THE CHINA VOYAGE: Across the Pacific by Bamboo Raft by Tim Severin

THE CHINA VOYAGE: Across the Pacific by Bamboo Raft

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Award-winning writer and adventurer Severin (In Search of Genghis Khan, 1992, etc.) describes how he and his crew of seven made the seemingly impossible voyage across the Pacific in a craft that Chinese sailors might have used 2,000 years ago. Severin has already distinguished himself by reenacting ancient journeys and voyages, such as St. Brendan's crossing of the Atlantic in a leather boat, and by writing fascinating accounts of his adventures. Here he tells how he tested the thesis of renowned sinologist Joseph Needham that numerous cultural similarities (e.g., vertical columns of square writing symbols) could derive from actual contacts between Asia and America long before Columbus. Severin negotiated officialdom and found a Vietnamese village where fishermen still used traditional bamboo rafts. With a team of locals he constructed a 60-foot raft from 220 giant bamboo poles, lashed together with 3,000 knots of rattan and named after Hsu Fu, a fabled explorer whom the first emperor of China commissioned to search the Pacific islands for longevity drugs. The Hsu Fu rode so low in the water that deck height and sea level were the same and the crew lived more in than on the sea. Severin, an intrepid 53-year-old, writes about his and his crew's encounters with pirates and killer whales, and about their many other adventures, with good humor and an eye for detail, not least in his attention to the personalities and dynamics of his crew. Inroads of shipworm and loss of bamboos due to rotted rattan fastenings forced them to abandon the Hsu Fu after covering 80 percent of the distance: enough, Severin reckons, to prove that, with good weather, the journey could have been made in ancient times, but only by a few pitiable survivors. Brilliantly told story of hope, camaraderie, and closeness to the elements.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1995
Page count: 314pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley