The Chinese Voyages of Exploration Succeeded by the non-Chinese Qing Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty is considered to be the last native dynasty to exist. The Ming Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644 and is known as the greatest era of social stability and organized government (European). Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty; he is also known as Hongwu, Taizu, and Ming Taizu. Hongwu died in 1382, leaving his grandson, Huidi, the next heir. However, Chengzu, or Yongol, created a military campaign to seize the thrown. This started a three year civil war, but Yongol overcame Huidi and took the thrown as emperor in 1403.
Yongol wanted all other countries to fear his Dynasty’s power and see it as being the strongest (Asia). He created an expansion plan of China’s tribute system and as a result Zheng He was appointed to lead seven voyages (Europe). Zheng He, a muslim eunuch, was captured at the age of ten and was given the task of grouping boys to be castrated. During the time of the voyages, China’s technology was used to help build these massive ships that set sail. Known as “treasure ships,” these 400 feet long and 600 feet wide boats were equipped with nine sails, four decks, and armed with twelve cannons.
There were also separate watertight compartments that had been recently invented. There were two major advantages of these compartments. One was if the ship was hit, it would not sink and the second was that it offered a way of carrying water for the passengers, animals, and fish. Another invention that was put onto these ships was sternpost rudders. Sternpost rudders were used to maneuver in crowded harbors and narrow channels and were easily attached to the outside rear (Asia). The Chinese would navigate by using a compass and sailing directions.
Over the past 300 years, China had been strengthening its power in sea. A network of trade had been established in relation to their growing need for spices, herbs, and raw materials. Zheng He started his first voyage in 1405, which was made up of 317 ships with over sixty of them being treasure ships and almost 28,000 men. He began his journey first stopping in Champa, Central Vietnam and Siam, present day Thailand. From there, he sailed to Java, Malacca, and his main destination of Cochin, India making his trip last until 1407. Zheng He’s second voyage started in 1409 and lasted two years.
Although he did not take part in the voyage, he organized sixty-eight ships to travel to Calicut to take part in the inauguration of the new king. From 1409 to 1411, the third voyage set sail. Zheng He took forty-eight ships and 30,000 soldiers to the same places that the first voyage went, but also included the Malay peninsula and Ceylong. In Ceylong, war broke out between the native’s and his men. So, Zheng He ceased the fighting and captured the King. He proceeded to bring him back to China where he was later released. The fourth voyage was much longer than the first three in distance.
Lasting between 1413 and 1415, Zheng He, accompanied by twenty-five year old Muslim translator Ma Huan, stopped in many of the countries he previously visited. Yet, this time he controlled sixty-three ships and more than 28,000 men to Hormuz, which is located on the Persian Gulf. Starting in 1417, Zheng He’s fifth voyage headed to Aden, Africa, cities known as Mogadishu and Brawa, and Malindi. Many ambassadors decided to return to China with Zheng He. Again, it took two years to complete the expedition. The sixth voyage began in 1421, and only lasted a year.
Zheng He visited the same countries mainly to return the ambassadors. In 1431, the seventh and final voyage took place. Due to Yongol’s death, his successor Xuande set forth the expedition. For two years, Zheng He visited places like the South China Sea, Indian Ocean, Aden, and Hormuz. His fleet consisted of more than 27,000 men and over one hundred ships. He also visited Jidda by traveling up the Red Sea. In 1433, on his return trip to China, Zheng He died and was buried at sea (Asia). These expeditions created a line of communication between the Chinese and Southeast Asia.
However, the voyages were stopped due to many reasons. One reason is cost. These trips were seen as a waste of money because during this time, China was campaigning against the Mongols and funding the construction of Peking (Europe). According to the court, Yongol used the Dynasty’s money in extravagant ways to promote land and sea expeditions. Also, his move of the capital from Nanjing to Beijing was very costly as well as his ordering of the construction of the Forbidden City, which involved greater than a million workers.
His decision to widen the Grand Canal to allow more transportation was also cost effective. Another reason for the ceasing of the voyages was due to natural disasters. Epidemics in Fujian, lightening strikes ruining the newly designed Forbidden City, and the flooding of the Yellow River leaving millions without shelter and over 1000 acres infertile in 1448 were major money traps. Even though the Mongols had departed from Chinese borders, Pirates and smugglers became a major factor in the south (Asia).
Zheng He’s voyages were supported by the Eunuchs and frowned upon by the Conservative Confucian court. In 1477, talk about another voyage had entered the courts. The vice president of the Ministry of War immediately took possession of Zheng He’s records stating that they are “deceitful exaggerations of bizarre things far removed from the testimony of people’s eyes and ears (Asia). ” The Chinese were no longer interested in overseas affairs mainly because the Ming Dynasty’s major source of income was due to land tax and not trade tax.
Thus, China did not become a maritime power and over time the non-Chinese ruled the seas (Europe). These voyages can be seen as the reason China fell behind in new technological advances as well as losing their dominance over the rest of the world. Work Cited “The Ming Dynasty’s Maritime History. ” The European Voyages of Exploration. Copyright 1997. The Applied History Research Group, Web. 3 Mar 2010. . “The Ming Voyages. ” Asia For Educators. Copyright 2009. Columbia University, Web. 3 Mar 2010. .
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