Chinese Perspectives on the 600th Anniversary of Zheng He’s First Voyage

600 Years Ago,” China Doll, 9 July 2005, (from Simon World).

I’m a great admirer of admiral Zheng,” by m.c., China Doll, 9 July 2005, (from Simon World).

The Chinese Admiral, Muslim eunich, and adventurer Zheng He left China to see what he could see 600 years ago today. He voyaged to Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Persia, Africa, and perhaps farther. Chinese bloggers are divided on his legacy

Zheng He’s Treasure Ship, background
Columbus’s Santa Maria, foreground


The Chinese discovered America in 1421, 71 years before Christopher Columbus did in 1492; passed the southern tip of Africa (Cape of Good Hope) 76 years earlier than Vasco da Gama; rounded the globe about 100 year earlier than Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet (1519-1522) and surveyed Australia three centuries before James Cook did in the 18th century.

We can only contemplate today what the legacy of the great Chinese armadas would have been if China had not abandoned her glorious maritime and scientific heritage and retreated into a long, self-imposed isolation from the outside world. What we do know as a fact is that by incorporating the discoveries of the Chinese fleets and by importing the Chinese navigational know-hows, the Europeans charted their even more adventurous routes and began their 500 years domination of the world.

Perhaps, who was first to discover America or to circumnavigate the globe is not nearly as important as the difference in spirit between the Chinese and European explorations. For the Europeans, they were about colonization and seizing control of foreign lands and for gold and silver. For the Chinese, the explorations were about friendship and promotion of peace. The Europeans loaded their ships with treasures and plunder when they returned home; the Chinese loaded their junks with treasures when they set sail away from home.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the Chinese had not given up their explorations, Africa would not be so miserable nowadays.


Zheng He’s explorations was more for political, or “show-off” reasons, instead of a simple gesture of international friendship. I’d say it took almost 1/3 of the nation’s GDP.

The explorations could probably not be financially sustainable for long by the Ming Dynasty. The European controlled the seas for the next 500 years, not because by mere technologies, but its privately funded maritime system, insurance structures, and seafaring traditions. All of which we didn’t have.

Granted. Admiral Zheng’s journey was glorious, but I’d think twice about trivializing the West’s maritime records. The fact is – they made progress, and we stopped for the next 500 years.

One thought on “Chinese Perspectives on the 600th Anniversary of Zheng He’s First Voyage”

  1. Eh…false? The Chinese “discovery of America” is highly, highly speculative, and this alleged circumnavigation is just plain untrue. Further, they *did* seek riches; it was called the Treasure Fleet, for godsake!

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