Should Columbus Day Be Renamed Chinese Day?

Published on October 22, 2013

by Paul Rickert
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

With Columbus Day having recently passed, I was thinking about the nature of the discovery of the New World. A friend’s post of Facebook yielded the comment that “Columbus didn’t discover it, the Indians were already here.” And while that certainly is the case, I think it’s nonetheless accurate to say that Columbus did rediscover something that had been lost to European Christendom.

I’m sure most of us recall the story of Leif Eriksson’s discovery of Newfoundland also. I think it safe to say, it wasn’t really a discovery in the full sense, since it didn’t permeate the culture or general knowledge base. But that got me thinking about other discoveries that didn’t permeate the general knowledge.

I also have an attraction to what I’ve called “non-standard histories” or alternate explanations for what we think we know. Specifically, I began pondering the idea that the Chinese discovered America long before Columbus or Eriksson. The idea has been around at least since the late 1800s, but was written about in the 1950s and then in the 1970s by Mertz and Harris respectively.

In 1978 Barry Fell penned “America, BC” and claimed frequent visits by numerous European cultures. While these works have received scholarly criticism, Harris’ daughter, Charlotte Harris Rees, has edited her father’s book from near 800 pages to a manageable size of 150 pages (Full disclosure, Charlotte is a family friend.).

She has also brought about a resurgence in studying the idea that the Chinese Fu Sang discussed in the classic Shanhai Jing. While not a trained scholar herself, Rees has surrounded herself with scholars in America, Britain, and China. Her theories are not widely accepted, but give a plausible account of sea-faring as an explanation for the origins of Native Americans rather than the ice-age land bridge that is currently generally advocated.

Another recent author is Gavin Menzies (2008) who wrote 1421: The Year China Discovered America. Menzies also has a new book this year with Ian Hudson entitled Who Discovered America?: The Untold History of the Peopling of the Americas (2013).

As Thomas Kuhn (1963) discusses in his “Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, so-called “normal science” occurs until enough anomalies poke holes in the theory that scientists begin to depart from holding to one theory in favor of another, until a critical mass is reached (“crisis” according to Kuhn) and then there is a “paradigm shift” where the new theory is most widely accepted. Once the new paradigm is established, “normal science” happens again. It’s in this manner that knowledge is created and we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, even though we don’t see the world in the same way.

I’m not sure that Rees and others in this field have gotten to a point where there are enough anomalies to bring North American historiography to “crisis”, but it certainly poking some holes in the canvas and offering a plausible alternative. I’d suggest that if this at all interests you, visit Menzies’ and Rees’ websites, there is plenty of information there for you to determine if you want to investigate more fully on this topic.

Mertz, Henrietta. (2008/1953). Pale Ink. BiblioLife.
Menzies, Gavin. (2008). 1421: The Year China Discovered America. William Morrow Paperbacks.
Harris, Herndon. (1973). The Asiatic Fathers of America.
Harris Rees, Charlotte. (2006). The Asiatic Fathers of America (revised). Warwick House Publishing.
Kuhn, Thomas. (1963). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

Image: Statue of Christopher Columbus; Kenneth C. Zirkel ; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; public domain

Paul_RickertPaul R. Rickert is Director of the Criminal Justice program and Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at LeTourneau University. He taught at Liberty University from 2004-2011. Having been a police officer, deputy sheriff, university police officer and private police officer within Virginia, he has had a wide-range of experiences and training at the local policing level which he brings to the classroom environment. Since March of 2012 he has been sworn as a Texas Peace Officer.