In Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Rivers), and in several other similar text of this period, it refers to a mythological mulberry tree of life allegedly growing far to the east of China, and later to the Hibiscus genus, and perhaps to various more concrete territories east of China.
A country named Fusang was described by the native Buddhist missionary Hui Shen (Chinese: 慧深; pinyin: Huì Shēn) in 499 CE, as a place 20,000 Chinese li east of Da-han, and also east of China (according to Joseph Needham, Da-han corresponds to the Buriat region of Siberia). Hui Shen went by ship to Fusang, and upon his return reported his findings to the Chinese Emperor. His descriptions are recorded in the 7th-century text Book of Liang by Yao Silian, and describe a Bronze Age civilization inhabiting the Fusang country. The Fusang described by Shen has been variously posited to be the Americas, Sakhalin island, the Kamchatka peninsula or the Kuril islands. The American hypothesis was the most hotly debated one in the late 19th and early 20th century after the 18th-century writings of Joseph de Guignes were revived and disseminated by Charles Godfrey Leland in 1875. Sinologists including Emil Bretschneider, Berthold Laufer, and Henri Cordier refuted however this hypothesis, and according to Needham the American hypothesis was all but refuted by the time of the First World War.
Later Chinese accounts used the name Fusang for other, even less well identified places.
An earlier account claims that in 219 BCE emperor Shi Huang sent an expedition of some 3,000 convicts to a place lying far off to the east, across the ocean, called Fusang to be a sacrifice to a volcano god who holds the elixir of life. There were, apparently, two expeditions under Xu Fu, the court sorcerer, to seek the elixir of life. The first expedition returned c. 210 BCE when Xufu claimed a giant sea creature was blocking their path. Archers were then sent to deal with this monster when the expedition set out a second time, but it was never heard from again. However, "... asides in the Record of the Historian imply that its leader Xu Fu had returned to China long ago and was lurking somewhere near Langya, frittering away the expedition's impressive budget."
Interpretations of the Shen account
Japan was one interpretation of the term "Fusang". However, Hui Shen's report differentiates Fusang from the ancient Japanese kingdom of Wo, which has been tentatively located in Kinki, Kyūshū, or the Ryukyu Islands.
In Chinese mythology, Fusang refers to a divine tree and island in the East, from where the sun rises. A similar tree, known as Ruomu (若木) exists in the west, and each morning the sun was said to rise from Fusang and fall on Ruomu. Chinese legend has ten birds (typically ravens) living in the tree, and as nine rested, the tenth would carry the sun on its journey. This legend has similarities with the Chinese tale of the fictional hero Houyi, sometimes referred to as the Archer, who is credited with saving the world by shooting down nine of the suns when one day all ten took to the air simultaneously. Some scholars have identified the bronze trees found at the archaeological site Sanxingdui with these Fusang trees.
The term Fusang would later designate "Japan" in Chinese poetry. Since Japanese Nihon (日本, lit. "Root (i.e. source, birthplace, origin) of the Sun") or Chinese Riben was a name of Japan, some Tang Dynasty poets believed Fusang "lay between the mainland and Japan." For instance, Wang Wei wrote a 753 farewell poem when Abe no Nakamaro (Chinese Zhao Heng 晁衡) returned to Japan, "The trees of your home are beyond Fu-sang."
Fusang is pronounced Fusō (ふそう 扶桑, from classical Fusau ふさう) in the Japanese language, and is one of the names to designate ancient Japan. Several warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy were named Fusō (the ironclad Fusō, or the World War II battleship Fusō). Several companies, such as Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation also bear the name.
Gustaaf Schlegel thought Fusang was most probably "the long island of Karafuto or Sakhalin". Joseph Needham added that "if Kamchatka and the Kuriles may also be considered there is no better means of identifying it at the present day."
Note that there was an ancient province of Japan called Fusa-no kuni (Country of Fusa) in eastern Honshū, encompassing all of modern Chiba Prefecture as well as the southwestern part of modern Ibaraki Prefecture.
According to some historians such as Charles Godfrey Leland and Joseph de Guignes (Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l'Amérique? Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, tome 28, Paris, 1761), the distances given by Hui Shen (20,000 Chinese li) would locate Fusang on the west coast of the American continent, when taking the ancient Han-period definition of the Chinese li. Some 18th-century European maps locate Fusang north of the State of California, in the area of British Columbia. An American location does not match the claim for horses (which did not exist in North or South America at that time) or the domestication and milking of deer.
Descriptions of Fusang
According to the report of Hui Shen to the Chinese during his visit to China, described in the Liang Shu:
- "Fusang is 20,000 li to the East of the country of Dàhàn (lit. 'Great Han'), and located to the east of China (lit. 'Middle Kingdom')."
- "On that land, there are many Fusang plants (perhaps red mulberry) that produce oval-shaped leaves similar to paulownia and edible purplish-red fruits like pears. The place was rich in copper and traces of gold and silver but no iron. The native tribes in Fusang were civilized, living in well-organized communities. They produced paper from the bark of the Fusang plants for writing and produced cloth from the fibers of the bark, which they used for robes or wadding. Their houses or cabins were constructed with red mulberry wood. The fruits and young shoots of the plants were one of their food sources. They raised deer for meat and milk, just as the Chinese raised cattle at home, and produced cheese with deer milk. They traveled on horseback and transported their goods with carts or sledges pulled by horses, buffalo, or deer." (Liang Shu, in Lily Chow)
On the organization of the country:
- "An emperor, or a main chief, with the help of several officials, governed the country. The majority of people were law-abiding citizens. The country had no army or military defense but two jails, one in north and the other in south of the country. Those who had committed serious crimes were sent to the north and they stayed there for their entire lives. These inmates, however, could get married. If they got married and produced children, their sons became slaves and daughters remained as maids" (Liang Shu, in Lily Chow)
On the social practices:
- "The marriage arrangement was relatively simple. If a boy wanted to marry a girl, he had to build a cabin next to the home of the girl and stay there for a year. If the girl liked him they would get married; otherwise he would be asked to go away.…When a person died in the community his body would be cremated. The mourning period varied from seven days for the death of a parent to five days for a grandparent and three days for a brother or sister. During their mourning period they were not supposed to consume food, only water. They had no religion." (Liang Shu, in Lily Chow)
The Liang Shu also describes the conversion of Fusang to the Buddhist faith by five Buddhist monks from Gandhara:
- "In former times, the people of Fusang knew nothing of the Buddhist religion, but in the second year of Da Ming of the Song dynasty (485 CE), five monks from Kipin (Kabul region of Gandhara) travelled by ship to that country. They propagated Buddhist doctrine, circulated scriptures and drawings, and advised the people to relinquish worldly attachments. As a result, the customs of Fusang changed".
- Joseph Needham; Ling Wang; Gwei-Djen (1971). Science and civilisation in China: Vol. 4, Physics and physical technology. Pt. 3, Civil engineering and nautics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 540–542. ISBN 978-0-521-07060-7.
- Joseph Needham (1976). Science and civilisation in China. Vol.5 : Chemistry and chemical technology. Part 3, Spagyrical discovery and invention : historical survey, from cinnabar elixirs to synthetic insulin. Cambridge University Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-521-21028-7.
- 《梁書•諸夷列傳》 (Collective Biographies of Foreign Countries, Book of Liang): 扶桑國者，齊永元元年，其國有沙門慧深來至荊州，说云：“扶桑在大漢國東二萬餘里，（……）” （The country of Fusang, in the year Yong-yuan 1 of the Qi Dynasty, a Shramana monk from there called Hui Shen came to Jingzhou, and said: "Fusang is 20,000 li to the East of the country of Dàhàn，(......)"
- Clements, Jonathan (2007). The First Emperor of China. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-3960-7. p. 150
- Tsunoda Ryusaku, tr. (1951), Japan in the Chinese Dynastic Histories: Later Han Through Ming Dynasties, ed. by Carrington C. Goodrich, South Pasadena: P. D. and Ione Perkins, 5.
- Schafer, Edward H. (1989), "Fusang and Beyond: The Haunted Seas to Japan," Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.3: 379, 394.
- Kenneth L. Feder, Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis To The Walam Olum, page 117 (Greenwood, 2010). ISBN 978-0-313-37919-2
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- Leylamd, Charles Godfrey (1875) Fusang; Or, The Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1973. Reprint: Forgotten Books (2010), ISBN 978-1-4400-7044-0.
- Vining, Edward P. (1885) Inglorious Columbus; or, Evidence that Hwui Shan and a Party of Buddhist Monks from Afghanistan Discovered America in the Fifth Century, A.D.. New York: D. Appleton and Company, ISBN 978-0-217-68056-1
- Chow, Lily (2001) Chasing Their Dreams. Chinese Settlement in the Northwest Region of British Columbia, Caitlin, ISBN 978-0-920576-83-0
- Williams, S. Wells (1881): Notices of Fu-sang, and Other Countries Lying East of China, in the Pacific Ocean. Translated from the Antiquarian Researches of Ma Twan-Lin, with Notes. Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, New Haven. Downloaded from http://www.archive.org/details/noticesoffusanga00willrich on 5 June 2011.
- Description of Fusang in ancient Chinese literature 《梁書•五十四•列傳四十八》 (Chinese)
- Article at CRIENGLISH.com on Xu Fu's expedition to Japan
- Charles Godfrey Leland (1875). Fusang: The Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Monks in the Fifth Century. Also full view at Google Books.
- A full translation in French of the account in the Book of Liang was given by Schlegel (1892) JSTOR 4524934