One sunny day in 1499, a World Fair was held to celebrate great achievements not unlike Nobel ceremonies. Amongst the many proud speakers was Christopher Columbus, who was invited to speak about his greatest discovery in 1493.
The uproar was caused by a Chinese man who was initially just another face in the crowd until Columbus announced his greatest discovery. Once a gallant sailor, Zheng He claimed with conviction that he was the one who found America and was deeply offended (amidst bemusement) by Columbus’ heinous announcement. Zheng He immediately engaged lawyers and a few days later, decided to file a lawsuit against Columbus. Promptly (or at least, as promptly as mail was delivered back in 1499), the letter of lawsuit was sent to Columbus, demanding that he appear in court.
As this is a closed-court case, only the transcript of the court proceedings can be released to the public. Though the case dates back to 500 years ago, we have an exclusive reveal of the transcript, conveniently translated into a common language that our readers would understand.
INTERNATIONAL CIVIL LAWSUIT - THE ATTRIBUTION OF THE FOUNDING OF THE AMERICAS
Zheng HeRep by Wai-Yu Soo Dim
Christopher Columbus Rep by Hippolytus de Marsiliis (Dr)
Transcript of Court Proceedings
Bailiff: All rise. Department One of the Superior Court is now in session. Her Honour Judge Heyther Bairnatte presiding. Please be seated.
Judge Bairnatte: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Calling the case of Zheng He from China versus Christopher Columbus from Italy. Thank you all for coming. We will now commence the proceedings. Plaintiff?
Wai-Yu: Your Honour, the defendant has been charged with the crime of falsely claiming to be the one who found the Americas. The evidence that I am going to present will prove to you that the defendant is guilty as charged.
Judge Bairnatte: Very well. Prosecution, please present your first evidence.
Wai-Yu: Your Honour, might I refer you to Exhibit A. (Wai-Yu points to the map)
Wai-Yu: The copy of the map here is dated 1418, almost 80 years before the defendant reached the Americas. As you may see here, this map presents the world as a globe with all of the major continents that we know of in our current knowledge of the world around us. As you may see as well, the continents are portrayed in a fashion consistent with your European maps, with a precision of the land mass that cannot be seen on the European maps. Now, with this map dated back to 1418, it shows how Chinese sailors, my client included, have knowledge about longitude, latitude and the basic shape of the world - round - by that time, at the very least, even before European sailors caught on.
De Marsiliis: Objection!
According to map experts that we have consulted, Exhibit A does not fit other maps that depicted China. In fact, Exhibit A seems to have influences of the French maps, such as that by French cartographers Nicholas Sanson and Alexis Hubert Jaillot, published in 1691. Please, if you may refer to Exhibit B.
De Marsiliis: Besides, other Chinese cartographers did not project the world in the same way that Zheng He supposedly did during his time period. This map did not project China in the center of their cartographic piece, which is very unusual for the Chinese maps at that point usually depict their country in the center of the piece! So, ladies and gentlemen, I find the truth to Zheng He’s map highly suspect. WIth that, Your Honour, I rest my objection.
De Marsiliis: Your Honour, to move with my case, I must stress again that under the law, my client is presumed innocent until proven guilty. There is no real evidence against my client thus far. The truth is as such: that Christopher Columbus was the one who found the Americas. It was only because of him that the rest of the world came to know America. My client started what is to be known in the modern times as the Columbian exchange: a frequent exchange of the planets and animals between Europe and the Americas that lasted for at least a hundred years!
De Marsiliis: This was due to a few factors: Firstly, he was rejected many times by the various European monarchies to finance his trip. If it weren’t for his persistence, this discovery could not have happened! It was also due to his persistence that the Spanish Government financed his last voyage, which allowed him to re-established the trade! His determination played a big part in this discovery; if not for him, the development of the Americas might not have happened at all!
(murmur in the audience)
Judge Bairnatte: (taps gavel) Order in the court.
De Marsiliis: Besides, he also charted the wind directions of the Atlantic Oceans, which served as valuable information that allowed other ships to travel to the Americas and back, and established a settlement at the Americas, necessary infrastructure that facilitated trade.
De Marsiliis: They might argue that at one point of time, trade between both sides stopped due to his bad relations with his crew as well as the natives. Yet I would like to point out that it was also due to his ingenuity that trade was restored. Using an almanac, Columbus took advantage of an eclipse that just happened to con the natives into believing that they have lost the moon, and the only way to restore it is to re-establish trade with Europe. As such, it is no wonder that my client is often credited with being the founder of the Americas. For what use is the land if its potential is not unleashed and it is not developed?
Judge Bairnatte: Very well. As we have had unforeseen delays before the case started, I now propose a time of recess for the two parties and the audience to collect themselves and have a quick bite. I also invite the members of the jury to convene for discussion. Recess for 60 minutes, and we will convene after that.
Baliff: All rise.
(Judge Bairnatte stands up and leaves. People start to mill out of the courtroom.)
At the corridor, Columbus bumps into Zheng He and they have a conversation together.
Columbus: I have something to say. As the debate progressed, it becomes clear to me that we are disagreeing because we have different definitions of what it means to find the Americas. I have never meant that I was the first to have landed in the Americas, for goodness’ sake! What I meant when I said that I found the Americas is that it is because of me that trade and commerce can happen between Europe and America, all that sparked off the development of the Americas! Your definition of finding, it seems, is literally “finding” - stepping foot on the grounds when no one else has. Looks like there is some misunderstanding here!
Zheng He: Oh! So THAT is what you meant by finding? I thought you meant it literally and I found it absurd because I very well know that I was the one who first stepped foot there! So this is indeed a misunderstanding… How unnecessary! Shall we inform the judge?
Columbus: They seem pretty busy at the moment. How about going to grab a coffee and getting to know one another better, what do you say?
Zheng He: Sounds like a plan!
Addendum: Timelines of the different real individuals (Columbus, Zheng He, Hippolytus de Marsiliis) have been altered to fit together in this post - they may not have existed together at the same time in 1499. This also applies to some of our substantiation, in bid to build a case and to, hopefully, entertain the readers. Addendum addendum: Any individual represented here, real or fake, has no real connections and/or connotations to anyone dead or alive and any instances of similarity is purely coincidental. Addendum addendum addendum: This is a fictional court case with a fictional lawyer letter.