- Historic Sites
Was America The Wonderful Land Of Fusang?
April 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 3
The story of Hwui Shan, however, is unique in being the only actual record yet found that may be an historical account of such an East-West contact. There are three remarkable things about his report that strengthen the belief that he may have been our real discoverer. One is its basic: historicity. It is not a work of fiction; we are not confronted here with the fantasy literature of the earlier Fusang fairy tale, but with a soberly written text preserved as such by a people who possess the oldest continuous, professionally written history in the world. Its hero and its content have been checked by careful research and found to be congruent with other well-known persons and events. There seems to be no doubt that Hwui Shan was a real person who was thought by his contemporaries to have made a most unusual voyage east of China. On his return to King-chow he was ordered by the Emperor to tell his tale to the courtier Prince Yu Kie, who entered it in the imperial archives as one of the noteworthy happenings of the year 499. It was later published, about the year 600, by the historian Li Yan Chu, whose Records of the Liang Dynasty form part of the great annals of ancient China known as The Twenty-two Historians . Additional passages, taken from the original court archives, were published in the thirteenth century by the reputable scholar Ma Twan Lin. The story also appears or is referred to in other works of Chinese scholarship—being everywhere treated as history, not as fable—including Volume 231 of the eighteenth-century encyclopaedia Tu-Shu-Tsi-Chin (the Chinese invented encyclopaedias and have had them since the tenth century, one famous example, compiled in the days of the Ming Dynasty, having remained in manuscript because it was too large to print: it consisted of 22,937 books).
The second remarkable feature in Hwui Shan’s story is the almost incredible accuracy of the distance and direction he gave for a journey from Asia to America, and the plausibility of his route. “Fusang is located,” he said, “20,000 Ii east of the country of Ta Han.” If you take a pair of dividers and step off this distance on a globe, figuring the Chinese Ii at about one-third of a mile, and follow a course along the coasts and islands from Kamchatka (Ta Han) past the Komandorskies and the Aleutians, then along the coast of Canada and the United States, you will end with astonishing accuracy in the neighborhood of Acapidco, the principal western seaport of Mexico. You will also see that the general direction “east” is not by any means inaccurate for such a journey. Contrary to a common misconception—created by the problem of conveniently printing a flat projection map of North America on a page—our western coastline does not run north and south but at about a fortyfive degree angle toward the east; in other words, almost due southeast (see map on opposite page).
Thor Heyerdahl’s adventure on the raft Kon-Tiki, and the unassisted nonstop crossing of the Pacific in 1962 by Kenichi Horie in his homemade nineteen-foot sailboat, have popularized the belief that the intercontinental sea route used by Orientals in ancient times must have extended across the South Pacific by way of Polynesia to Peru. But that route involves a jump oi more than 4,000 miles across open sea. In that era before the oceans were charted and men knew in advance where they were going, surely the North Pacific was »far more natural if not necessarily easier way to go. Asia and North America are practically joined together at Hering Strait (the classic theory regarding the origin of the American Indians is that they migrated from Asia across the land bridge that actually existed there in prehistoric times), and the sea route along the Aleutian chain is such that even a small, slow, primitive type of vessel can follow it without ever being long out oi sight of land. At only one point—between the Komandorskies and the Aleutians—there is a stretch of some 200 miles of open ocean, and even there land can sometimes be seen: it has been reported that on exceptionally clear days Attu has been sighted from Siberia. At no other place in the entire archipelago are the numerous islands otit of sight of each other or as much as one hundred miles apart. Frequently stormy and’ with few convenient landing places, this route must yet have been irresistible to ancient Asiatic mariners. A strong warm current, known as the Japan Current, or Black Stream, (lows eastward along it all the way to Lower California. As it leaves Japan and passes the Kurile Islands toward Kamchatka the current reaches a speed of from seventy-five to a hundred miles a day, providing a very effective first-stage thrust for a trans-Pacific voyage. Many ships have been driven to America by the Japan Current; during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the first Europeans were starting to settle our west coast and write its history, records were made of sixty Oriental sailing vessels that h;id dossed the Pacific Ocean in this way. In 1774, for instance, the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, marching overland from Arizona to what he called “the Philippine Ocean,” saw the wreck of an exotic-looking ship of non-European construction on the rocks near the Mission of Carmel. In 1815 a Japanese junk appeared oil Santa Karbara with fourteen dead and three survivors on board. She had started on a simple voyage from Osaka to Tokyo, had been blown oil course by a storm, and had drifted—solely by means of the current, without sail or mast or rudder—for over a year before reaching America.