Impact of Zheng He’s Expeditions
“From 1405 until 1433, the Chinese imperial eunuch Zheng He led seven expeditions for the Ming emperor that are unmatched in world history” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 1). Zheng He was a profoundly talented, intelligent and trustworthy man who was rather familiar with Islam and the ways of the south. Thus he was selected to promote these voyages. Among his travels, he adapted new trade routes, that led to foreign treasures and distant allies. These excursions came to an abrupt end soon after Emperor Yongle passed away, making way for new leadership and priorities to take over. The Ming Dynasty funded Zheng He’s Voyages in order to show off the dynasty’s power they held. These voyages gifted new trade routes with foreign countries and brought back many overseas treasures to China. The choice to conclude the voyages was beneficial, being after Emperor Yongle passed away, new leadership took over and regarded Zheng He’s expeditions as a waste of resources.
Zheng He was chosen by the Yongle Emperor to lead his ocean expeditions to the South and West. The Emperor decided for these expeditions that, “China should make use of its extremely advanced technology and all the riches the state had to offer” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 1). These quests would be used to show off the great power the dynasty held and overwhelm the foreign peoples, “for this special purpose, he chose one of his most trusted generals, a man he had known since he was young, Zheng He” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 1). “Zheng He was born Ma He to a Muslim family in the far southwest, in today’s Yunnan province. At ten years old he was captured by soldiers sent there by the first Ming emperor” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 1). After being apprehended and brought back to China, “He received both literary and military training, he made his way up the military ladder with ease, making important allies at court in the process. When the emperor needed a trustworthy ambassador familiar with Islam and the ways of the south- he naturally picked the talented court eunuch, Ma He, whom he renamed Zheng”(“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 1).
Among Zheng He’s voyages, he not only traveled astounding distances making various arrests, trading goods and meeting scholars around the world, he also had ships built that had, “Advanced design elements that would not be introduced in Europe for another 350 years” (“1492: The Prequel”,Pg 3). In addition to his voyages, his armada was striking, having treasure ships,”400 feet long and 160feet wide, with nine masts raising red silk sails to the wind, as well as multiple decks and luxury cabin with balconies”(“1492: The Prequel”, Pg 5). In addition to the treasure ships, there were ships to carry goods, protection and anything they might need along their journey. What allowed for Zheng He to bring back goods and knowledge to China was the ,”28,000 crew members included interpreters for Arabic and other languages, astrologers to forecast the weather, astronomers to study the stars, pharmacologists to collect medicinal plants, ship-repair specialists, doctors and even two protocol officers to help organize official receptions” (“1492: The Prequel”, Pg 5). During the second expedition between 1407-1409, “the fleet went to Zhaowa ( Java), Guli (Calicut, Kezhi (Cochin) and Xianle ( Siam). The kings of these countries all sent as tribute precious objects, precious birds and rare animals” (Zheng He, Pg, 3). Additionally, in 1409 the fleet began revisiting countries that had traveled to before. One country in specific was Xilanshan (Ceylon), “Its king Yaliekunaief (Alagakkonara was guilty of a gross lack of respect and plotted against the fleet” (Zheng He, Pg 3). They kept this country’s king with them until their return home in 1411, “The king was presented to the throne as a prisoner; subsequently, he received imperial of returning to his own country” (Zheng He, Pg 3). To summarize another one of the arrests made during the voyages was during the fourth expedition Zheng He also captured a false king named Suganla (Sekandar) in the country of Sumendala (Samudra). Upon their return home the false king was presented to the Emperor as a prisoner.
After 28 years and several significant expeditions unlike the world had seen, Zheng He’s voyages had come to a closure. Following the death of Emperor Yongle in 1424, China began to endure hardships. The Ming court was divided into different factions. An important faction to make note of was “the powerful eunuch factions that had been responsible for the policies supporting Zheng he’s voyaging” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 3). This faction was among the only that supported the voyages, others, “had long been critical of the Yongle Emperor’s extravagant ways” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 3). The hardships did not end there, natural disasters also played a big part in China’s struggles. “In 1448, flooding of the yellow river left millions homeless and thousands of acres unproductive. As a result of these disasters coupled with corruption and nonpayment of taxes by wealthy elite, chinas tax base shrank by almost half over the course of the century” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 3). With all of these disasters repercussions began to follow and the voyages, brought to an immediate end. Years passed and another voyage was proposed and was instantly shot down. “In 1447, the vice president of the Ministry of war confiscated all of Zheng He’s records in the archives, damning them as ‘deceitful exaggerations of bizarre things far removed from the testimony of peoples eyes and ears” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 3). The voyages were regarded as a waste of money, resources and a needless volume of deaths, “although he returned with wonderful precious things, what benefit was it to the state?” (“The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University”, Pg 3).
Zheng He’s world-renowned voyages sponsored by the Ming Dynasty allowed them to show off their wealth and power. Along the journey, many accomplishments came about such as trade routes and foreign treasures. The voyages were ended due to the passing for Emperor Yongle and the rise of a new era. The choice was made to terminate the voyages, having been stated as a waste of resources. The Ming court elected Zheng He to lead the trek considering his military background and familiarity with the South. Among these voyages countless accomplishments were made such as the distances traveled, arrests made, new trade routes established, discovering new foods, medicines, materials, and scholars. Perhaps one of the most impressive was the ships manufactured for the trek. The decision to end these voyages came from the hardships China had been enduring. Emperor Yongle depleted China’s money and resources in the name of the voyages. So the choice was made to forfeit these journeys to focus on rebuilding China. Zheng He was a remarkable soldier and an astounding voyager who brought many new ideas and products to China, but at a cost to his country. So, in the end, the choice regarding to conclude the voyages was a wise one so that China could rebuild and gain their strength back to that they might thrive.
- “The Ming Voyages: Asia for Educators: Columbia University.” The Ming Voyages | Asia for Educators | Columbia University, http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1000ce_mingvoyages.htm.
- “1492: The Prequel.” The New York Times, The New York Times, https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/millennium/m3/kristof.html.
- Zheng He, Changle Stele, “Writing Assignment Primary Sources.” World Civilization II, (Sarah Cieglo,) Summer 2018, Manchester Community College. Handout.