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87 years before Columbus, Chinese Navigator Zheng He Opened the Pacific, Only to Lose Politically At home

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Between 1405 and 1433, the Chinese Ming government sponsored navigator Zheng He to embark on a series of seven naval expeditions throughout the Pacific area. His fleet was enormous, and the ships exceeded by many times the size of Columbus's small ships 87 years later. One ship had eleven masts. Flocks of livestock and thousand of soldiers were on board. Had Zheng He not been stymied by the death of the sponsoring Yongle emperor, China might easily have become the dominant developing poiwer in the world, long before European ships discovered the New World.

Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions. Emperor Yongle designed them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin. He also might have wanted to extend the tributary system, by which Chinese dynasties traditionally recognized foreign peoples.

Zheng He Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the huge fleet and armed forces that undertook these expeditions.
Zheng He's first voyage consisted of a fleet of perhaps 300 ships (other sources say 200) holding almost 28,000 crewmen. Zheng He Ship

These were probably mainly large six-masted ships - it is now thought that the large and flat nine-masted "treasure ships" were probably river ships used by the Emperor. One of a set of maps of Zheng He's missions, also known as the Mao Kun maps, 1628.

On the first three voyages, Zheng He visited southeast Asia, India, and Ceylon (today known as Sri Lanka). The fourth expedition went to the Persian Gulf and Arabia, and later expeditions ventured down the east African coast, as far as Malindi in what is now Kenya. Throughout his travels, Zheng He liberally dispensed Chinese gifts of silk, porcelain, and other goods. In return, he received rich and unusual presents from his hosts, including African zebras and giraffes that ended their days in the Ming imperial zoo. Zheng He and his company paid respects to local deities and customs, and in Ceylon they erected a monument honouring Buddha, Allah, and Vishnu.

Zheng He generally sought to attain his goals through diplomacy, and his large army awed most would-be enemies into submission. But a contemporary reported that Zheng He "walked like a tiger" and did not shrink from violence when he considered it necessary to impress foreign peoples with China's military might. He ruthlessly suppressed pirates who had long plagued Chinese and southeast Asian waters. He also intervened in a civil disturbance in order to establish his authority in Ceylon, and he made displays of military force when local officials threatened his fleet in Arabia and East Africa. From his fourth voyage, he brought envoys from thirty states who traveled to China and paid their respects at the Ming court.

Mongols In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (reign 1424–1425), decided to curb Zheng He's influence at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426–1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended. The new emperors saw no value in Zheng He's adventures and were more worried about the threat of terrorism from illegal immigrants, then called the Mongols.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was also the height of the building of the Great Wall of China. Resources that would have gone into ship building and exploration were applied instead to the Wall.

Great Wall

 

Xuande destroyed Zheng He's fleet, razed the seacaost ship-building areas, and began a centuries-long retrenchment into tradtional pastoral subsistence farming and feudal systems.

Zheng He died during the treasure fleet's last voyage. Although he has a tomb in China, it is empty: he was, like many great admirals, buried at sea.

Zheng He, on his seven voyages, successfully relocated large numbers of Chinese Muslims to Malacca, Palembang, Surabaya and other places and Malacca became the center of Islamic learning and also a large international Islamic trade center of the southern seas.

His missions showed impressive demonstrations of organizational capability and technological might, but did not lead to significant trade, since Zheng He was an admiral and an official, not a merchant. Chinese merchants continued to trade in Japan and southeast Asia, but Imperial officials gave up any plans to maintain a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and even destroyed most of the nautical charts that Zheng He had carefully prepared.[citation needed] The decommissioned treasure ships sat in harbors until they rotted away, and Chinese craftsmen forgot the technology of building such large vessels.

One can only speculate as to the world we would now occupy had Zheng He's opening of the Pacific been allowed to build into a colonial empire.

The Voyages of Zheng He

Order Time Regions along the way
1st Voyage 1405-1407 Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Aru, Sumatra, Lambri, Ceylon, Kollam, Cochin, Calicut
2nd Voyage 1407-1409 Champa, Java, , Cochin, Ceylon
3rd Voyage 1409-1411 Champa, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, , Cochin, Calicut, Siam, Lambri, , ,
4th Voyage 1413-1415 Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Cochin, Calicut, Kayal, , , Aru, Lambri, , , , , , , ,
5th Voyage 1416-1419 Champa, Pahang, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Lambri, Ceylon, , Cochin, Calicut, Hormuz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Brawa, Malindi, Aden
6th Voyage 1421-1422 Hormuz, , countries of the
7th Voyage 1430-1433 Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Calicut, Hormuz... (17 politics in total)

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