郑和与哥伦布谁更伟大?

本来,这个问题似乎是关公战秦琼,郑和与哥伦布各自航海的使命不同,没什么可比性。可在中国,相关的争论从来没有停息过。不少文章都爱强调,郑和的宝船制造水平高,船队规模大,哥伦布根本比不了。但这和两人谁更伟大没有关系。郑和下西洋,是为了宣扬大明朝的国威,招抚远方蛮夷;哥伦布出海,是为了寻找财富,开通贸易线路,但误打误撞发现了新大陆。就是历史意义而言,哥伦布显然远比郑和伟大。

但是,如果郑和曾先于哥伦布发现美洲呢?那样也许郑和会伟大一些吧。无论中国外国,一直有人相信,最早发现美洲的是郑和。最近一次出现这种观点在去年12月。一位李姓的香港学者称,他在美国原住民切诺基人的居住地发现了一块铸有“大明宣德委锡”字样的金牌(实为黄铜铸造)。他认为,这就是郑和到达美洲后,代表明朝皇帝赐给当地土著人的。但他的观点缺乏证据。

其实,郑和不可能发现美洲。因为在他那个时代,人类还没有掌握海上的定位技术,只能测纬度,不会测经度。纬度是自然定义的,赤道就是零纬度,两极是九十度,通过观测恒星与水平面的夹角,就可以测出纬度。但经度需要人为定义,即规定某地为零经度,再确定船只所在的相对经度。可行方法有两种,一是月距法,即通过观察月球运动规律来确定经度,但这需要大量天文数据和繁琐的数学计算;二是时间法,即利用钟表测定两地的时间差。这种方法对钟表的要求很高,不但要走时准确,还得经受得住海浪颠簸以及盐雾侵蚀,体积也要比摆钟小很多。这样的钟表直到18世纪才由英国发明出来。事实上,正是远航的需要才使得廉价钟表走进了千家万户。

在郑和与哥伦布所在的15世纪,人类不知道怎么确定经度,自然也不敢毫无目的地驶向深海大洋。古代的航海都是沿着海岸线走,郑和也不例外。看看后人绘制的郑和航海路线就知道,他也是基本是沿着亚洲的海岸来到非洲东海岸。这也是他能到达的最远地方了,对他来说,非洲东海岸就是世界尽头。他不可能绕过好望角,穿越大西洋,因为探险并不是皇帝交给他的任务。

哥伦布能发现新大陆,是因为他相信地球是圆的,一直向西走,就可以达到遥远的东方。他沿着确定的纬度向西航行,最终到达美洲。中国古人的信仰是天圆地方,不会认为大地是个球体,所以郑和也不会驶入茫茫大西洋寻找新大陆。哥伦布能凭借信仰,闯入充满风险的未知领域,最终做出了改变人类历史进程的重大发现。从这点说上,他的确比郑和更伟大。

 


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