Roman classics? No, China

Following last week’s readings for Posthumanism, it seems like a broadly accepted fact that the European Renaissance is the primary cause of Humanism.  The Renaissance is often characterized by a renewed interest in classical Roman and Greek literature in the late middle ages, during which seminal texts by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero, Boethius, Ovid and Homer (to name a few), were more widely taught in European universities.  But there’s another cause of the Renaissance that is perhaps less commonly known.

This week I ran across a book by Gavin Menzies, 1434.  1434 is the year Chinese navigator Zheng He (who is credited for circumnavigating the globe in 1421– Menzies’ previous book, btw, titled 1421) landed in Florence and met with the pope (  The book describes the events leading up to the Chinese Emperor sending Zheng He and this illustrious fleet around the world in detail, and the noted encounters of the Chinese delegation with the Italians.  To sum up, Menzies credits the Renaissance to the knowledge the Chinese shared in these encounters.

So, added to the list of the possible origins of Humanism now is Zheng He and the Chinese. Granted, Menzies’ version of history is fanciful and hard to believe, but really is it any more far-fetched than Harold Bloom asserting that Humanism is entirely the product of Shakespeare’s plays?

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