As we saw in our previous article, “The Work of Interpreters in Ancient China,” the splendor of China during the Ming Dynasty allowed China to maintain a large exploratory fleet, which carried out an intense commercial and cultural exchange with many countries. But in 1435, due to xenophobia, the admirals’ accounts of these voyages were destroyed and foreign commerce was eliminated. Even the colonies that had been established in Africa, Australia and the Americas were abandoned to their own luck. Regrettably those navigation charts were of an incalculable value, as the powerful Chinese fleet reached the Americas 71 years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan, discovered the Antarctic and reached Australia 350 years before Cook.
In his zeal to reconstruct this extremely important page of history, in 2003 Gavin Menzies, an ex-submarine commander in the British Navy, published the book “1421: The Year China Discovered America,” in which he affirms that Zheng He visited the Americas 71 years before Columbus.
In the process of reconstructing history, a complete and faithful translation is enormously helpful, including comments by the translator. For example, thanks to a copy of a translation, it has been possible to reconstruct the visit to Europe by the first Mongol diplomat sent by China (at that time controlled by the Mongols). That was the trip by the Christian monk Rabban Bar Sauma at the end of the 13th century. This Turkish cleric, who was born in China and a contemporary of Marco Polo’s, proposed to the Pope and the kings of France and England that they ally themselves with the Ilkhan, the Mongol emperor of Persia, and launch a crusade against their common enemy: the Muslim dynasty that controlled the Holy Land.
The mission was unsuccessful, but the Mongol ambassador narrated his voyage and this account is very interesting because it shows Medieval Europe as described by an Asian of particular brilliance. This monk’s biography and his account of the voyage were translated from Persian to Syriac. The translator added comments and eliminated information he considered to be of little importance. The French version was published in the last decade of the 19th century. In 1920, two English versions were published. In 1958, the Russian version was published.
A true contribution on the part of translation to human history.
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