April 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 3
How many men, from how many nations, voyaged to the American continents before Columbus? Norsemen certainly, around 1000 A.D. Possibly other Ediropeans, by design or accident. And, it seems quite likely, a Ruddhist named tiwm Shan, in 458 A.D. He left a written record. After the ludicrous uproar last October over the Vinland Map (which we published jointly with the Yale University Press) it seems wise to remind the ethnically sensitive that this is not a new story, although modern archaeological studies in Mexico seem to be adding new evidence to back up old conjectures.
Hwui Shan’s voyage from China, five hundred years before Lei I Eric son and a thousand before Columbus, lias been almost totally ignored by modern American historians, yet a rather considerable number of learned papers, articles, and even books were once written about him by Western scholars who believed that he crossed the Pacific: and landed on the west coast of this continent—which he described as the wonderful Land of Fusang—in the year 458. The great Alexander von Humboldt called him the Leif Ericson of China, and the Land of Fusang the Vinland of the West. The French sinologues de Guignes and Paravey believed that he reached California. The German Karl Friedrich Neumann identified the Land of Fusang as Mexico. One American, Charles G. Leland, wrote a monograph called Fusang (London, 1875). Another, Edward P. Vining, compiled an 8oo-page encyclopaedic volume about the man he regarded as An Inglorious Columbus (New York, 1885). Dr. Charles E. Chapman, in his History of California: The Spanish Period (New York, 1921), devoted a chapter to him entitled “The Chinese Along the Pacific Coast in Ancient Times.”
Hwui Shan, whose name (also written as “Hoei Shin”) means “very intelligent” in Chinese, was a cha-men , or mendicant Buddhist priest, from Afghanistan who first came to China as a very young missionary about the year 450. The period was one of great expansion for Buddhism, and extraordinary journeys made by cha-men on land and sea were not at all uncommon. This one seems to have left China almost immediately, in the company of four fellow priests, on a missionary journey to evangeli/e new lands. His report indicates that they sailed northeast of Japan to the Land of Ta-Han (the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia) and from there travelled 20,000 Ii (about 6,600 miles) east to the Land of Fusang. This distance and direction suggest that they went by a coasting, islandhopping route across the North Pacific, past the Aleutian Islands to Alaska, and down the west coast of America as far as Mexico. There, apparently, they remained for forty years, observing the country, its people, its customs, crafts, plants, and animals—and diffusing Buddhism among the inhabitants.
At that period in Europe the Roman Empire was still in existence, and Fiance and Germany, still known as Gaul, were peopled by tribes of Goths. No one, as far as is known, had ever attempted—at least deliberately—to cross the mysterious ocean named for Atlantis, whose ancient civili/.ation and disappearance had been related by Egyptian priests. Old myths and legends have given rise, of course, to the idea that there were prehistoric or very early crossings of the Atlantic. The Greeks believed that there were Isles of the Blest far out in the Western Sea inhabited by men to whom the gods had given the gift of immortality. A strangely similar paradise was known in Welsh mythology as Avalon, the abode of deathless heroes like King Arthur. Seafaring tales of great antiquity, which may or may not have been true, intermixed with fables, also contribute to the speculation that the New World may have often been found. Diodorus of Sicily said that the Phoenicians (expert seamen 1,500 years before Christ) venturing out beyond the Pillars of Hercules on their circumnavigation of Africa were blown by a storm to a large, fertile, prosperous land in the west, whose citizens enjoyed much leisure time. The historian Plutarch also recorded the yarn of certain sailors who landed in Spain circa 60 u.c. after visiting, so they said, two large Atlantic islands 10,000 stadia (about 1,200 miles) west of the African coast. The Portuguese, too, had their Antilia (a name that was later applied to the West Indies), which appears as an island or a large land mass on many medieval charts and globes with cartographical exactitude midway between Lisbon and Japan. In addition there was Saint Brendan (484-577), an Irish monk believed by many writers to have discovered America. There seems no doubt that he and his crew of forty other religious seafarers in their specially constructed skin-covered kayak made it to Iceland; a colony of Irish monks was found there by the Vikings when they first arrived. But even if Saint Brendan did push on for forty clays and nights to the Land of the Gods, as his legend-encrusted narrative maintains, and even if it was America, Hwui Shan still preceded him by a century, for the Irishman’s alleged discovery did not occur until the year 545.
After he returned to China in the year 499, Hwui Shan appeared before the Emperor Wu Ti. A kind of Marco Polo in reverse, possibly the first Oriental to have seen the West, he was then a very old man. Overcome with emotion and weeping, he presented the Emperor with gifts from the Land of Fusang and gave him a lengthy, detailed account of his travels.
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 .
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.”
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.
Such drillings were, of course, accidental, but the Spaniards also used the Japan Current in the old days of sail. Every year for 250 years, from 1565 until 1815, the big, round-hulled Manila galleons with their broad sails and decks high on prow and stern returned to Mexico by this route from their annual journeys to Asia. Laden with 1,00 tons of Chinese silks and other treasures from the Orient, they sailed north from the Philippines as far as the fortieth parallel or farther to catch the current, followed it to the American coast (approximately at the present-day Oregon-California border), then continued on their way to Acapulco.
The third—and the most remarkable—quality of Hwui Shan’s story is the way in which his descriptions of the people and the places he visited correspond with the North Pacific route and with what is known about America at that period. For example, he wrote: “The Land of Marked Hodies is situated 7,000 li [2,300 miles] northeast of Japan. Its people have marks [or stripes] on their bodies like wild animals. In front they have three marks. If the marks are large and straight they belong to the upper class, but if the marks are small and crooked they belong to the lower class.” This distance and direction indicate that the Land of Marked Bodies must have been in or near Alaska. Now hear what Bancroft, the historian par excellence of our Pacific states, says of Alaskan traditions: “At Point Barrow the women have on the chin a vertical line about half an inch broad in the center, extending from the lip, with a parallel but narrower one on either side of it, a little apart. Some have two vertical lines protruding from either angle of the mouth … a mark of their high position in the tribe.”
But it is above all Hwui Shan’s description of the Land of Fusang that fascinates scholars. “That region has many Fusang trees,” he said, “and these give it its name. The Fusang’s leaves resemble those of the T’ung, and its first sprouts are like bamboo shoots. The people of the country eat them. The fruit is like a pear but reddish. They spin thread from the bark and make coarse cloth from which they make clothing and from it they also make a finer fabric. The wood is used to build houses and they use Fusang bark to make paper.”
“ Mexico ,” writes Professor Charles E. Chapman, “means the land of the century-plant , just as ‘Fusang’ was named for the ‘Fusang tree.’ In no other country in the world is there a plant put to such uses as those described by Hwui Shan. … The sprouts of the century-plant do resemble those of the bamboo and the people do eat them. The plant does furnish a rough sort of thread from which a kind of hempen cloth is made and also a fine variety resembling linen. Furthermore, paper is made from … the fibre.” He might have added that the century plant, or maguey as it is called in Mexico ( genus Agave in Latin), is often described by travellers as a tree. As residents of our southwestern states are aware, it sends up a tall, branching, beautifully flowered, candelabralike stalk that often reaches a height of thirty feet. It was widely cultivated in regular groves in ancient Mexico, its trunk being used for the beams and rafters of build. ings and its broad, flat, waterproof, cactuslike leaves for the walls and roofs. On his return to China, Hwui Shan presented the Emperor with three hundred pounds of “silk” from the Fusang tree and also gave him “a kind of semi-transparent stone, about a foot in circumference, cut in the form of a mirror,” a curious item that sounds exactly like one of the polished obsidian (volcanic glass) mirrors used by the ancient Mexicans.
“They have a system of writing,” his report continues. “But they have no fortresses or walled cities, no military weapons or soldiers and they do not wage war in that kingdom.”
As pointed out by Ignacio Bernai in his recent Mexico Before Cortez , the period of Hwui Shan’s voyage—458-499 A.D.—coincided with a golden age in Mexico now called by archaeologists the Classic Period. The Mexicans of that age possessed a system of hieroglyphic writing undeciphered to this day; a calendar more accurate than our own; and a knowledge of mathematics that included a symbol for zero centuries before the concept was known in Europe. They also built great metropolitan cities, particularly one named Teotihuacân in the ruins of which, twentyfive miles from Mexico City, may be seen the gigantic Pyramid of the Sun. These extraordinary metropolises (not to be confused with the Aztec cities that were there at the time of the Spanish conquest) are unique in the history of ancient cultures, for they had no city walls or fortifications. Their inhabitants appear to have had no enemies—and hence no need to defend themselves—and to have known nothing about war. They worshipped peaceful gods like the sun and the moon and the rain and the gentle Quetzalcoatl, the winged serpent, to whom butterflies were offered in sacrifice. It was not until the Toltec period (and much later still, in the time of the relatively modern Aztecs) that bloodthirsty warriors who practiced human sacrifice conquered and ruled the country. Another unusual thing about the Mexicans of the Classic Period is that they cremated their dead, a practice unheard of at any other time in Mexican history and one pertinent to the question of Buddhist influence.
“The ground contains no iron,” said Hwui Shan, “but it has copper. The people do not value gold and silver.”
Iron, of course, existed in Mexico but its use was unknown before the time of the Spaniards, who were the first to mine it. “Metals never had a great importance in American cultures,” writes Dr. Bernai. “Metals were for luxury rather than for their practical usefulness. Nevertheless, especially among the Tarascos, copper was abundantly used to make needles, pliers, awls, hatchets, and the cutting edges of farm tools.” The Tarascos, incidentally, were a tribe who lived in western Mexico, the region where Hwui Shan would have landed. His reference to the Mexicans’ indifference toward gold and silver is also borne out by eyewitness accounts of the Spaniards. Bernai Diaz, one of Cortes’ lieutenants, describing the market place of Mexico City (in his Discovery and Conquest of Mexico ), stated that gold and silver, far from being used as money, were bought and sold like other commodities and paid for with the regular currency of the country, which was cocoa.
Hwui Shan’s report also contains information about the emperor and the noblemen of Fusang, about slavery, crime and a prison system for punishing criminals, marriage, funeral customs, etcetera. Much of this data cannot be checked because of the lack of literature surviving from the Classic Period and our inability to decipher its hieroglyphs, but some of it, frankly, has a suspiciously Oriental, even a Chinese, sound: for example, the visitor wrote that the emperor of Fusang changed the color of his clothes at certain seasons of the year, from blue to red, then yellow, white, and black.
There are also some serious inconsistencies and problems in Hwui Shan’s story. The century plant does not bear reddish, pear-shaped fruit; moreover, objectors say that any convincing description of the plant should have included a reference to pulque , the well-known Mexican liquor made from its juice. A particularly difficult problem also appears in one excerpt which has been said to prove that the Land of Fusang was not in America: “They have large cattle horns which they use as containers, the biggest ones holding about five gallons. They have carts drawn by horses, cattle, and deer. The people of that country raise deer as the Chinese raise cattle and from their milk make a fermented liquor. …” It is well known, of course, that American Indians, in spite of the high degree of civilization they reached in Mexico and other places, never domesticated animals or, strange to say, discovered the use of the wheel, except as they used it in toys. Cattle and horses and carts—not to mention trained deer!—were unknown among them until the Spaniards introduced them.
There is also another difficult problem involved in Hwui Shan’s account—his mention of a Land of Women. This, he said, was located 1,000 Ii beyond the Land of Fusang. Its female inhabitants were completely covered with hair, walked erect, and chattered a lot among themselves but were shy when they saw ordinary human beings. They gave birth to their young after six or seven months of pregnancy and nursed them on their backs. The babies were able to walk within 100 days and were fully grown in three or four years. “Believe it or not,” he concluded, “this is truel”
Problems like these may cause some readers to dismiss the entire story of Hwui Shan as nothing more than a fifth-century addition to the old Chinese fairy tale of Fusang. It ought to be remembered, however, that very few ancient travellers who visited foreign countries for the first time were accurate in everything they reported, nor were their accounts lacking in fantastic touches. Take, for example, the Icelandic sagas that tell of the colony of Vinland. They not only mention monopeds—one-legged men—but recount such bloodcurdling Viking exploits as that of Freydis, Leif Ericson’s half sister, who on one expedition to the New World allegedly murdered all the other women in her party with a battle axe in order to retain supreme command. For centuries, such tall tales as these caused the sagas to be regarded as entirely fictitious. Marco Polo, the first Westerner to see the Far East, lived for twenty years at the court of Kubla Khan and travelled widely in Asia. He came back to Venice with Paul Bunyan-like tales of a bird that could lift an elephant (the roc of the Arabian Nights , which he had heard about and accepted as factual), oxen as large as elephants, dogs as big as donkeys, and men with tails. Christopher Columbus, besides being a superb navigator, was a geographer and a cartographer of distinction, one of the first mariners to use the compass, and the very first to note that the North Star moves around the celestial pole. Yet even this sophisticated man repeated, like Hwui Shan, the story of an Island of Amazons. As a matter of fact, the legend of a Land of Women plays a considerable role in American history. California was long believed by the Spaniards to be an island rich in pearls and gold, populated by black-skinned ladies “without a single man among them” and ruled by a beautiful queen “of majestic proportions” named Calaffa. Such was the description of our as-yet-undiscovered Golden State in Amadis of Gaul , that infamous five-volume, fifteenth-century best seller (with sequels) which, more than any other book, was responsible for the madness of Don Quixote. The legend inspired the equipping of expeditions and persisted as late as the seventeenth century. So, too, did the belief of brave, strong men in the Fountain of Youth, the Earthly Paradise, and the fabulous Golden Kingdom of Quivira.
Compared with other travellers Hwui Shan does not seem such a Munchausen. In fact, his story is exceptionally free, as ancient stories of discovery go, from the marvelous and the incredible. Nevertheless, as I have suggested, it does have problems. Since 1761, when the Chevalier de Guignes encountered it in The Records of the Liang Dynasty and brought it to the attention of Western scholars for the first time, it has engendered a lively and somewhat belligerent controversy, mostly during the nineteenth century, among savants in Europe and America. Significantly, those who have believed that Hwui Shan discovered America—at least those who have written to that effecthave outnumbered their opponents two to one. Besides those already mentioned they include José Ferez, Gustave d’Eichthal, Dr. A. Gordon, the Reverend N. W. Jones, the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, and the Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys. But those opposed —Lucien Adam, Vivien de Saint-Martin, Dr. E. Bretschneider, and Professor S. W. Williams—had a formidable leader in the person of Heinrich Julius Klaproth, a celebrated Sinologue of the early nineteenth century, who wrote a critical paper on Hwui Shan in 1831. Klaproth and his followers did not deny the fact of the missionary’s voyage but disputed its length and its destination. They maintained that the distance had been falsified, either through the braggadocio or Buddhist zeal of the adventurous missionary himself or else by the courtiers who questioned him, the historians who published the record, or the scribes who copied and recopied the original documents. Scribal errors were common enough, of course, in the days before printing (an art invented in China, but not until the ninth century); they were particularly apt to occur where numbers were involved.
The question then arises: If Fusang was not in North America, where was it? Klaproth’s theory (the only one that has ever been advanced by the opposition) was that Hwui Shan must have reached some country close to China—probably, because it lies in a generally easterly direction, Japan.
Unfortunately for the fame of our Buddhist Columbus, Hubert Howe Bancroft, that astonishing academic entrepreneur who founded The History Company, Incorporated, of San Francisco and successfully applied commercial business methods to the wholesale buying, writing, and selling of history, inclined to Klaproth’s view, a fact that above all others explains why the subject has been ignored by so many American historians. Yet Bancroft remained intrigued by Hwui Shan. He quoted a large part of the Chinese text in his Native Races of the Pacific States , published in 1886, and gave a great deal of help and encouragement to Edward P. Vining, whose An Inglorious Columbus , dedicated to Bancroft, still remains the most impressive work on the voyage of Hwui Shan. Vining’s book is unshaken—indeed, its conclusions seem to be confirmed—by recent archaeological studies; though not the last book to be written on the subject, it seems to have put an end to the controversy.
The charge has also been made that Klaproth was guilty of conduct unbecoming a scholar: that he took up the opposition through chagrin that his rival, de Guignes, had been the first to discover Hwui Shan. Indeed, the Japan theory does not do justice to Klaproth’s reputation. It is well known that the Chinese had contacts with Japan as early as the first century A.D. and possessed a written history of that country in the year 297, nearly two centuries before Hwui Shan. Many known details concerning Japan also make it abundantly clear that he could not have mistaken Japan for Fusang: iron was used in Japan at an early period, the Japanese were anything but pacifistic (in Hwui Shan’s time they were engaged in a military invasion of Korea), and the introduction of Buddhism there by other missionaries in 552 A.D., long after Hwui Shan’s death, is well documented. It seems hardly necessary to add that Japan is actually mentioned in Hwui Shan’s narrative in connection with locating the Land of Marked Bodies, or that the possibility of errors in ancient manuscripts is a knife that cuts both ways.
What about the reddish, pear-shaped fruit of the Fusang tree? Vining and Chapman thought it may not have been the century plant at all but the prickly pear or cactus apple, known in Mexico as the tuna , which grows there on a cactus similar in some respects to the century plant; travellers sometimes confuse the two. And the Mexicans did not drink pulque , Dr. Bernai informs us, until the tenth century, 500 years after Hwui Shan. The trained deer are obviously reindeer—transplanted, perhaps, from Hwui Shan’s journey to Siberia and misrepresented by the Chinese scribes, who recorded his story, as drawing carts instead of sleighs. Gigantic cattle horns, probably those of prehistoric bison which once roamed Mexico, were shown as curios by Montezuma to Cortes and have also been found in ruins in Mexico, indicating that they were indeed used as containers. In fact, almost all the inconsistencies and problems in Hwui Shan’s story are open to interpretation and have a way of turning out in his favor. For instance, Vining has expertly shown, while performing what is probably one of the neatest tricks in all scholarship, that the shy, chattering, hairy “ladies” of the Land of Women—with their precocious children—who lived 1,000 Ii beyond Fusang, were Central American monkeys.
Regarding the prison system of Fusang, Vining thought that Hwui Shan’s statements are possibly not to be taken literally but as an allegory on the Buddhist doctrine on hell. This brings up again the question of Buddhist influence on the religious beliefs of early American civilizations and Hwui Shan’s statement that he and his companions introduced it into Fusang. That question almost seems to be directly answered by the Austrian anthropologist Dr. Robert HeineGeldern, who—writing quite independently of the subject of Hwui Shan—has stated: “We have little doubt that a comparative analysis of the Mexican Mayan religion will reveal many traces of the former influences of Hinduism or Buddhism or both. To mention but one instance, the conceptions of hell and the punishments inflicted there resemble Buddhist and Hindu beliefs to such an extent that the assumption of historic relationship is almost inevitable.”
Who will now revive the Hwui Shan controversy and gainsay the conclusion of Dr. Charles E. Chapman, the last American historian to write on the subject: “Either Fusang was in America, presumably in Mexico, or else the story was a lie. The evidence that it was true is almost overwhelming”?