Eric the Red - George Upton

Hoei-Shin's Narrative

It is somewhat curious that no account appears in the original volume from which this is translated of the Chinese explorations of America, which antedate all others and which are as fully entitled to belief as those of Madoc or the Zeno brothers. The translator therefore appends a brief sketch of the alleged Celestial visitation, to make the narratives of disputed explorations and discoveries more complete. There is certainly as much to be said for the Chinese as for the Welsh or the Venetians in the matter of pre-Columbian voyages to America.

The Chinese Year Books, wherein are preserved all events of importance occurring in the Empire, contain the narrations of Hoei-Shin, a Buddhist priest, who affirms that in the year 499 he visited a country 15,000 li  east of Tahan. Of course at the present time we know not the length of a li in the fifth century, nor is there any clear idea where Tahan may have been. But that is not Hoei-Shin's fault. The Chinese in his time knew many things that we know nothing about.

Hoei-Shin called this country Fusang because of a great and useful tree which grew there somewhat resembling the bamboo. Its sprouts were used for food like those of the bamboo, and its bark and leaves were utilized for clothing and paper, for the Fusangites could read and write. They had domestic animals of all kinds, used stags for draft purposes, and their oxen had horns so huge that they held ten bushels. Of the useful metals they had none, but plenty of gold and silver, which they considered of no account, like the natives found by Cortes and Pizarro. They had a king called Ichi, a pompous sovereign who wore his clothes by astronomical rule, showing he was a scientist, and never took his walks abroad except with the fanfare of trumpets and much gorgeous display, thus recalling the Incas of Peru. The people were very peaceful and had no weapons of war.

A thousand li  east of Fusang, Hoei-Shin found another country much more remarkable than Fusang. Its people were all white, entirely covered with hair, and all women. In this Adamless Eden the population achieved maternity by bathing in a certain river renowned for its natal properties, and the children derived their nourishment from the maternal hair instead of the maternal bosom. Hoei-Shin, it would appear, did not make a detailed investigation of this country. He may have been appalled by the "eternal feminine" or driven away by the Amazons.

All the people of Fusang, curiously enough, were Buddhists, which is due to the fact that Hoei-Shin was not the original discoverer. He relates that five beggar monks had visited the country long before his time and introduced the Buddhist religion. He does not state that the five beggar monks made any effort to convert the hairy ladies of the unknown country. Fusang became a great favorite with the Chinese poets—as much so as Fairyland with ours. They celebrated its beauty and its glories, the stateliness of its temples and the splendors of its palaces, which outshone in their verse the wonders of Cathay or Kublai Khan. They particularly delighted to dwell upon the marvel of the Fusang tree, which gradually increased to thousands of feet in height and nourished silk worms six feet in length. In their swelling verse it became a worthy rival of the tree Igdrasil.

More or less credence has been placed in Hoei-Shin's narration. Some writers think Fusang was California or Mexico and that the Fusang tree was the aloe; the big-horned oxen, bisons; the horses specimens of the extinct breed, relics of which are found in that region, and that Ichi (the king) corresponds to Inca. Others have assigned Alaska, and Kamschatka, as the old Fusang. Most, however, look upon Hoei-Shin's story as a fiction of his imagination or a purposely devised hoax. It is unwise, however, to deny that anything, however strange it seems to us, may not have occurred in those far-distant moons. There may have been nations and civilizations of which we have no knowledge now. It is unwise to denounce Hoei-Shin as an impostor. We must remember that the Chinese have a civilization so old that ours seems a modern invention compared with it; that they were navigating the seas long before the moderns dreamed of vessels; that they had gun-powder and the compass centuries ago; and that their junks were found everywhere. The wrecks of junks seen by the early Spanish explorers on the Pacific coast show that the Celestials were in quest of Fusang or some other Sang a long time before Columbus. It is not impossible the Yellow Peril was on our soil long before the Northmen. And who shall say there were not other perils before the Yellow one? If we could resurrect buried nations and civilizations, what strange stories they might tell!

It is not impossible, indeed, that the Arabs visited America long before Columbus found his way here. There is a circumstantial and weird story preserved by the Arab geographers to that effect and cited in more than one history. In the twelfth century there was a legend widely believed in Lisbon, then in Arab possession, of a mysterious sea far to the west, haunted by demons and infested by strange monsters, which was the special dread of mariners. The whole ocean was mysterious, and the Arabs who were not only courageous sailors but skilled in astronomy, geometry, and other sciences, were eager to solve its mystery, but the fearful sea, known as the Sea of Darkness, was too appalling to be risked.

At last, however, eight Arabs, of the same kin, determined to make the effort. They built a vessel and stocked it with provisions sufficient to last them many months. On the eleventh day out, sailing westward, they encountered water filled with floating grass and giving forth a foul stench. As it grew dark they were certain they were on the borders of the Sea of Darkness and fearing its demons and monsters they changed their course and sailed south. After twelve days they came to an island where, much to their dismay, the inhospitable natives came out to them in boats and made our eight adventurers prisoners. They were taken before the king of that region, who questioned them through an interpreter as to their purposes. When told they were seeking the limits of the Western Ocean he informed them that it ended in darkness where there was no sun. At the close of the interview he consigned them to prison and, when the wind veered to the west, he blind-folded and bound them, put them in a boat, and left them to drift. After three days they went ashore on the African coast, where the natives treated them very kindly and helped them to get back to Lisbon—where they were known ever after as the "strayed ones." A street was named for them,—"Almagrureu," or "those that go astray."

How far the Arab eight went astray or where they strayed is purely a matter of conjecture, but from the course they took it is contended they could not have gone far west of the Azores though they possibly may have reached some island on the American coast. Their tradition is not as circumstantial as that of Madoc, or the Brothers Zeno or Hoei-Shin, but let us give them the benefit of the doubt. There were great soldiers before Agamemnon. There were great scientists before Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy. There were great navigators before Columbus, and the ocean limits and its mystery must have been in the minds of men before Far Cathay took their places.