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Admiral Zheng He's legacy in East Africa


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Look, nobody is suggesting that Britain or France, or that often overlooked but very bloody colonial power Belgium,

Belgium gets a bad press because of the Congo Free State, but it wasn't controlled by Belgium. It was a bizarre anachronism, an internationally recognised personal domain, ruled by King Leopold of Belgium. It was no more under the control of the Belgian state than England was under the control of the Scottish Parliament in the 17th century, when the two nations shared monarchs. The status of the Congo Free State is often misunderstood because the nature of its organisation was so anachronistic. It's widely but falsely assumed that because Leopold was both King of Belgium & ruler of the Free State, there was a legal or formal link between the two states.

 

Belgium eventually, with international agreement, took over the Free State in order to stop the abuses of Leopolds personal rule. It wasn't en exemplar of enlightened colonial rule, but nor was it bloody. The massacres, enslavement, mutilations etc. stopped when Belgium took control.

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By coastal enclave, I am talking a trading or slaving fort on the coast.

 

The sea breeze kept the worst of the yellow fever carrying mosquitoes away.

 

Europeans did not venture into the lowlands to reach the "salubrious" highlands until the late 19th century.

I've given you a checkable example of Europeans venturing deep into the interior in South Africa long before that.

 

The French had advanced several hundred km up the Senegal river into what is now Mali by the 1850s.

 

The Portuguese fought wars, & established forts, deep in the interior of Angola from the 16th century onwards. They did not conquer most of the interior, but the depth of their penetration is shown by the fact that the Dutch conquest of Luanda in the 1640s did not displace the Portuguese from their inland forts in northern Angola. They had trading posts as far inland as western Zambia in the 18th century.

 

Portugal established a garrison at Tete, 400 km up the Zambezi, in the 16th century, & kept it. It had a town charter in 1761.

 

Your statement that Europeans did not venture into the interior until the late 19th century is true of some parts of Africa, but certainly not the whole continent.

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building infrastructure by the Chinese , ought to be treated with caution. Its getting in the way of Africa standing on its own feet.

 

Around 1990, I went to Nepal. And while traveling by bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, I was quite surprised to see Chinese workers and engineers building stretches of road all along the way.

 

20 years later today, Nepal is still nowhere close to becoming a Chinese colony.

 

But for many people, it is hard for them to see beyond the anti-Chinese propaganda they've been exposed to on a daily basis.

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I believe Giap said "We would rather eat 100 yrs of French/US sh*t, than a 1000 years of Chinese Sh*t"

That was Ho Chi Minh.

 

I don't believe Vo Nguyen Giap's sympathies would lie toward the French in this case, considering he held the French responsible for:

 

Imprisoning and torturing his wife in the Hanoi Hilton for two years before hanging her up by her thumbs and beating her to death.

Beheading his sister using a guillotine.

Allowing his young daughter to die in prison, likely "from neglect"--slow starvation possibly.

Allegedly executing his father and two other sisters.

 

Source: Davidson PB. Vietnam at War: The History: 1946-1975.

Edited by Nobu
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Around 1990, I went to Nepal. And while traveling by bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara, I was quite surprised to see Chinese workers and engineers building stretches of road all along the way.

 

20 years later today, Nepal is still nowhere close to becoming a Chinese colony.

 

But for many people, it is hard for them to see beyond the anti-Chinese propaganda they've been exposed to on a daily basis.

I don't know if it's 'hard to see beyond anti-Chinese propaganda'. It's rare that people will be convinced by an argument that seems to say essentially: 'you're ignorant and subject to manipulation'. ;)

 

But, that said about your tactic, I basically agree with you. A lot of steps between the actual Chinese policy, 'no questions asked investment' and 'colonization' seem to be assumed by some people. The Chinese are doing what Western companies would do minus two limitations:

-constraints brought about by Western govt policies about the politics of the more odious African regimes

-lower targets (by the Chinese) for return on capital for a given risk in many cases; which sometimes relates to the simultaneous Chinese desire for influence per se, which Western companies seldom care about per se, but a desire for influence is still a long way from colonization.

 

And where those limitations don't apply, Western co's often do invest; for example Angola is vaulting from established but fairly minor into potentially pretty major oil producer lately on the back of mainly Western investment. It's a question as always whether the money will really do the people of Angola a lot of good...but it isn't a matter of 'colonizing' Angola.

 

There's a basic difference between making arms-length resource deals with local rulers who may act seriously at odds with their own people's welfare, and OTOH coming in taking over a country and deciding unilaterally what you'll pay for the resources if anything at all. The latter was the basic deal under Western colonialism; though with its own theories why that was fair in return for advancing the local people. That can be debated separately but it's not much to do with what China is doing nowadays. Defensiveness about the Western colonial past probably clouds the debate as well.

 

Joe

Edited by JOE BRENNAN
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I don't know if it's 'hard to see beyond anti-Chinese propaganda'. It's rare that people will be convinced by an argument that seems to say essentially: 'you're ignorant and subject to manipulation'. ;)

 

Thank you for putting that across so... eloquently.

 

... OTOH coming in taking over a country and deciding unilaterally what you'll pay for the resources if anything at all. The latter was the basic deal under Western colonialism; though with its own theories why that was fair in return for advancing the local people. That can be debated separately but it's not much to do with what China is doing nowadays. Defensiveness about the Western colonial past probably clouds the debate as well.

 

No, Joe, I'm not debating about colonialism as, like all things - it can turn out good or bad.

 

I am saying that please give the Chinese more credit: they'd be foolish to attempt to colonize Africa. Especially in this day and age.

 

The Europeans went in musket/rifle vs spears and arrows. And public opinions back then did not bat an eyelid on wholesale slaughter in the colonies.

 

But today, the abundance of small arms and explosives have made forced subjugation a very, very costly matter. It's heck of a lot cheaper to buy stuff from Africa than to try and get it for free with military means etc.

 

If Congo was geographically next door to China and populated by a more peaceable people, China would annex it in a heartbeat. They're no saints, we know. But they're not overwhelmingly evil, nor stupid. Greedy, yes. But who isn't?

Edited by chino
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The Europeans went in musket/rifle vs spears and arrows.

In some places, but that was far from universal. Let us ignore the Mediterranean African countries & concentrate on those south of the Sahara -

 

Senegal & Mali: musket-armed Moroccans had captured Timbuktu in 1591, & remained, though their control was loose, for 200 years. The savannah states of West Africa had guns from soon after the arrival of the Moroccans, traded for or locally made copies. The French fought their way in from the coast against armies with matchlocks when the French first got flintlocks, flintlocks when the French first got percussion caps, etc.

 

On the West African coast, the locals started buying guns from Europe in the late 15th century. The British & French troops advancing inland from the coast generally fought local armies with large numbers of old guns, & some modern weapons, but sometimes the local states were quite well-equipped. Dahomey, for example, had Krupp field guns & thousands of new Mauser & Remington repeating rifles in the 1890s, & used them against the French. The only weapons the French had which were superior to those of the Dahomean soldiers were a few Hotchkiss machine guns.

 

This was far from rare. The classic image of spear-wielding African warriors charging ranks of European riflemen applied only to wars against the most militarily conservative African states, e.g. the Zulus, who for their own internal political & social reasons, stuck to old tactics for decades after they'd proved ineffective against both European & African troops with guns. Other South African nations, e.g. the Sotho, or the Griqua, quickly adopted guns & learned how to use them. Zulu expansion was halted by Zulu impis meeting men on horses, who would fight only by harrying with gunfire from a distance, or from behind walls or natural cover - and many of those horsemen were African, not European.

 

Similar patterns can be found elsewhere in Africa. Most of the Ethiopian soldiers who defeated the Italians at Adwa in 1896, thus keeping Ethiopia independent for the next 40 years, had rifles, & the army had artillery, much of it modern.

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The msot disturbing part was at the end when 3 senior Chinese engineers were approached on camera and proved unwilling (or unable) to answer any questions about what they were doing. They seemed frankly uneasy with being asked any questions at all.

 

Their unwillingness to talk to western press cannot be used to gauge the nature of their work.

 

And you say you don't judge? Sorry man, but you are making a lot of judgments and assumptions based on very flimsy evidence. If you're Chinese, and you know the western press prefers to report bad news about China, you too, would not want to speak to the BBC. Why risk a (probably) well paying job?

 

But I think this will lead nowhere we wish to go. Like I said the Chinese are no saints but they are not as evil as some make them out to be. So let's leave it at that.

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Tanzania

The Chinese have been very active in Tanzania for decades, at least since the late 1960's. The roads were already being built by Chinese laborers throughout the 1980's.

 

North Africa

When I was in Egypt in the late 1980's, the (then) new corniche along the west bank of the Nile in Luxor was being built by the Chinese. The main difference here was that the EU paid for it. Appears towest bidder won the contract.

 

Nepal (O.T.)

Chine has been active in Nepal for a long time. The Nepalese tend to consider the Chinese as a counterweight to the Indians. Possibly at their peril. By the way the trolley buses in Katmandu were a gift of China. Several turn-key factories were also presented, free of charge.

 

USA

The US, EU, Canada, etc. also have "projects" thoughout the world. This in no way indicates that they want to colonize countries. (Well, except for establishing McDonalds, BP, etc. )

 

Seems nations no longer colonize, they influence governments. To buy their raw materials low. And sell their merchandise high.

 

Leo

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Why cant it? They are friggin railway workers for Gods sake, not bloody missile technicians!

 

I can see it. Hell, I wouldn't trust any news station to not have twisted things for the most ratings. Natural for someone to worry about their job in such a situation, and choose to say nothing instead. I know next to nothing about China, but I suspect that one can't just go out and get another job if you lose yours over there.

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I know next to nothing about China, but I suspect that one can't just go out and get another job if you lose yours over there.

Do a little reading. Before the world economy turned down, there were news reports a-plenty about Chinese export businesses raising wages & improving working conditions at a tremendous rate, because if they didn't their workers would cross the road to the competitor who was willing to offer more. Workers in places like Shenzhen were often skipping jobs a couple of times a year. The government stopped allocating jobs long ago.

 

There's a registration system which limits where you can legally live if you don't have a job, but enforcement is very slack*, & if you have a job in a town, you're registered there for the duration of your employment.

 

BTW, there's a lot of industrial unrest in China at the moment, with many strikes for better pay & conditions. Odd thing is that they're actually being reported in the official media, the riot police aren't breaking heads, & none of the organisers are getting midnight knocks on the door. Times have changed, eh?

 

*It's a relic of communist control, but IIRC still maintained mostly because municipalities in high-growth areas can use it to limit the population they have to provide schools, hospitals, etc. for. The case of a former colleague of mine illustrates this. His Chinese wife got an excellent job in Shenzhen, arranged from the UK (it was advertised on the internet), but because she was from Inner Mongolia, there was no place for their child in a state creche. So she put the kid in a private one (easily affordable, on her pay), where the owner gave her a discount because they were from the same town. Her husband then sold his flat here at the top of the market, quit his job, & went out to join her, expecting to get a job when he got there. They were piling up cash, last I heard.

Edited by swerve
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Belgium gets a bad press because of the Congo Free State, but it wasn't controlled by Belgium. It was a bizarre anachronism, an internationally recognised personal domain, ruled by King Leopold of Belgium. It was no more under the control of the Belgian state than England was under the control of the Scottish Parliament in the 17th century, when the two nations shared monarchs. The status of the Congo Free State is often misunderstood because the nature of its organisation was so anachronistic. It's widely but falsely assumed that because Leopold was both King of Belgium & ruler of the Free State, there was a legal or formal link between the two states.

 

Belgium eventually, with international agreement, took over the Free State in order to stop the abuses of Leopolds personal rule. It wasn't en exemplar of enlightened colonial rule, but nor was it bloody. The massacres, enslavement, mutilations etc. stopped when Belgium took control.

Thank you very much, I was about to say the same until I saw your post. :)

That said, we did fuck up the independence thing, refusing to see it coming until it was too late and then negotiating the thing in a few months. (Also in part the fault of the Congolese who were getting so excited about independence, many without knowing what it implied, it was impossible to postpone.) IIRC while Congo did have a good primary education by colonial standards there were a lot more Africans with university degrees in French and British colonies than the handful (literally) in Congo.

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I hate to drag this kinda-sorta back on topic, but...last night History International had a two hour program on "Who Really Discovered America?" Honestly I still think that Columbus is really the only one who counts as the "discoverer" because whomever else got here before him didn't bother to ignite the massive wave of colonization and momentus change in the world which Columbus wrought. That said, it was an interesting show.

 

They've managed to finally get an extremely thorough mapping of ocean currents using floats with GPS transponders. Several thousand of these have been dumped into the oceans all over the world, and their movements have been tracked via computer. With these current charts, they're able to more accurately determine how long various voyages would have taken, and what routes would have made most sense.

 

They pretty much ruled out the Chinese visiting the West Coast. The anchor stones which have been found off the California coast have been determined through analysis to most likely be from 19th Century fishing junks which are known to have fished off the California coast. Saint Brendan? No definitive archaeological evidence, though interestingly, Columbus apparently made a trip to Galway before his voyage, to gather information on the Brendan legend. There is a site near Groton, Connecticut which is claimed to bear strong resemblance to an early Christian worship site, and there are symbols which look like Chi-Rho's on stones around the entrance. Maddoc of Wales? Not so much. Absolutely no evidence at all.

 

Interestingly, the very early Japanese may have made the trip in dugout canoes, no less. After a massive volcanice eruption, larger than Krakatoa, devastated Kyushu, it's believed a good portion of the population amscrayed, and their route would have taken them north from Japan, and following the coast along eastern Siberia, across the Bering Strait and then following the west coast of N. America, ultimately reaching Chile. Evidence points to the Japanese teaching the Chilean natives pottery--styles of pottery and design motifs match. Even more provocatively, is the existance of mummies found in the desert which had been infected with the HTLV-1 virus. This virus is only found one other place--Japan. Also, video of the tribe shows distinct Asian features in the people, including pronounced epicanthic folds.

 

Yet another possible early visit was by the Polynesians, again to an island off Chile. Bones show distinctive Polynesian features--Polynesian skulls are "pentagonal" when viewed from the rear, as opposed to Eurasian rounded skulls. Also, Polynesians have a "rocker jaw", with a rounded lower mandible. Eurasian lower mandibles are squared off. Unfortunately, the burial site they're excavating has not yet yielded viable DNA for testing. As one researcher put it, the Polynesians were an extremely accomplished nautical people, who regularly undertook long voyages of discovery just for the sake of discovery. To imagine that they'd miss those two huge "islands" to the east is to defy probability.

Edited by Jim Martin
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I hate to drag this kinda-sorta back on topic, but...last night History International had a two hour program on "Who Really Discovered America?" Honestly I still think that Columbus is really the only one who counts as the "discoverer" because whomever else got here before him didn't bother to ignite the massive wave of colonization and momentus change in the world which Columbus wrought.

 

Columbus had better marketing, not to mention landing in what would be considered as a tropical paradise (Columbus writing back home: "I have found the New World! It is nice and warm and lots of nubile women running around nekkid except for gold jewelry around their necks and hanging from their noses!")

 

Contrast that with the Vikings. (Viking in Vinland writing back home: "Eric the Red found the fuckin' cold New World. It's not exactly the paradise you think it is. It's fuckin' cold here and the natives aren't all that friendly.")

Edited by TomasCTT
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I hate to drag this kinda-sorta back on topic, but...

 

Here ya go -

 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sultan/explorers.html

 

However, in 1962, the rudderpost of a treasure ship was excavated in the ruins of one of the Ming boatyards in Nanjing. This timber was no less than 36 feet long. Reverse engineering using the proportions typical of a traditional junk indicated a hull length of around 500 feet.

 

Unfortunately, other archeological traces of this "golden age" of Chinese seafaring remain elusive. One of the most intensively studied wrecks, found at Quanzhou in 1973, dates from the earlier Song period; this substantial double-masted ship probably sank sometime in the 1270's. Its V-shaped hull is framed around a pine keel over 100 feet long and covered with a double layer of intricately fitted cedar planking, thus clearly indicating its oceangoing character. Inside, 13 compartments held the residue of an exotic cargo of spices, shells, and fragrant woods, much of it originating in east Africa

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Columbus had better marketing, not to mention landing in what would be considered as a tropical paradise (Columbus writing back home: "I have found the New World! It is nice and warm and lots of nubile women running around nekkid except for gold jewelry around their necks and hanging from their noses!")

 

Contrast that with the Vikings. (Viking in Vinland writing back home: "Eric the Red found the fuckin' cold New World. It's not exactly the paradise you think it is. It's fuckin' cold here and the natives aren't all that friendly.")

 

Another thing Columbus had going: Poor public sanitation, and a disease-infested population in Europe that had resistance to a set of diseases the North American natives had zero resistance to.

 

The Vikings were relatively hygienic, by comparison, and did not have the advantage of spreading things like smallpox, whooping cough, and other nasties that the Europeans of Columbus's era had survived routinely.

 

You can make a damn good case that the colonization efforts all across North and South America would have failed, even with the difference in technology, had the natives been exposed to the disease spectrum the Europeans had. If you read the histories, most of the natives encountering Europeans thought they were filthy, nasty people with poor hygiene habits--Apparently, the European custom of not bathing and dousing oneself with perfume was noticeable to even "primitive" tribesmen, who were fastidious to a fault. I've been told that one way archaeologists can differentiate between a native settlement and a European one of the early colonial era is that the natives put their midden piles a long ways away from the village, while the Europeans just lived in the middle of it.

 

It's disconcerting to realize that Tenochtitlan was two to three times the size of the largest European city of it's time, and that the Aztecs living there had better public sanitation and an arguably higher standard of living than the average city-dweller in Europe. Makes you wonder who would have conquered who, absent the disease factor.

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Contrast that with the Vikings. (Viking in Vinland writing back home: "Eric the Red found the fuckin' cold New World. It's not exactly the paradise you think it is. It's fuckin' cold here and the natives aren't all that friendly.")

 

Actually it was much less cold back then than now, Greenland held a fair population of norse inhabitants with livestock. The green in "Greenland" was not meant as an irony.

 

Vinland means "Pastureland/Meadowland" btw, by norse standards something very desirable for settlements. A small community like the very peripheral Iceland/Greenland norsies however had limited means of spreading the news though.

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Actually it was much less cold back then than now, Greenland held a fair population of norse inhabitants with livestock. The green in "Greenland" was not meant as an irony.

 

Vinland means "Pastureland/Meadowland" btw, by norse standards something very desirable for settlements. A small community like the very peripheral Iceland/Greenland norsies however had limited means of spreading the news though.

 

Oh so they had Global Warming™ back then too? Or did they call it something else? ^_^

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Actually it was much less cold back then than now, Greenland held a fair population of norse inhabitants with livestock. The green in "Greenland" was not meant as an irony.

 

Vinland means "Pastureland/Meadowland" btw, by norse standards something very desirable for settlements. A small community like the very peripheral Iceland/Greenland norsies however had limited means of spreading the news though.

 

 

Actually the archaeologists refer to Viking texts referring to a settlement south of L'Anse aux Meadows, but they have found no evidence, save for a single Norse silver penny found at a site in Maine. Oh yeah--the guy who did studies of stone weathering, and who disproved the Chinese stone anchors as being "ancient" said the Kensington Stone had to have been carved at least 200 years before its finding in the late 1800's in Minnesota. OTOH, University of Minnesota archaeologists could find no evidence supporting the text on the stone after an intensive search a few years ago. I've always read that the Kensington Stone's runes were faked. Curiouser and curiouser...

Edited by Jim Martin
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I think the point Stuart was reaching for with the Chinese in Africa and the John Company, is that the British turned up in India looking to do business and got drawn into local politics and administration because they largely had too to keep on doing business, then turned a necessity into a nice little earner. The flag followed trade, as often as not because trade found it couldn't do business under the prevailing conditions it found in place, got sick of being extorted and abused by local despots, under cut and out bribed by competing trading interests etc etc. As much as business likes a a lazee fair 'buy the island for a handful of beads' licence to rape and pillage, they also like a bit of security for their investments (and persons). I mean if there is a colonial template, it goes trading post, trading post trashed, new trading post, trashed again, gunboat (or equivalent), another new trading post, getting trashed yet again, war, conquest, trading post under the fluttering flag of Empire.

 

If the Chinese in some African pest hole find the local conditions start getting in the way of their profits and the level of investment is too large to ignore, then a little regime change, a rebel army funded, a small coupe... well it wouldn't be the first time if they've not done it already. But then that's the crude way, much better and far less fuss internationally if the locals start hiring competent Chinese administrators as 'Consultants' to get things working properly, its a model they've had experience of that model at first hand, the Chinese Customs service was more or less outsourced to the British for the least third of the 19th cent, it was win win for everyone, an efficient repetitively honest agency was good for business and for Peking's revenue (if a horrid loss of face). But either way its off down the slippery slope of Empire - and that's not always a bad thing

 

http://www.econ.ucla.edu/Lal/papers/In%20defense%20of%20empires.pdf

 

shane

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Actually the archaeologists refer to Viking texts referring to a settlement south of L'Anse aux Meadows, but they have found no evidence, save for a single Norse silver penny found at a site in Maine. Oh yeah--the guy who did studies of stone weathering, and who disproved the Chinese stone anchors as being "ancient" said the Kensington Stone had to have been carved at least 200 years before its finding in the late 1800's in Minnesota. OTOH, University of Minnesota archaeologists could find no evidence supporting the text on the stone after an intensive search a few years ago. I've always read that the Kensington Stone's runes were faked. Curiouser and curiouser...

 

Obviously you don't have relatives in Minn. ^_^

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BTW, there's a lot of industrial unrest in China at the moment, with many strikes for better pay & conditions. Odd thing is that they're actually being reported in the official media, the riot police aren't breaking heads, & none of the organisers are getting midnight knocks on the door. Times have changed, eh?

 

Quick off topic on this last. From a guy I met the other day, who works out of Shangai and travels widely in the industrial PRC, the Govt. is only supporting high value added businesses and letting everything else fall flat, causing said industrial unrest. No more cheapo copies from China and more high tech/high value stuff.

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Actually it was much less cold back then than now, Greenland held a fair population of norse inhabitants with livestock. The green in "Greenland" was not meant as an irony.

It was much less cold back then than a few hundred years later, but not compared to now. One of those internet myths. Greenland supported maybe 3-4000 Norse at its peak, & the settlements were always pretty close to the edge. There are 15-20 times as many people there nowadays, mostly in the same places, & they grow some crops which the Norse 1000 years ago gave up trying to grow.

 

The green area was, as now, a tiny proportion of the island, in exactly the same places as now, & it was green only compared to Iceland, which after 200 years of Norse settlement had lost a large part of its vegetation, the plant cover being much thinner & the soil far more fragile than those Norse farmers were used to. Greenland was also pretty marginal for the Norse.

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