Chinese may have beat Columbus by decades
Winnipeg Free Press
Page: A9 / C
anada Wire
Byline: Marc Horton

EDMONTON -- Step aside, Columbus. Excuse me, Jean Cabot. Back off, Jacques Cartier.

Make way for an unnamed Chinese explorer who just might have beaten Columbus to the New World by decades. He sailed a huge, Ming Dynasty treasure ship, five times longer and more than 10 times taller than the Santa Maria, the ship in which Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Paul Chiasson, an architect, author and Cape Bretoner, also argues that in the 1400s, the Chinese built a thriving and self-sustaining settlement of more than 1,000 people on his home island. It lasted until political dynastic upheavals summoned everyone home and put an end to Chinese exploration.

How else can you explain the stone walls and the wide, paved roads that wind through the woods on Cape Dauphin on Cape Breton Island, he asks in his book, The Island of Seven Cities: Where the Chinese Settled When They Discovered America? And what of the mysterious platforms there?

What other explanation is there for the strange similarities in dress between the Chinese and the First Nations Mi'kmaq of Cape Breton? The Chinese characters that resemble the writing of the Mi'kmaq, the only North American tribe to possess such a skill? The Mi'kmaq legends that speak of a people who arrived before the Europeans?

Chiasson, who has taught architecture at Yale and the University of Toronto, put aside his former profession in favour of provocative historical investigation that may have led to one of the greatest archeological discoveries ever made.

Not surprisingly, the book, due for release next week, has upset traditional historians who dismiss Chiasson's theories as so much fantasy.

For his part, however, he's sticking to his guns and his interpretation of the walls, cut stones and platforms he discovered while hiking up a mountainside on Cape Breton Island almost four years ago.

Clearly, not everyone agrees with his theory.

"Historians and scholars have been quick with responses that say what I'm proposing could not have happened, but those responses came without them having read the book," Chiasson says.

He predicts that naysayers will have a more difficult time dismissing his findings once they see his research, the ancient maps he combined with modern aerial photographs and the observations made in letters and other documents by early European settlers. And then there are the studies of ocean currents that show, he insists, that Chinese sailors could have made it to the west coast of Africa and then to North America.

The next step is some serious -- and seriously expensive -- archeological work, combined with DNA studies of the Mi'kmaq that might prove a connection between them and the Chinese.

Chiasson welcomes, however, the skepticism of his critics both in North America and in China.

"I wouldn't have it any other way," he says. "I want people to ask the hard questions on this."

-- CanWest News Service

© 2006 The Winnipeg Free Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 07.05.2006