When the Chinese came to New Zealand...

by Matthew Wright / 24 June, 2016
Who would have guessed that the Chinese built cities and pyramids here thousands of years ago?
The Chinese navigator Zheng He sailed the Pacific in the 15th century, in search of treasure. Photo/Getty Images
The Chinese navigator Zheng He sailed the Pacific in the 15th century, in search of treasure. Photo/Getty Images


Did a great fleet of Chinese junks arrive here in the 15th century, only to be set alight by a comet that flew past before crashing into the ocean, triggering a tsunami that wrecked the boats on the coast?

The upside-down remains of 80 such vessels are visible today, we are told, on the coast from the Catlins to Moeraki and on Banks Peninsula. And the Moeraki Boulders, it seems, are not natural formations as geologists since the 1850s have thought: they are weights used to raise and lower the sails on the giant junks.

The curious part is that this reputed Chinese fleet was a latecomer. Thousands of years earlier, the theory goes, the Chinese had built a thriving city where modern Christchurch stands, along with pyramids in “Remuwera”, and they were also ancestral to the Waitaha people.

Relics of this ancient world, apparently, can be seen everywhere: ancient canals in Marlborough; gardens in Palliser Bay; a smelter in Akaroa; the Kaimanawa wall; drains at Kaipara; and mouldering remains in the Kaingaroa state forest. Even plants and animals, such as the Kaimanawa horses, are part of the mix one way or another.

His statue, below, stands in Nanjing near a replica of his ship. Photo/Getty Images
His statue, below, stands in Nanjing near a replica of his ship. Photo/Getty Images


All this has been missed by New Zealand’s own inhabitants for 800 years, including – of late – professional historians and archaeologists. But it is apparently evident to British visitors Cedric Bell and Gavin Menzies, among other people – as reported in Menzies’ 2008 book, 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance (HarperCollins and also on his website).

Conventional thinking begs to differ. For instance, we know the Kaimanawa horse herd originated in the early 1870s when Native Minister and Hawke’s Bay runholder Sir Donald McLean released a Comet breed stallion and mares from his own horse stud into the region. Geologists have known the natural origins of the Moeraki Boulders since the 1850s. And so it goes on.

The issue underscores the nature of all the alternative pre-Maori discovery theories. Virtually all of them – whether postulating Chinese junks, Celtic temples or mystic New Age cultures – reject conventional thinking, even where it is well documented, in favour of a structure of if-then logic that builds a different reality for the theorist.

Sometimes the New Zealand Government – or Maori or “historians” – are presented as deliberately obstructing the alternative thinkers, even conspiring to hide the truth, as if the establishment were a monolithic bloc run, Stalin-style, with a requirement to toe a party line about our past.

Why all this happens is probably entwined with the realities of the human condition – with its drives for self-validation, a desire to understand place, an ability to see patterns where none exist – and our soaring capacity to imagine that what we are emotionally inspired by is real. This last is a facet of our nature that advertisers have long understood and exploited. Most of us, it seems, happily accept that conventional science and history tell us how the world works; others apparently do not.

Read more: Facts and Fallacies: Did the Spanish or Chinese visit New Zealand before Polynesians?

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