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Thread: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    This is just a thread I thought I'd start up to talk about Admiral Zheng He, the admiral of the Ming Dynasty recently featured in the National Geographic magazine. As a Chinese myself I'm quite fascinated by this man, but we must be historical, so I shall restrain from the fanboy squealing. It is interesting to note though that July 11 was the 600th anniversary of Zheng He's first voyage, which opened China up to the rest of the world and brought the world to China's doorstep for a preciously short time.

    He led the Imperial Navy on 7 voyages through the Indian Ocean region, reaching as far as Mombasa in person, with a subsidiary expedition going as far as Mecca. Born a Muslim, Zheng He was originally a Central Asian Muslim with the surname Ma. His father was a Muslim who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Captured in a Ming war of expansion, he was castrated and made an eunuch, upon which the emperor's whim gave him the name by which we know him today. He was a huge man and had a commanding presence which, coupled with the emperor's favour and his own talents, led to the Ming Yongle Emperor giving him grand admiralship over the great Imperial navy which was undoubtedly the greatest the world had yet seen. This fleet was a diplomatic/military/economic state-in-motion that was intended to project the power of the Ming empire far to the west and awe nations into recognising the Ming as their suzerain, as well as opening their trade to them.

    The voyages were carried out by a fleet of over 200 ships. The core of the fleet was made of 'treasure ships', gigantic monsters 50 metres wide and almost 200 metres long. In addition to that were other smaller transport ships, cargo ships, and numerous light agile combat junks to provide security. 28000 sailor-soldiers were recruited--a large army by the standards of the places Zheng would be visiting. It was only in recent times that people were forced to believe the treasure ships were really that huge when the hull of one of those ships were found in an archaeological dig. To put things in perspective, da Gama's, Columbus' and Magellan's combined fleets would have comfortably fit onto the deck of one of those treasure ships with enough space left over for two more such fleets.

    The voyages were wildly successful. Over the course of the voyages Zheng earned the gratitude of several states by using his army to remove scourges, like when he cleared the Malacca Straits of a major pirate fleet in a great naval battle, and when he intervened in a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict in Sri Lanka with his army. On the return of each of his voyages, Zheng brought with him diplomats and envoys from the countries he had visited, and trade goods from them as well.

    Recently, to commemorate his 600th anniversary, a treasure ship replica built in China set sail to visit all the ports Zheng had visited on his voyages. It is still under way now, having passed through the Malacca Straits some time before.

    It is a pity though that the Ming emperor who succeeded Yong Le refused to continue with the treasure fleet expeditions, shunning subtle diplomacy and peace for expansionist wars that eventually so badly weakened the Ming that the Manchu invaders from the north were able to break into the Central Plains and set up the Qing dynasty.


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    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Quote Originally Posted by pezhetairoi
    The core of the fleet was made of 'treasure ships', gigantic monsters 50 metres wide and almost 200 metres long.

    pezhetairoi, how do they know the size of these treasure ships? Have they found remains of them? The size of those ships is unimaginable.
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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    yeah, as I mentioned above, no one, not even the Chinese historians, believed it until they unearthed a hull from a treasure ship under construction that was never completed. It's mind-boggling, I agree. If it wasn't for the fact that Nat Geog published it I would have been filled with disbelief. But it must be said that the Ming Empire was actually far more advanced at that stage in history than most European states then, and more powerful too. They could also mobilise greater numbers of manpower and wealth for the good of the state because the absolute monarchy of the Emperor was literally unchallengeable.

    But, yes. The treasure ships were incredibly huge. There's a picture comparing the treasure ship to da Gama's flagship (i forget the name) and it's like seeing a toy car next to the real thing.


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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregoshi
    pezhetairoi, how do they know the size of these treasure ships? Have they found remains of them? The size of those ships is unimaginable.
    I've read about Zheng He. If I am not wrong, then he came back, the emperor ordered to destroy all the ships. Not sure if that's the story though.

    There are some ships who still exist. I've seen many pictures of them. They are huuuuuge!!!!!
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    Floating through the net... Member King Edward's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Read a book called 1421 it a very speculative book about the voyages of the tresure fleets. Im only a few chapters in so I cant comment to much right now.
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    zheng he's expeditions are one of the great 'what ifs' of history. since his voyages of explorations were only a few short years before columbus. and the skill was obviously there to reach and colonize the furthest reaches of the globe, but from a chinese statecraft point of view, what would be the point? the voyages were expensive and they brought back trinkets and toys in terms of new peoples and animals, but from a financial standpoint, they were a money loser. so all they got out of it was prestige and tribute that paled beside the cost.

    it would take a much poorer spain and portugal to realize the value of exploiting the new lands, but for the ming it made no sense to.
    indeed

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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    I agree about that. But it's also a matter of emperors' preferences for subtlety. Yongle was pro-subtlety and peace. His successor was brash and aggressive. Long term, the trade would certainly have brought much wealth to China, but it's just a pity the Emperors didn't. They would have had the chance to expand their empire overseas.

    I read 1421... it's a really good book. If you're only into the first few chapters, King Edward, you haven't gotten to the juicy parts yet. Read on! =)


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    Member Member RollingWave's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    There was vast trade going in the South China sea before and after Zheng He anyway, the Voyage had little impact on trade itself.

    The real impact was later pirate threats that closed down the eastern coast lines and most ports on the eastern side of the Chinese coast. along with the fact that being such a big nation China was quiet self sufficient with internal trading anyway. The Ming court was still the richest court with only the Ottomans to possibily even come close to revialing them for a long time to come.

    The voyage itself financially was a disastor for the Ming court. as already meantioned these ships were of insane size and each voyage was basically sending a whole army and their supplies, times 7 and the extra cost of the ships..... you can see the problem. Not to meantion the Voyage's purpose itself was to show off the Ming's power, which means that they spared little expense in lavishing the various states they encountered with gifts.

    The great reason behind the voyage had much to do with the emperor who commisioned it, he had taken the throne by force instead of by right, and done all he could during he's reign to overwrite this serious stain on he's record. the Voyage were obviously a big part of it. Same with personallying leading several offensive campaigns against the Mongolians in the North.

    After he's reign there was obviously little need to continue such a act .... more over the court coudln't possibily sustain the same scale expedition much longer without bankrupting themself.

    The records were destroyed later as part of a scholar debate that turned sour ... The Ming grew very conservative in it's later days and coupled with ridiculas corruptions many crazy things happened.

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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    I do completely agree with what you say... it clarifies a few of the grey areas that I've been myself trying to find out more about.


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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East


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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Now that's one interesting article. Out of curiosity, does anyone happen to know how large exactly those huge European ships-of-the-line could get ? I'm not sure about this, but I've the impression they could rival the older big Chinese ships easily enough.
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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    They definitely weren't able to rival the treasure ships--the treasure ships' dimensions correspond to approximately the average modern ocean liner, even Titanic was only about 200+ metres long (I don't have exact figures). They were definitely huger than anything the ships-of-the-line could reach. But to be fair, the treasure ships were like lumbering giants of the Spanish Armada. The real combat junks would be overshadowed by the actual European fighting sail from this era.


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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Whoa....

    Read the article. Manchus founded the Ming? Is that a typo or something?

    Zheng He was castrated at age 13. OUCH. Thats not cool at all.

    I saw an article about this actually a couple months ago. THey too showed a diagram comparing a contemporary European caravel to a treasure ship. The treasure ship definitely dwarfed the caravel; I couldn't believe it either. How did they make it structurally sound and have it THAT big?

    I didn't know they found an actual wreck! Pezhetairoi, do you happen to know where they dug it up? I'm planning a trip to the old country soon, and being a Chinese who grew up in the US and who loves history, I would like to check it out.

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    Member Member RollingWave's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    They were built big to impress, not to fight, though they were capable of doing some fighting (well.. when you have a army that's bigger than many of the states they visted onboard... ) their real purpose is to scare the living **** outta those that saw it.

    Like i said, the whole point of this voyage was mainly to show off the Ming emperor's might and power. practibility was really not the greatest priority.

    As for comparason to a contemperory european boat, here's a comparson of Zheng He's flag ship to Colombus'

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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Hmm, i never said the Manchus founded the Ming. I said the Qing :-) But yes, being castrated at 13 is OUCH. Heck, being castrated is Ouch, full stop :-P

    Hey Marquis of Roland, the actual dig is called the Longjiang Dockyard, which was where the treasure ships were being constructed. It is in Nanjing.

    Oh, an apology, everyone... I must have read an inaccurate site, but it claimed that they had found a treasure ship. This seems now to be wrong, from my reading of sites from China proper. They only found the dockyard at Nanjing (Nanjing was the Ming fleet base) and made some postulations about the size of the treasure ships based on the size of a huge rudderpost found there, extrapolating a ship to fit the dimensions of the rudder. Apparently the treasure ships' dimensions are still a topic of debate, and some argue it could be as long as 440 feet, some more, some less.

    Sorry about misleading you to think they found a hull, I must check my facts in future. :) But there you go, Longjiang Dockyard at Nanjing, with their rudderpost (not sure if it's on exhibition), so if you want to go look... :)
    Last edited by pezhetairoi; 08-02-2005 at 01:52.


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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Cool. I will definitely go check it out. My family actually owned land in Nanjing before the civil war (aarrggghh!!!! the commies took our land!!! [and our gold]), and I'm going to go back to check on the 'ol property, even though its just several blocks of factories now....

    Just seeing the dockyard should hopefully give me a relative idea of how big the ships are.

    About the Manchus starting the Ming thing, it said that in the article that tribesman posted I believe, not from what you said, Pez.

    If only Sun Yat-sen just lived for a couple more years, huh? hmmm......


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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    hmm... it would've been interesting if Sun had been alive just a little longer, I agree... Oh well. What's past is past, in the historical sense. :) *sudden interest* how much gold? *glinting eyes* But yes, the dockyard is huge. Quite frankly, living in Singapore where the largest empty space you'll ever see is a stadium's field, I can't imagine 500 metres by 40 metres. Seeing is believing, I guess.


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    Member Member RollingWave's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    The Chinese civil war si a whole other topic, but honestly I would think that even if Dr. Sun lived longer it would only be a difference in time not result

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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Apparently at the turn of the century Chinese currency wasn't too strong, so our family paid the servants with gold. My grandparents said they had enough money that the next four generations of my family wouldn't have to work. Oh well, so much for that idea huh.

    Hmmm....I thought that Mao didn't come into power until Chiang Kai-Shek wiped out the Communists' upper leadership (something about how Mao didn't agree that Russian Communism wouldn't work in China because most of the people were in the countryside and not the cities)? And that both parties wanted to work together during Sun's time? I dunno, not too sure.....

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    Amanuensis Member pezhetairoi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    If Sun hadn't died so early perhaps Yuan Shikai wouldn't have dared to take so much power as he did, and start the whole rot in motion. But that's a rather large perhaps. Yes, the KMT and the Communists wanted to work together, but I believe that being fundamentally irreconciliable in ideology they would eventually break into civil war anyway.


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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    True...

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    Member Member RollingWave's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    If Sun hadn't died so early perhaps Yuan Shikai wouldn't have dared to take so much power as he did, and start the whole rot in motion. But that's a rather large perhaps. Yes, the KMT and the Communists wanted to work together, but I believe that being fundamentally irreconciliable in ideology they would eventually break into civil war anyway.
    Errrr, Yuan Shi Kai was indeed the key person in China turning into a warlord mess, but Sun Yat San outlived him by at least a decade, Yuan was dead by the mid 1910s while Sun didn't die until the later half of the 1920s. By the time he died, the warlord mess was nearing it's final big show.

    Also both the KMT and the CCP were socialist, their ideal weren't really THAT far apart expect that the CCP originally took more extreme routs, but if u look at what they are doing now compare to Taiwan in the 50-80s it's very very similar
    Hmmm....I thought that Mao didn't come into power until Chiang Kai-Shek wiped out the Communists' upper leadership (something about how Mao didn't agree that Russian Communism wouldn't work in China because most of the people were in the countryside and not the cities)? And that both parties wanted to work together during Sun's time? I dunno, not too sure.....
    Mao was one of the founding members of the CCP (though he was still young at this time.) originally the CCP leaders wanted to take over the KMT from within the political wing, but soon they realized that without establishing their own military they could never compete with Chang Kai Shiek if simply because he's running around with big army. By the time the CCP exiled from the KMT into the mid Yangtsi region and begin to establish their own military, Mao was the effective leader from there after.

    Originally Sun worked with the CCP because of the Soviets, he desperately need foreign help, and the Soviets were the most successful recent revolution example of he's time, and more importantly they were just about the only foriegn power willing to work with the KMT while all the others either reject in their own imperialism interest or were eyeing China itself (like Japan... granted the Soviets also had been eyeing China.. relative to the Japanese they were still the lesser of two evil)
    Last edited by RollingWave; 08-09-2005 at 06:18.

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    Magister Vitae Senior Member Kraxis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Zheng He: Admiral of the East

    Isn't there some scolars who believe Zheng He went all the way to America? I think I read about that some time ago. While I don't think that is the case the capability was there, even more than the European ability.
    Also, I thought that Zheng He was 'well' known here in the Monestary, all you guys are history buffs, it only makes sense.

    pez, it was 200 by 40 meters. 500 meters would indeed be wild! We are talking about sizes bigger than the current supertankers.
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