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).
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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