PBS Reviews - 2007
1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA?, airing on PBS Wednesday, July 21, investigates a theory that could turn the conventional view of world history on its head: the startling possibility that a daring Chinese admiral, commanding the largest wooden armada ever built, reached America 71 years before Columbus.
The documentary examines the mystery surrounding China's legendary Zheng He and the spectacular Ming fleet of treasure junks he commanded in the early 15th century. The special provides a history of the known journeys of Zheng He's fleet and an account of new information uncovered by Gavin Menzies, a former British submarine commander who has spent nine years trying to prove that Zheng reached America decades before Columbus. Menzies, author of the best-selling book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, has assembled evidence that he believes substantiates his theory.
The first part of the documentary presents 15th-century China as an emerging super-nation with an armada of treasure junks that dominated the Indian Ocean. At the behest of Chinese emperor Zhu Di, Zheng He sailed this fleet to far-flung outposts throughout the eastern hemisphere, established major ports and extended the commercial reach of "the Middle Kingdom" far beyond its previous bounds. The first segment recounts this story through re-enactments, extensive location filming and innovative computer graphics imaging models of the fleet itself.
1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA? then investigates the major historical mystery that arises from Menzies' theory: Could this incredible and intrepid fleet have shown the European explorers the way to the west - reaching America's shores decades before Columbus? Menzies seeks to prove his extraordinary theory by retracing the steps he believes the Chinese took from Africa to Europe to the Caribbean and along the eastern coast of the United States. The program examines the evidence behind his theory, then puts it to the test, drawing together historical accounts, archaeology and information from consultations with contemporary historians, archaeologists and scientists. The results are often dramatic and - like Menzies' theory itself - highly controversial.