- Historic Sites
Was America The Wonderful Land Of Fusang?
April 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 3
It was by no means the first time the Emperor had heard of this wondrous country. Long before Hwui Slum’s time Fusang was already well known to the Chinese, in poetry and fairy tale, as a kind of earthly paradise across the Pacific: where everything grew to supernatural si/e: trees a mile high, silkworms seven feet long, birds with three legs, etcetera. In China “Fusang” is still synonymous (at least it was in preCommunist days) with “fabulous” or “super” or “colossal.” Hangchow merchants, for example, used to advertise “Fusang silk” or “Fusang porcelain,” meaning something out of this world.
But was Fusang out of this world? Consider for a moment the thought-provoking words of one Chinese poet of the third century: East of the Eastern Ocean lie / The shores of the Land of Fusang. / If, after landing there, you travel / East for 10,000 li / You will come to another ocean, blue, / Vast, huge, boundless .
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Behind the fiction may have been the fact of earlier discoveries and exploration. The Chinese are thought to be the first people to have developed the arts of boatbuilding and navigation. The tall trees of the fairy tale may have been, originally, California redwoods seen by some ancient mariner from the East. Although specific evidence of a conclusive kind is lacking and no dramatic, scientifically confirmed archaeological finds have yet been made on our Pacific coast, there have been some interesting amateur discoveries. In 1882 a cache of Chinese brass coins, said to have been dated 1200 B.C., was dug up by miners at a place called Cassiar in British Columbia, along with a bronze fan bearing Chinese characters. Strange implements, believed to be Oriental, have also been unearthed in the Northwest, while Indian legends all along that coast tell of men and ships that arrived there long before the Europeans. There is, moreover, a great deal of cultural evidence of a general kind supporting the probability of ancient human contacts between Asia and America. Many arts and customs and religious beliefs of the early civilizations in Middle and South America—pictographic: writing, pyramid architecture, massiveness and grotesquerie in sculpture, the belief in reincarnation, monasticism in Mexico—have definitely Oriental echoes. In an article entitled “Did Hindu Sailors Get There Before Columbus?” in The Asia Magazine of March 11, 1962, the modern Indian Buddhist priest Cha-men LaI presents an impressive illustrated summary of these similarities with special reference to Hinduism, the mother religion of Buddhism. “Deep in the forests of Copan in Honduras,” he writes, “one may see Indra, the god of paradise in Hindu mythology, riding an elephant. Triloknath, the Hindu ruler of the three worlds, was known to the Mexicans by the same name. In a temple in Guatemala there is a statue of an incarnation of Vishnu as Kurma, the tortoise. At Copán I found no fewer than three images of Hamiman, the monkeyfaced god celebrated in the Ramayana epic. How does one explain the undoubted affinity between Hinduism and the religions of South and Central America? I believe that the ancestors of the people who practised these forms of worship ventured across the Pacific Ocean as did the Malayans and the Polynesians in the fifth century, using boats much like the junks known to the Chinese.”