The Buddhist Discovery of Fusang

John Lienhard, in his essay Fusang, talks about the Chinese discovery of the Americas.

The Chinese were very isolationist, 1500 years ago. China thought the outside world was benighted and uninteresting — to be avoided and sealed off, not sought out. But a newer breed of Chinese Buddhists had a different view. Their business was to go out and convert all lands to Buddhism.

In AD 499, a Buddhist missionary, Hoei-Shin, came back from a long voyage and told of a strange people in a strange land — 20,000 Chinese miles to the east. That would’ve put him right on the west coast of Mexico.

That reminded me Kim Stanley Robinson’s speculation, in The Years of Rice and Salt, about the Yongli emperor’s treasure fleet’s being blown across the Pacific to find Mexico, and about a similarly speculative book, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, which I had put on my wishlist. I think I’d like to read a less speculative history, When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433, but, for this week, the National Geographic will have to do.