IT is now more than a century since the learned French sinologist Deguignes set forth, in a very ably-written paper in the "Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres" (vol. xxviii., 1761), the fact that he had found in the works of early Chinese historians a statement that, in the fifth century of our era, certain travellers of their race had discovered a country which they called Fusang, and which, from the direction and distance as described by them, appeared to be Western America, and in all probability Mexico. When Deguignes wrote, his resources, both as regards the knowledge of the region supposed to have been discovered and the character of the travellers, were extremely limited, so that the skill with which he conducted his investigation, and the shrewdness of his conjectures, render his memoir, even to the present day, a subject of commendation among scholars. Few men have ever done so much or as well with such scanty and doubtful material.
The original document on which the Chinese historians
based their account of Fusang was the report of a Buddhist monk or missionary named Hoei-shin (Schin or Shên), 1 who, in the year 499 A.D., returned from a long journey to the East. This report was regularly entered on the Year-Books or Annals of the Chinese Empire, whence it passed, not only to the pages of historians, but also to those of poets and writers of romances, by whom it was so confused with absurd inventions and marvellous tales, that even at the present clay discredit is thrown by a certain class of critics on the entire narrative. In 1841 Carl Friedrich Neumann, Professor of Oriental Languages and History at the University of Munich, published the original narrative of Hoei-shin from the Annals, adding to it comments of his own elucidating its statements, and advancing somewhat beyond Deguignes. This little work I translated into English, under the supervision of Professor Neumann, and with his aid. I believe that, as he revised and corrected the English version here given, it may claim to be an accurate translation from the Chinese text of the Year-Book, and that of Hoei-shin. I have placed it first in this volume because it gives in a much more perfect form than is to be found in the memoir of Deguignes the original report on which the entire investigation is based. It of course includes Professor Neumann's comments on the monk's brief narrative; and as these embrace many remarks on the
possibility of passing by sea from the Chinese to the American coast, I have thought it appropriate to place next in the series a letter from Colonel Barclay Kennon, who, as a prominent officer in the United States Coast Survey, passed several years in the North Pacific, during which time he surveyed and mapped, in company with two colleagues, the entire coast, both on the Asiatic and American sides. Colonel Kennon is of opinion that the voyage supposed to have been taken by the Buddhist monks is easily practicable, and might be effected even in an open boat--the vessel in which he himself passed both summer and winter, and in which he sailed more than 40,000 miles, having been simply a small pilot-boat. To tins I have added, in further reference to certain remarks by Professor Neumann, a comment on the affinities between American and Asiatic languages, and other subjects mentioned in his text, i.e., the Mound-Builders and the Images of Buddha. These are followed by extracts from, and remarks on, a series of articles by M. Gustave d’Eichthal, contributed to the Revue Archæologique in 1862-63, in which he defends Deguignes from an attack which the well-known Orientalist Julius Heinrich von Klaproth made upon the original memoir by the former. I believe that it will be admitted by all unprejudiced scholars, that in these ably-written and very temperate articles M. D’Eichthal has fully vindicated Deguignes, and has also contributed much very valuable material to the subject. I am far from claiming that it
has been absolutely proved that Hoei-shin was in Mexico, or that he was preceded thither by "five beggar-monks from the Kingdom of Kipin." But it cannot be denied that, as further researches have been made, much which at first seemed obscure or improbable in his narrative has been cleared up. All that Hoei-shin declares he saw is not only probable, but is confirmed, almost to the minutest details, by what is now known of Old and New Mexico.
All that seems fabulous in his story, he, like Herodotus, relates from hearsay; but it is remarkable that these wonders, which Professor Neumann was unwilling to cite, all appear at the present day to be simply exaggerations of facts which recent research has brought to light. Among the objects seen and described by the monk was the maguey plant, or great cactus, which he called the Fusang, after a Chinese plant slightly resembling it, and this name (Fusang) he applied to the country. His description of this plant, and of its many uses, is very striking. Other things peculiar to Mexico, but not known to China, were remarked, as, for instance, the absence of iron, and the fact that copper, gold, and silver were not prized, and were not used for money. The manner in which marriage was contracted in Fusang, according to his description, is not at all Chinese--I doubt if it be Asiatic--but it exists in more than one North American tribe, and something very like it was observed by a recent traveller in New Mexico.
I have in Chapter IX. called attention to a fact which seems to have escaped both Neumann and Klaproth, though both were familiar with the literature on which it is based. It is simply this, that the voyage of Hoei-shin forms a portion of the somewhat extensive literature of travel of Buddhist monks, the authenticity of which has been vindicated by Stanislas Julien. Many of these have been translated, and one of them, "The Mission of Sung-yun," was recently published in English. Sung-yun travelled only nineteen years after Hoei-shin, and was in all probability a contemporary who had met him at the Chinese court, where such travellers enjoyed the highest consideration. Sung-yun had been sent to India, or the West, by the Empress Dowager Tai-Hau, of the Wei dynasty, and it is not improbable that Hoei-shin had travelled to the East, in like manner, by imperial order. It is evident that he lived at a time when men of his stamp were in request to go to the ends of the earth to spread the doctrines of Buddha.
In 1869, some one who had read or heard of Neumann's work on the Buddhist discovery of America, placed in the "Notes and Queries on China and Japan," published at Hong Kong, a request that those who possessed information on the subject would send it to that journal. The results were, however, trifling, the principal communication thus elicited being an article from Dr E. Bretschneider, in which the writer, while expressing his opinion that Hoei-shin was a
[paragraph continues] "lying Buddhist priest," and a "consummate humbug," brought forth nothing of consequence to prove such very positive assertions. But as the paper forms a portion of the literature of the Fusang question, I have included it in this volume.
vi:1 Neumann gives the name as Hoei-schin; Dr Bretschneider, as Hui-shên. When not translating Dr Neumann, I have written it Hoei-shin.