians and the Portuguese would have had knowledge of the New World by 1434.8 And if the Venetians knew of the New World by 1434, we would expect them to have set sail for it shortly thereafter.

The voyage that is generally accepted as the first to Canada was the ill-fated expedition of Miguel Côrte-Real in 1502. Côrte-Real reached the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. When he arrived there, however, his sailors found a gilded sword hilt and silver trinkets of Venetian manufacture at a native village in Labrador.9

Croatian Voyages West

In 1434, the Venetian Empire was at its peak. Venice controlled the Croatian coast. Dalmatian sailors crewed Venetian ships, and Venetian pilots were trained at Perast (see chapters 7 and 13). According to Croatian archives, which Louis Adamic describes in a 1972 publication of Svetu Magazine,10 several Croatian merchant vessels foundered off the Carolina coast in 1449. They were said to be sailing to China via America.

Adamic’s search of Croatian archives commenced following conversations with senior citizens who told him of ancestral traditions that Croatians had sailed across the Atlantic in ancient times. The brief account mentioned that three of the five vessels in the expedition were left stranded near Chesapeake Bay; the other two ships sailed back to Dubrovnik. Unfortunately, war with Turkey prevented a relief expedition. Charles Prazak believes the survivors joined the Powhatan tribe and gave their name to Croatan Island.

The crew of a Croatian caravel, Atlante, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and found land in 1484 (Sinovic, 1991). According to historian Charles Prazak, archives reported in Zajecnicar (Dec. 2, 1979) tell of several Croatian vessels carrying refugees from Turkish invasions who reached the Carolinas near Roanoke Island in 1470. Prazak (1993) and Sinovic (1991) believe these survivors merged with native Algokian tribes and made significant contributions to their culture and language. They have identified the name of one native tribe the Croatoans and an Isle in Cape Hatteras, Croatoan Isle, as derivatives of the Croatian language….

In 1880, historian Hamilton McMillan noted that “Croatoan Indians have traditions which are tied to the individuals, the owners of the destroyed ships from the past.”

This story is repeated in the East when Dalmatian ships accompanied the Chinese back to the East and “discovered” a number of Pacific islands to which they gave Dalmatian names—names that were changed to Spanish and Portuguese ones after the First World War.

As noted in my book 1421, Columbus, Magellan, Albuquerque and Cabral all acknowledged that they had possessed charts of the Caribbean islands, South America, the Pacific, and Brazil, respectively. Toscanelli had sent Columbus a chart following his meeting with the Chinese delegation. Columbus’s records, which were acquired by the family of the duchess of Medina-Sidonia, provide ample evidence that Columbus had voyaged to the Americas before 1492.11 Dr. Marino Ruggiero’s book, cites evidence that the pope financed a Columbus voyage to the Americas before 1485.12

All of the above confirms that the Venetians and the Portuguese understood world geography after 1434 and before European voyages of exploration started. Surely they received this information from the Chinese.

Zheng He’s delegation also provided astronomical knowledge to Alberti, Regiomontanus, and Toscanelli, which Regiomontanus incorporated into his ephemeris tables and Alberti used for multiple purposes. Regiomontanus’s tables were issued to Portuguese navigators in 1474 and later to Columbus and Vespucci, who used them to calculate longitude. These tables also enabled sailors to calculate latitude at the meridian passage of the sun by using declination tables. This method was successfully applied by Dias, who accurately determined the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope at 35°20' S.13

So not only did Zheng He’s delegation show the way to the New World but they provided Europeans with the knowledge to enable them to calculate their latitude and longitude to reach the New World and return home safely.

The transfer of knowledge went further than maps. Nicholas of Cusa was the first European to blow apart Aristotelean and Ptolomaic theories of the universe. He revolutionized knowledge by postulating that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the solar system, that the earth and planets traveled in an elliptical orbit around it. To reach this conclusion, I submit that both Nicholas of Cusa and Toscanelli used the Chinese astronomical calendar that Zheng He’s delegation presented to Pope Eugenius IV.

Regiomontanus’s ephemeris tables, with the positions of sun, moon, the five planets, and the stars, contained no information that was not already in the Chinese astronomical calendar, the Shoushi. In the forty years after the Chinese visit of 1434, knowledge of the universe was changed as fundamentally as knowledge of the earth.

As Professor Zinner explains, Copernicus could have learned about and been influenced by Regiomontanus. Copernicus studied at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (1491–1494) and then in Italy, mostly in Bologna (1496–1503).14 At that time, Cracow was the European university where the teachings of Regiomontanus had gained the surest foothold.15 Copernicus’s interest in sine tables may have been inspired by Regiomontanus’s Tabulae diretorium, which was printed in 1490 and later found in Cracow.

Zinner describes the connection:

Copernicus also came under the influence of Regiomontanus in Bologna. Here he obtained Regiomontanus Ephemerides and the Epitome and was presumeably motivated by them to test the Ptolemaic system by observations. And so the same thing happened with Copernicus in 1497 as had happened 40 years earlier with Regiomontanus. By observations, they determined errors and felt compelled to get to the root of these errors.

The similarity goes even further. Both men were busy with extensive sine tables necessary for precise calculations with observational instruments, and—most importantly—both created their own new trigonometry, as the prevailing mathematics was insufficient for their needs.16

The use of sine tables and spherical trigonometry to meet the need for precise calculations with observational instruments had all been developed by Guo Shoujing two centuries earlier. Yet Guo Shoujing is not mentioned in European biographies of famous mathematicians.17

Zinner continues: (p 184)

If Copernicus had so many inspirations from Regiomontanus, then it is very likely that he learned through Novara of Regiomontanus’ plans for transforming the prevailing planetary theory, and so encouraged him in his own undertaking….

We have to be content with the fact that it is impossible to determine the full scope of Regiomontanus’ achievements. His was a gigantic undertaking, intended to be crowned with a planetary theory. In the course of his work he abandoned the prevailing cosmology and was preparing to formulate a new one for the new times. He had the astronomical and mathematical tools to make such a new cosmology; but his efforts were destroyed by an implacable fate [death].18

Copernicus’s theory “attributed to the earth a daily motion around its own axis and a yearly motion around the stationary sun.” He followed Nicholas of Cusa in advancing an idea that had far-reaching implications for modern science. Henceforth, the earth could no longer be considered the center of the cosmos; rather it was one celestial body among many, its orbit subject to mathematical prediction.

Professor Zinner did not know of Guo Shoujing’s work. In my submission, we can go further. Did Copernicus directly copy Regiomontanus in proposing his revolutionary theory that the earth and the planets circled the sun and that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the solar system?

I say he did, and I base my argument on the research of Noel M. Swerdlow, assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago, presented in “The Derivation and First Draft of Copernicus’ Planetary Theory”19

In his tightly reasoned article, Professor Swerdlow starts with an interesting comment Copernicus made to the pope at the time he published his revolutionary work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestieum, in 1543. Copernicus told Pope Paul III of his great reluctance to publish this theory—that the earth was not the center of the cosmos but one celestial body among many—for fear of ridicule by the public. He explained that he had been reluctant “not for just nine years but already in the fourth nine year period—that is,” since about 1504, a time after Copernicus had obtained Regiomontanus’s Ephemeris and Epitome in Bologna.

Between 1510 and 1514 Copernicus summarized his new ideas in De hypothesibus motuum coelestium e se constitutis commentariolus (A commentary on the theories of the motions of heavenly objects from their arrangements). Its main parts, to quote the New Encyclopaedia Britannica, were “the apparent daily motion of the stars, the annual motion of the sun, and the retrogressive behaviour of the planets results from the earth’s daily rotation on its axis and yearly revolution around the sun, which is stationary at the centre of the planetary system. The earth therefore is not the centre of the universe but only of the moon’s orbit.”

To quote Professor Swerdlow, Copernicus, in his De commentariolus, says next to nothing about how he arrived at his new theories. He begins with a single principle governing planetary theory, and then raises objections to the theories of his predecessors. Next he explains that he has evolved a planetary theory in conformity with his first principles, and this is followed by a set of seven postulates. These have almost nothing to do with either the principle or the objections, but instead assert the surprising theory that the earth and planets revolve around the sun and give some further consequences of this theory.20

Professor Swerdlow continues:

The sources of Copernicus’ early planetary theory are relatively few. The derivation for the models for both first and second anomalies and almost the entire contents of the commentariolus seem to depend on three certain and two possible sources. They are the following:

1. Peurbach….

2. Peurbach and Regiomontanus, The Epitome of the Almagest. This was begun by Peurbach, who had written the first six books at the time of his death in 1461, and completed by Regiomontanus in 1462 or 1463…. I suspect that Regiomontanus not only wrote books VII–XIII of the Epitome but also revised Peurbach’s version of Books I to VI…. This was the book (the Epitome) that Copernicus followed even in preference to the Almagest in the writing of De revolutionibus which is filled with not only information and procedures, but even with close paraphrases from the Epitome. In the Commentariolus the use of the Epitome can be seen most clearly in the section on the length of the tropical and sidereal year and the rate of precession, but, as will often be pointed out in the commentary, the Epitome is pertinent to many parts of the Commentariolus. Of greater importance for our purpose however are Propositions 1 and 2 of Book XII [by Regiomontanus] which contain the analysis leading to the heliocentric theory…. The importance of the Epitome… cannot be overemphasised, nor can its virtues be sufficiently praised…the Epitome makes one realise what a loss Regiomontanus’s early death was to astronomy—a loss not made up for well over a century.21

So there we have it—in Professor Swerdlow’s opinion Copernicus followed book 11 of Regiomontanus’s Epitome, which contained the analysis leading to Copernicus’s revolutionary theory.

To quote again from the New Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Copernican system appealed to a large number of independent-minded astronomers and mathematicians. Its attraction was not only because of its elegance but also in part because of its break with traditional doctrines. In particular, it opposed Aristotle, who had argued cogently for the fixity of the Earth; furthermore it provided an alternative to Ptolemy’s geocentric universe. In Western Christendom both these views had been elevated almost to the level of religious dogma; to many thoughtful observers, however, they stifled development and were overdue for rejection.

Scientifically the Copernican theory demanded two important changes in outlook. The first change had to do with the apparent size of the universe. The stars always appeared in precisely the same fixed positions, but if the earth were in orbit around the sun, they should display a small periodic change. Copernicus explained the starry sphere was too far distant for the change to be detected. His theory thus led to the belief in a much larger universe than previously conceived…

The second change concerned the reasons why bodies fall to the ground. Aristotle had taught they fall to their “natural place” which was the centre of the universe. But because, according to the heliocentric theory, the Earth no longer coincided with the centre of the universe, a new explanation was needed. This re-examination of the laws governing falling bodies led eventually to the Newtonian concept of universal gravitation.

The dethronement of the Earth from the centre of the universe caused profound shock. No longer could the earth be considered the epitome of creation, for it was only a planet like the other planets. No longer was the earth the centre of all change and decay with the changeless universe accompanying it. And the belief in a correspondence between man, the microcosm, as a mirror of the surrounding universe, the macrocosm, was no longer valid. The successful challenge to the entire system of ancient authority required a complete change in man’s philosophical conception of the universe. This is what is rightly called “the Copernican Revolution.”

Is it rightly called? Or should it be the Regiomontanus or Guo Shoujing revolution?

Johannes Kepler (1571–1630)

Johannes Kepler is today best known for his three laws of planetary motion. His first law stated that the planets traveled around the sun in elliptical orbits with the sun positioned at one of the ellipse’s focal points (Nicholas of Cusa’s argument, save for focal point). His second law (which he discussed first) stated that the planets swept out equal areas of their orbits in equal times. He rejected the ancient belief that the planets traveled a circular orbit at constant speed, replacing it with the theory that planets’ speeds varied with their distance from the sun—fastest when closest to the sun and slowest when farther away—nothing different from what Guo Shoujing had discovered three centuries earlier about planet Earth.22

Kepler had learned Copernican astronomy from Michael Mästlin (1550–1631) when he entered the STIFT, the theological seminary of the University of Tübingen, where he was awarded his master’s degree in 1591. He published a textbook of Copernican astronomy written in a question-and-answer form, the Epitome astronomiae Copernicanae. In my submission, although Kepler may not have appreciated this, he built on Copernican astronomy, which itself derived from Regiomontanus and Nicholas of Cusa, who obtained their fundamental new ideas from Toscanelli and the Chinese astronomical calendar.

Galileo Galilei

Galileo was born in Pisa in 1564. His father was a musician. He was educated at the University of Vallombrosa near Florence; then in 1581 he enrolled at the University of Pisa to study medicine. He never trained as a mathematician or astronomer.

Galileo’s life was dominated by the Copernican revolution. He was the first European to develop a powerful telescope with thirty-two times magnification—a huge advance in astronomical observation. He discovered Jupiter’s moons, Saturn, sunspots, and the phases of Venus, publishing his results in Siderius nuncius (Starry messenger).23 This led him to believe Copernican theory was correct; now the trouble started.

The old guard, who had spent their lives teaching Ptolemy’s theory that the earth was at the center of the universe, felt their livelihood and reputations threatened. They ganged up on Galileo, gathering support from the Dominicans for his blasphemy in stating that man, God’s creation, was not at the center of the universe. The intellectuals and religious fanatics won the day—Copernicus’s theory was denounced as “false and erroneous,” and by a decree of March 5, 1616, Copernicus’s book was suspended. The chief theologian of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Bellarmine, informed Galileo that he must no longer defend Copernicus. Eight years later, Galileo made an attempt to have the 1616 decree lifted. He did get a small waiver—he was entitled to discuss Ptolemy’s and Copernicus’s theories provided his conclusion was as dictated by the Catholic Church—which was that man cannot presume to know how the world is made because to do so would restrict God’s omniscience.

Galileo accepted this restriction and spent the next eight years writing a dialogue comparing the two principal systems—of Ptolomy and Copernicus. The book was hugely popular—a best seller. The Jesuits seemed defeated but they fought back. Galileo’s book was so powerfully written it would cause more harm to the establishment view of the cosmos “than Luther and Calvin put together.”24

The pope ordered a prosecution. This gave the papal lawyers a big legal problem, for Galileo had abided by the decree of 1616. Suddenly a document was “discovered” to the effect that Galileo in the negotiations leading to the degree of 1616 had been prohibited from “teaching or discussing Copernicanism in any way.” He had therefore obtained the decree by false pretenses because his book was disguised discussion and teaching. The establishment mounted a show trial, which took place in 1633 when Galileo was in his seventieth year and ill. He was convicted, but his imprisonment was commuted. He was ordered to recant Copernican theory and state that he “abjured cursed and detested” his past errors in supporting Copernicus. While under house arrest he wrote some of his greatest works, summarizing his early experiments. His last big discovery, of the moon’s daily and monthly movement, came in 1637, just before he went blind. He died in 1642.

Galileo’s monumental achievements were essentially the use of a powerful telescope to discover the heavens and validate Copernicus’s work and his pioneering thoughts on gravity. He was the first European who could see that mathematics and physics were part of the same subject and that earthly and heavenly phenomena could be combined into one branch of science, as could experiments with calculation, the concrete and the abstract. Galileo paved the way for Newton.

Galileo is credited with discovering Jupiter’s moons, Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede, in 1616. Some scholars contend that the German astronomer Simon Mayer discovered them a few days earlier. In “Ancient Chinese Astronomer Gan De Discovered Jupiter’s Satellites 2000 Years Earlier than Galileo,” Paul Dong, Rosa Mui, and Zhou Xin Yan cite Professor Xi Zezong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, stating that a Chinese astronomer, Gan De, had discovered Jupiter’s moons in 364 B.C.25 The basis for this claim can be found in volume 23 of the ancient Chinese astronomical work Kai Yuan Zhan Jing (Books of observations from the beginning of history). A passage in it reads, “Gan De said ‘In the year of Shau Yo, Xi, Nu, Shu and Wei [Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto] the Annual star was very large and bright. It seemed there was a small red star attached to it side. This is called an alliance.’”

The “annual star” was the ancient Chinese name for Jupiter, the small red star, Jupiter’s moon. The authors offer a modern translation of Gan De: “There was a small pink star beside the planet Jupiter. We therefore conclude this is a satellite of Jupiter.” (It is still possible today to view Jupiter’s satellites with the naked eye in certain places, notably in the Hebei Province of China and from the Sahara and parts of Japan.)

My intention in citing the Chinese observation of Jupiter’s moons two thousand years earlier is not to diminish Galileo’s enormous achievements but to illustrate how Eurocentric Western historians and astronomers are in not crediting China with astronomy vastly more advanced than Europe’s. It seems almost incredible that the Jesuits could have persuaded the Chinese that they knew more about astronomy than the Chinese did, not least in predicting eclipses, something the Chinese had been doing centuries before Jesuits arrived in China.

The Development of Art and Perspective

Leon Battista Alberti, as Pope Eugenius’s notary, would have recorded minutes of the meeting between the Chinese ambassador and the pope. As Joan Gadol has so succinctly said, Alberti went beyond the bounds of astronomy to determine its relation with mathematics, and then [used] mathematics to develop painting and architecture, cartography and surveying—even engineering designs and cryptography. Toscanelli, Alberti, Nicholas of Cusa, Regiomontanus, and later Copernicus and Galileo employed the rational conception of space in forming their ideas—a conception to which all were led by the methods of mathematics.26

Alberti knew every branch of mathematics—geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music. In De pictura, his system of perspective and human proportions constitute the technical foundations of Renaissance painting and sculpture, introducing to art ideas and values that had far-reaching cultural implications for the age. Alberti’s work covered painting, sculpture, architecture, aesthetics, mathematics, cartography, surveying, mechanics, cryptography, literature, and moral philosophy.

Burckhardt regarded the Renaissance pioneered by Alberti as the first age, the genesis of modern European civilization and culture.

Europe Becomes Mistress of the World

It was the combination of a massive transfer of new knowledge from China to Europe and the fact that it came in one short period that sparked the revolution we call the Renaissance.

Not only did kings, captains, and navigators have, for the first time, maps that showed them the true shape of the world, but they also acquired instruments and tables that showed them how to reach those new lands by the quickest route and how to return home in safety.

When they arrived in the New World, an international trading system created by Chinese, Arabs, and Indians awaited them—one that accounted for half the world’s gross national product. This system was based upon the transfer of Chinese manufactured goods in exchange for raw materials from the rest of the world. The trading pattern had been built up by thousands of sea voyages over hundreds of years honed by centuries of experience of monsoons and trade winds. When China left the world stage, this trading system was Europe’s for the taking.

Europeans found not only rich new lands but the results of sophisticated transplanting and genetic engineering pioneered by the Chinese—maize in Southeast Asia, which originated in America27 cotton in the Azores, the result of cross-pollination of Indian and American strains; sweet potatoes from South America, which fed indigenous peoples across the Pacific to New Zealand; rice taken from China to Brazil and to “New England”; orchards of citrus trees in the Carolinas, Florida, Peru, West Africa, and Australia.28

The same went for animals: vast snail factories in the Paraná River of South America; Asian chickens across South America; American turkeys in India (de l’inde-dinde); Chinese horses in North America; fish farms in New Zealand. Plants that have fed (maize), clothed (cotton), and housed (coconuts) the world for the past six hundred years had been transplanted or transhipped between continents before Europeans arrived in the New World.

Raw materials had been mined and shipped across continents. Europeans found worked gold mines in Australia, iron mines in New Zealand and Nova Scotia, copper in North America, and a sophisticated steel industry in Nigeria.

New methods of cartography enabled Europeans to map the fabulous riches of the New World. Printing enabled news of these exotic discoveries to spread far and wide—not least amongst the newly emergent, brash, competing European nation-states.

At the same moment, Europeans learned of Chinese gunpowder coupled with advanced Chinese weapons—bazookas, mortars, exploding shells, rockets, and cannons. The poor Incas, armed with their feather tunics and clubs, were mown down by the brutal, ruthless, but incredibly brave band of conquistadores under Pizarro. Atahualpa stood no chance; neither did Montezuma. As a result of Pizarro’s massacre, Spain gained access to the world’s most valuable silver mines, which she grabbed.

Knowledge of printing spread the riches of the New World accurately and rapidly. With gunpowder weapons European rivalry took on a new potency and urgency, resulting in frenetic competition to conquer the New World.

The same dramatic changes can be seen in Europe, not least in food production, mining, and processing of raw materials. The introduction of rice in the Po Valley in the 1440s depended for its success on the aqueducts, canals, and lock systems designed by Leonardo da Vinci and Francesco di Giorgio, coupled with the new Chinese bucket pumps that enabled water to be transferred in a timely and economic way across the rice fields.

Milan’s building boom was assisted by harnessing the River Po—through the use of “Chinese” locks and feeder canals. Higher firing temperatures for kilns and smelters were achieved with compressors powered by water turbines. Corn could now be ground by new efficient windmills whose designs had been developed over the centuries by Chinese engineers.

In art and architecture the new rules of perspective explained by the rational mathematics of Alberti and perfected by the genius of Leonardo da Vinci could be applied to create all manner of new buildings—which could be accurately and quickly explained and described by printing. These new ideas spread out from Florence like a forest fire.

Perhaps the most important single transfer of knowledge from China to Europe was that of how the universe worked. Greek and Roman concepts that the earth was at the center and sun and planets rotated around it were replaced by a rational system explained by mathematics. Man now could, and did, look at everything anew and examine his place in the world. This new spirit of inquiry was applied to every aspect of life—in physics, mathematics, science, and technology as well as the arts and religion. Everything could be explained without the blessing of the Church. Thought was freed from centuries of religious dogma.

In the double page diagram in color insert 3, the “inventions” and discoveries of Toscanelli, Alberti, Nicholas of Cusa, Regiomontanus, Taccola, Pisanello, Andrea Bianco, Francesco di Giorgio, and Fontana are shown. As may be seen, they produced little of consequence before 1434 and then came an explosion of new ideas, inventions, and theories.

The transfer of intellectual knowledge in 1434 was between a people who had created their civilization over thousands of years, and a Europe that was just emerging from the thousand-year stagnation following the fall of the Roman Empire. The Chinese seeds fell on very fertile ground.

Until now the Renaissance has been portrayed as a rebirth of the classical European civilizations of Greece and Rome. Chinese influence has been ignored. While Greece and Rome were unquestionably important, in my submission the transfer of Chinese intellectual knowledge was the spark that set the Renaissance ablaze.

It is time for an agonizing reappraisal of the Eurocentric view of history.

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