The Political Importance of Zheng He’s Voyages Essay

The Political Importance of Zheng He’s Voyages Essay

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Accompanied by 27,000 men on 62 large and 255 small ships, the Chinese eunuch Zheng He, led 7 naval expeditions to Southeast Asia, Middle East and east coast of Africa in the span of 28 years during the Ming Dynasty. The scale of Zheng He’s fleet was unprecedented in world history. The large treasure ships used during the expeditions were purported to be 440 feet long and 180 feet wide (Dreyer, p. 102). Throughout his travels, Zheng He brought Chinese tea, porcelain and silk products to foreign countries and also brought back exotic goods to the Ming court such as spices, plants and leather. Although his voyages fostered commercial trades and cultural exchange between China and foreign countries, the goal of his expeditions stemmed from the political motivation to maintain the tributary system and his voyages had important political implication of causing Neo-Confucian opposition and suspension of the expedition.
During the early Ming Dynasty, China was one of the most economically and technologically advanced countries in the world. As Ebrey pointed out, “Europe was not yet a force in Asia and China continued to look on the outer world in traditional terms.” China was regarded as the center of Asia at the beginning of 15th century and the idea of “Middle Kingdom” (Zhong guo) began to take off at that time. The early Ming Emperors were not interested in promoting commercial trade at all. Emperor Hongwu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, implemented the Hai jin policy which forbade maritime shipping and private foreign trade outside of the tributary system (Ebrey, p. 209). Emperor Yongle, the son of Emperor Hongwu, lifted this policy to a certain extent when he ordered his eunuch Zheng He’s voyages. However, he was only intereste...


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...age. The following Emperors had no such interest in foreign affairs and terminated the expensive voyages. The lack of imperial political interests and support in navy expedition to foreign countries was the main reason why China withdrew from the ocean after Zheng He’s 7 voyages. However, the political significance and legacy of Zheng He’s expeditions cannot be ignored. It strengthened the Middle Kingdom’s power and influence in Asia during the early years of the Ming Dynasty. The peaceful nature of Zheng He’s voyages is still used by the Chinese government today as a political tool to advocate the benevolent intention of contemporary Chinese foreign policy (Dreyer, p. 29).



Works Cited

1. Edward L. Dreyer. Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405-1433.

2. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. Cambridge Illustrated History: China, 2nd ed. (2010).

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