Pale Ink, by Henriette Mertz, , at sacred-texts.com
YU'S DOCUMENT will be put aside for the moment in order to explore the highly controversial fifth century story of Fu-sang, an account contained within the Chinese Classics.
The much-sought-after answer to the riddle as to whether or not Asiatics were here in America at an early time has intrigued thousands of persons. There could not be one who has read stories written by the Spanish Conquistadores or even those concerning the problematical Mu, Atlantis or Lemuria, who has not been disturbed by scores of conflicting emotions. Fu-sang has added to them.
The beginning of the controversy, with reference to the Chinese account of Fu-sang, started in 1761, following the discovery by de Guignes, an eminent French sinologist, that the country of Fu-sang, as noted in the Chinese Classics, was Mexico. From this discovery, there arose a most bitter controversy. Like many controversies, it turned on questions of personalities rather than on facts.
De Guignes was a scholar. He devoted much of his life to a study of the early Chinese, particularly to that which concerned navigation. During his course of study of the Classics, he came across a story, retold by Ma Twan-lin, in his "Antiquarian Researches" published in 1321, of a Buddhist priest, Hwui Shan by name, who, in the fifth century, reported having been to a far country to the east of China. After translating the account, de Guignes believed that he recognized the country described by Hwui Shan to be that of Mexico. He made known the result of his research in a very learned paper entitled "Investigation of the Navigation of the Chinese to the Coast of America, and as to some Tribes situated at the Eastern Extremity of Asia," published in Paris in 1761. The paper created a terrific shock. It came at a time when the contributions of the French Academy of Sciences were at their apexMaupertuis and La Condamine had shortly before returned from their respective expeditions in measuring the arc, one in the polar regions and the other at the
equator. The Academy was engulfed in broiling discussions concerning the origin of man, his migrations, his early culture; the shape of the earth; ethereal waves; and involved matters of linguistics. It was only natural that, at a time like that, de Guignes paper should have aroused tremendous interest.
The thesis that de Guignes propounded was conceded, for 70 years, to be correct by all those who had considered it. However, in 1831, the famous Prussian sinologist, Klaproth, refuted the de Guignes theory and put forth one of his own. Klaproth, who had derived much of his knowledge from de Guignes, jumped squarely on the learned treatise and ripped it apart from stem to stern. He criticized de Guigneshe criticized the Chinese. He went so far in his analysis as to conclude that the Chinese themselves did not know east from south. Then, after concluding that, he decided that the Chinese could not countthey would not know how far they had travelled. He ruthlessly tore down both de Guignes theory and the account of Hwui Shan. He gave no constructive explanation for this portion of the Classics, but defiantly stood his ground relying on his preeminent place among sinologists to uphold him. And it did.
A storm broke loose and a minor Franco-Prussian war of words raged around Fu-sang for the next 50 years. For the most part, the thinking world of that day opposed Klaproth, although, peculiarly enough, he is followed today with no opposition. Klaproth based his major hypothesis on the fact that, in the Classics, both a "grape" or "grapevine" and a "horse" were supposed to have been found in this strange country. These two items, together with his assertion of the erroneous sense of direction on the part of the Chinese, and their inability to tabulate mileage, formed the basis for his dissent. In Klaproth's own words, he stated: "The circumstance that vines are found in the country of Fu-sang is sufficient to prove that it could not be any part of America." For some unknown reason, Klaproth, the scientist, made a bold and positive statement that the vine did not exist in America before the coming of Columbus, ignoring a fact, well known to him, that the early Norsemen called
this country "Vinland" because of the abundance here of wild grapes.
The Marquis DHervey remarked: "If such reasoning had been published by an Orientalist of less reputation than Klaproth, it would be almost superfluous to expose it."
One of the very illuminating comments came from Dr. A. Godron, President of the Academy of Sciences of Nancy, which in part stated:
"As to the point raised by M. Klaproth, that the Chinese did not possess means of measuring the distances of their journeys accurately and of determining their direction, it may be observed that we possess a document which disproves this assertion, and which is the more curious from the fact that it came from Klaproth himself. It proves that the Chinese, even in the times of remote antiquity, were no novices in the art of measuring distances and fixing their directions. . . . Klaproth states that the accounts of these (early) journeys are worthy of the more confidence from the fact that the compass had long been employed by the Chinese. He adds that the Chinese historian, Sse-ma-tsein, gives an account of the Emperor Tz-ing-wang, 1100 years before the Christian era, as presenting five magnetic compasses to the Ambassadors of Tong-king in order that they would be able to retrace their steps home. Klaproth further says 'In the third century of our era, the Chinese ships were steered upon the Indian Ocean according to the indications of a magnetic needle. In order to avoid friction, and to give freer movement to the needle, it has been supposed that they allowed it to float upon water. That was the aquatic compass of the Chinese'."
Godron further went on to say: "We, therefore, see that Klaproth was perfectly well informed upon the subject, and may well feel surprised at his remarks in regard to the voyages to Fu-sang. If the scientific honesty of a scholar of his rank were not sheltered from all criticism, it might readily be believed that he was forced to mislead the Chinese navigators in order to prevent their arrival in America, and to compel them to land in Japan."
This critical analysis of Klaproth's integrity runs all through
scholarly comments. Yet, in spite of them, the weight of Klaproth's name has been such that the world has chosen to disregard his recorded contradictory statements, taking the path of least resistance in finding it easier to go along and uphold him than to independently re-examine the facts and then decide right from wrong. Klaproth's other works on the Chinese have been magnificently done. His dissent in this matter appears to have been written with an understandably sarcastic pen and, to anyone reading it today and knowing nothing of the surrounding circumstances, it so speaks.
In the days of de Guignes, Alaska was an unknown entitythe northwestern coastal area of the American continent, as far south as California, was hazy. Maps of that day, even those by the famous German cartographers, the Lotter family, left everything north of San Francisco a blank. Knowledge of the Russian expeditions from Siberia to Alaska was not available. In the years intervening between de Guignes and Klaproth, more knowledge concerning this area was published and made available. Maps by John Cary of London, in 1811, show Alaska and the coastal regions north of San Francisco, including the Aleutians, with a surprising degree of accuracy. In other words, Klaproth and those that followed him, had knowledge of this vital area that de Guignes did not possess.
The story that de Guignes discovered in the Chinese Classics is found in Kuen 327, and is given here, in full, in translation. Some six or eight excellent English translations are in existence, each of which vary slightly according to the translator. The variations are of minor consequencesome, in giving a free translation, leave out a phrase by giving the broad general meaning of a sentence while others give a literal word for word translationsome quibble about the tense of a verb. Essentially, the published translations are alike. While I myself do not read Chinese, this portion of the original Chinese Classics was read to me in translation while I followed the earlier translations that were before me. Therefore, the translation that is given here, which under no circumstances can be assumed to be beyond the pale of criticism, is the result of two independent
checks on my own part plus the six earlier translations that were before me. In the light of that, the translation, based on Ma Twan-lin's revision, follows:
Fu-sang. In the year 499, a Buddhist priest named Hwui Shan, came to China and told about a country called Fu-sang. Fu-sang is 20,000 Chinese miles to the east of the Great Han country. It is also situated east of the Middle Kingdom (China). They have a great number of Fu-sang trees and from them the country takes its name. The leaves of this tree are the color of the oak. In its early stages the leaves look like bamboo shoots. It has an edible fruit which is pear-shaped and reddish in color. The bark of the tree can be made into cloth and from this the people make clothing. In building their houses they make planks such as are used in the construction of adobe houses. Their cities have no walls. They have a written language and make paper from the bark of the Fu-sang tree. They do not fight as they have no weapons in that country. In this country they have prisons, a southern one and a northern one. For lighter offenses, the culprit is sent to the southern prison but for more serious crimes, he is placed in the northern prison. If the criminal is pardoned, he is transferred to the southern prison but failing to obtain a pardon, he remains in the northern prison. Those men or women confined in the northern prison can marry and have children. However, their sons are made slaves at the age of eight years and their daughters at the age of nine years. The criminal's body is not allowed to be brought out of prison at the time of his death. If a nobleman has committed a crime, the people hold a great assembly placing the offender in the center of a pit or excavation, while they sit around him, eating and drinking, and then take leave of him as of a dying man. He is then surrounded with ashes. If the offense is of a lesser nature, or is the first offense, only the man himself is punished. If the crime is greater, or has been repeated, then his children and grandchildren are additionally punished. If it is a third offense, or one of great seriousness, punishment will extend to his seventh generation. The title of the King of
this country is the Chief of the Multitudes. The noblemen of first rank are called Tui-lu and of the second rank, Little Tui-lu. Those of the third rank are called Nah-tu-sha. When the King of the country leaves his home, he is both preceded and followed by drums and horns. He changes the color of his clothes according to the years changes. The first and second years are blue (green); the third and fourth years are red; the fifth and sixth, yellow; the seventh and eighth, white, and the ninth and tenth, black. They have cattle with long horns. These long horns are used as receptacles to put things in and some horns are as large as ten ordinary ones. They have horse carts and deer carts. The people of the country raise deer as is done in China. From milk they make koumiss. They have the red pears which are kept unspoiled throughout the year. They also have the grape, or grapevine. The ground of the country is destitute of iron but it has copper. Gold and silver are not valued. Their markets are not taxed and they have no fixed prices. When a man plans to marry, he first builds a small house near, or in front of, that of the young lady he hopes to marry. He sprinkles and sweeps the ground in front of her house both morning and evening throughout the year. If the girl is not pleased with him, she soon sends him away but, if there is a mutual attraction, then their marriage takes place. The marriage ceremonies, in general, are the same as those of China. If a father, mother, brother, wife or son dies, the remaining members of the family mourn seven days, not eating; for grandparents, they mourn five days without eating; for an elder or younger brother, a father's elder or younger brother, or his sister or for an elder or younger sister, they mourn three days without eating. An image of the departed spirit is set up and they reverently honor it by offering it libations both morning and evening. The people do not wear mourning garments or mourning badges. During the first three years after his accession to the throne, the King does not occupy himself with matters of State. Formerly this country had no knowledge of the Buddhist religion but, during the Sung Dynasty, in the second year of the period called the "Great Brightness" (458 A.D.) five priests,
or Pi-kiu, from the country of Ki-pin (Kabul) journeyed to that country taking with them their Buddhist religious books and images and taught the people their Buddhist doctrine and to forsake their rude customs and thus reformed them.
Immediately following this story of Fu-sang in the Classics, is the even more controversial account of the "Kingdom of Women." This is the story that has been presumed to be so utterly absurd and false that it has brought discredit to all that Hwui Shan wrote. Being either unable to explain it or to ignore it, those who have studied the matter have let the entire problem of Fu-sang rest, since they were neither able to explain nor ignore the "Kingdom of Women." Many have stated that they were "embarrassed" by it. All of the studies concerning the "Kingdom of Women" appear to have been made in the 19th centuryno recent one has been found.
As the story of Fu-sang is closely interwoven with that of the "Kingdom of Women," these two stories will be considered as a unit for the sake of brevity in discussing them. The translation therefore of that section of the Classics is as follows:
Kingdom of Women. Hwui Shan says that the Kingdom of Women is about a thousand LI (approx. 350 miles) east of Fu-sang. The appearance of the people is neat and clean and their color is white. Their bodies have hair and the hair of their heads is long, reaching to the ground. At the second or third month they enter the water, and become pregnant. Six or seven months after they bear their young. The female chests are destitute of breasts. At the nape of their neck there is hair and milk is in the hair at the back of the neck and the infant is fed by that milk. Within 100 days, the infant can walk and in three or four years is adult. It is true. On seeing a human being, the women are afraid and hide. They have a great deal of respect for their husbands. The people eat a salt plant the leaves of which resemble a certain Chinese herb and they have a pleasant pungent odor. In the year 507 A.D., some men from Tsin-ngan, while crossing the sea, were blown by strong winds to an un-known
coast. On going ashore, they found a people there whose language they could not understand. The women were like those of China but the men had human bodies with dog's heads and they made sounds like the barking of a dog. The people eat a small kind of bean or kernel. They wear clothing made of cloth. They beat down the earth and make adobe for the walls of their houses, the shape of which is circular and the doors, or entrances, resemble burrows.
These, then, are the stories in the Classics on which de Guignes based his conclusions that "Fu-sang" was Mexico, the account that precipitated the argument.
It was particularly the story of the "Kingdom of Women" that caused the "embarrassment"; the story that could not be explained; the story that brought discredit to Hwui Shan's account of "Fu-sang"; the story that was instrumental in the burial of both accounts; and the belief today that the Classics contain a geographical myth, the product of Buddhist imagination.