1421 theory

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How it didn't happen

The 1421 theory is a crackpot claim that the Chinese (specifically, the fleet of the admiral Zheng He) reached the Americas in 1421 — decades before Christopher Columbus, discovered Australia, Antarctica, Greenland, circumnavigated the globe one century before Ferdinand Magellan's 1519 voyage, and that various Native American peoples descend from the Chinese and speak Chinese amongst even more bizarre claims. Historians generally regard the 1421 theory as pseudohistory based on nothing more than speculations, assertions, and sloppy research.[1][2][3] This theory was advanced in the best selling but heavily criticized book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies.[4][5][6][7][8][9]

Linguistic claims[edit]

The Apache speak Chinese[edit]

One claim by supporters of the 1421 theory is that the Apache speak Chinese.[10] The "evidence" for this claim is the following bit of hearsay from the 1918 book History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish:[11]

The Tartar Chinese speak the dialect of the Apaches. The Apaches bear a striking resemblance to the Tartar. About the year 1885, W. [William] B. Horton,[12] who had served as County Superintendent of Schools, at Tucson, was appointed Post Trader at Camp Apache, and went to San Francisco to purchase his stock, where he hired a Chinese cook. His kitchen adjoined his sleeping apartment, and one evening while in his room he heard in the kitchen some Indians talking. Wondering what they were doing there at that hour of the night, he opened the door and found his cook conversing with an Apache. He asked his cook where he had acquired the Indian language. The cook said: 'He speak all same me. I Tartar Chinese; he speak same me, little different, not much.' At Williams, in Navajo County, is another Tartar Chinaman, Gee Jim, who converses freely with the Apaches in his native language. From these facts it would seem that the Apache is of Tartar origin.
From the fact that the Apache language was practically the same as that of the Tartar Chinese, color is given to the theory advanced by Bancroft in his “Native Races,” Volume 5, p. 33, et seq., that Western America was “originally peopled by the Chinese, or, at least, that the greater part of the new world civilization may be attributed to these people.”

Apache is, in fact, completely unrelated to Chinese. It belongs to the Athabaskan language family, which also includes Navajo, and has no connection to the Sino-Tibetan languages.[13] Consider the following translations of the Lord's Prayer in Mandarin Chinese and Coyotero Apache:[14]

Chinese Chinese (Pinyin) Coyotero Apache
wǒmen de tiānfù, yuàn mí de míng shòu xiǎnyáng, yuàn mí de guó láilín,

yuàn mí de zhǐyì fèngxíng zài rénjiān, rútóng zài tiānshàng.
qiú mí jīntiān shǎng gěi wǒmen rìyòng de shíliáng, qiú mí kuānshù wǒmen de zuìguò,
rútóng wǒmen kuānshù biérén yīyàng. bùyào ràng wǒmen xiànyú yòuhuò,
dàn jiù wǒmen miǎnyú xiōng'è.
yà mèng.

NohwiTaa yaaká'yú dahsíndaahíí Nizhi'íí dilzîhgo bígózîh le'.

Nant'án nlîîhíí begodowáh.
Hagot'éégo ánniiyú yaaká'yú benagowaahíí k'ehgo ni'gosdzán biká'yú alhdó' begodolníílh.
Díí jîî daahiidââ doleelhíí nohwá ágonlhsî.
Hadíí nchô'go nohwich'î' ádaaszaahíí bighâ baa nágodent'ââhíí k'ehgo néé alhdó' nchô'go ádaasiidzaahíí bighâ nohwaa nádaagodin'áah.
Nanohwída'dintaah yune' onohwoníílh hela',
áídá nchô'go at'ééhíí bits'â'zhî' hanánohwihi'níílh.
Dahazhî' dawa bá nant'áá,
lha'íí ninawodíí itisyú át'éhi,
lha'íí ízisgo ánt'éhi dahazhî' bee sínzîî doleelh.
Doleelhgo at'éé.

The two languages are obviously completely unalike. While old stories like the above might be useful as an illustration of mutual intelligibility of two languages already known to be closely related, or as evidence pointing to a particular genetic affiliation of a long since dead language about which little or nothing is known, it is hardly possible to cite such anecdotes as "proof" that speakers of two languages that are still very much alive and that are known to be totally unrelated and mutually unintelligible can communicate with each other. Indeed, there is a significant body of texts in ApacheWikipedia[15] which clearly shows a language totally dissimilar to Chinese. A time span of slightly over a century is insufficient to obliterate all traces of genetic relationship between what were initially mutually intelligible dialects. There are multiple possible explanations for the discrepancy between Farish's anecdotes and the attested history of Apache.

First, Farish might have simply misremembered the stories. He does not clarify the sources of the anecdotes; he may have witnessed them personally, read them in books or articles, or heard them from someone else. It is entirely possible that the original accounts did not involve Chinese-speaking Apaches, but merely acquired this form in Farish's mind over time. This seems possible, given that Farish apparently does not have first-hand knowledge of the languages in question. Alternatively, the so-called "Tartar Chinamen" may in fact have been Navajo and/or Apache pretending to be Chinese, for whatever reason. Perhaps they were playing pranks on unsuspecting outsiders, in which case they probably laughed heartily at the men's gullibility.

Map 1: Treaty-imposed territories. Navajo (orange), and Apachean languages (other colors).
Map 2: Historic territories, c. 18th century

The ability of "Gee Jim" to communicate with the Apache may also be explainable by the fact that Navajo is quite close to Apache. Consider the maps on the right, which show the current and historic territories of Navajo and various Apachean languages. As can be seen, Navajo is geographically quite close to Apache; in addition, Navajo CountyWikipedia and Apache CountyWikipedia are adjacent to each other. One site dealing with Native American languages states: "Actually, there are at least two distinct Apache languages: Western Apache and Eastern Apache. The two are closely related, like French and Spanish, but speakers of one language cannot understand the other well–in fact, Western Apache is closer to Navajo than to Eastern Apache."[16] In other words, Apache is fairly similar to Navajo. The ability of Gee Jim (a Navajo County resident) to communicate with the Apache may be because of his actually being a Navajo; communication may have been possible due to the similarity of Navajo and Apache and/or his being able to speak both languages.

In any case, it's not as if linguists were closed-minded dogmatists who categorically refused to consider any evidence that might significantly change their picture of Amerindian linguistics. For instance, the linguist Edward VajdaWikipedia has proposed, on the basis of comparative evidence, that the Na-Dene languages (which include Apache) are related to the Yeniseian languages of Siberia, a proposal which has met with not insignificant approval within the linguistics community. If linguists are capable of coming up with and seriously considering the idea of Apache being distantly related to obscure Siberian languages with very few speakers, it is not likely that they would completely gloss over something as obvious and in-your-face as Apache being identical to Chinese.

Likewise the Tartars are actually native speakers of a Turkic language rather than a Chinese dialect.

If the Chinese discovered the Americas by 1421, the racial slur huan-a (Hokkien; Hakka: fan-ngin or fan-kui; Teochew: huang-kia; all meaning "foreigner")[17] would have applied to Native Americans as is the case with native Southeast Asians; in reality, it doesn't.


Trump cited Menzies' 1421 book as one of the books he had "read" that indicated that he "understood" the Chinese.[18] It was a New York Times best seller in 2003.[19]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith. "Chinese circumnavigation in 1421?". Bad Archaeology. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  2. Newbrook, M (2004), "Zheng He in the Americas and Other Unlikely Tales of Exploration and Discovery", Skeptical Briefs, 14 (3), retrieved 22 Jan 2022.
  3. Fritze, Ronald H. (2009). Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-Religions. London, England: Reaktion Books. pp. 96–103. ISBN 978-1-86189-430-4.
  4. What is the Least Credible History Book in Print?
  5. The “Liu/Menzies” World Map: A Critique
  6. Gordon, P (30 January 2003). "1421: The Year China Discovered the World". The Asian Review of Books. Retrieved 22 Jan 2022
  7. Kahn, Joseph (17 January 2006). "Who Discovered America? Zheng Who?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  8. "Junk History", Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2006-07-31, retrieved 2022-01-22
  9. Jenkins, Simon. "Of course the Chinese didn't discover America. But then nor did Columbus". The Guardian. 2006-01-20. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  10. 5 Linguistics and Languages common to the New World and China
  11. History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish, 1918, Volume VII, Chapter I. Indians of Arizona.
  12. William B. Horton, de.wikipedia.org.
  13. Apache, Ethnologue.
  14. http://www.christusrex.com/www1/pater/JPN-apache.html
  15. Goddard, Pliny Earle. Jicarilla Apache texts, 1911.
  16. Apache, Native-Languages.org.
  17. Hai, Hai (2017-01-17). "Kenapa Pribumi Disebut Huana Artinya Orang Asing Oleh Orang Tionghoa?" (in en). 
  18. Donald Trump has read a lot of books on China: 'I understand the Chinese mind' by Tony Pierce (May 3, 2011 | 4:05 pm) The Los Angeles Times.
  19. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/26/books/best-sellers-january-26-2003.html?pagewanted=2&src=pm BEST SELLERS: January 26, 2003.