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The Ming Treasure Fleet Sails!


Liang Jieming

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Liang Jieming

The Ming Treasure Fleet Sails

“Of late we have dispatched missions to

announce our Mandate to foreign nations

and during their journeys over the oceans

they have been favoured… They have

escaped disaster and misfortune, journeying

in safety to and fro…."

- Emperor Zhu Di, A.D. 1409

By A.D. 1420, China’s navy was the largest in the world, with 400 large war

junks stationed at the capital Nanjing, 1,350 warships and "river and canal"

patrol boats stationed elsewhere, 3,000 merchant vessels that could be

converted into fighting ships if needed, 400 huge grain transports, and

250 “treasure ships,” overseas warships that brought back riches from far

flung missions of trade and diplomacy.

Under the command of Grand Admiral Zheng He, a fleet of these huge junks;

some over 200 feet long and armed with cannon, rockets, and guns, carried

Chinese naval power and trade throughout Southeast Asia and into the Indian

Ocean, pushing back pirates, establishing trading and forward bases and

reopening trade with India, Arab East Africa, and the Ottoman Empire between

A.D. 1405 and A.D. 1433.

Excavated from the mud in a backwater of Longjiang shipyard, one of the Ming

naval shipyards in Nanjing, is a rudder-post which is 36.2 ft long and 1.25 ft

in diameter. Using these measurements, naval architects estimate that the

rudder attached to the post was nearly half its length in height and breadth,

or 452 sqft of wood. The ship to which such a rudder belonged would, following

the rules of thumb for Chinese ship construction, be at least 400 ft long. One

rudder post, as a solitary find, and possibly never fitted to a ship, does not

represent a fleet, but it is a tantalizing hint of a navy of gigantic ships

that outweighed, out-gunned and out-classed anything afloat in a European

navy of the time. Zheng He's treasure ship was estimated to be 400 ft in

length, compared to Columbus's St. Maria of 85 ft.

The European powers, just then adapting cannon to warships and starting the

progression toward large warships of their own, never came into contact with

the “treasure ships.” After 1433, a new emperor, fearing the perils of overseas

contact, withdrew the overseas and coastal navy and scrapped it as

China withdrew into its own borders to once again confine much of the trade

and traffic to rivers and canals. Chinese merchant junks on the high seas and

coast were left to the mercy of Indonesian, Vietnamese and Japanese pirates.

The seas were left open to the arriving Europeans – the Portuguese, Spanish

and Dutch, who by the early 16th century seized control of the overseas trade

in spices, silks and other commodities with ships that could not have

withstood the might of the Ming navy at the height of Chinese naval power

decades earlier.

Had Zheng He’s “treasure ships” remained on the seas, the history of the world

might have been very different. China entered a period of naval decline and

then ultimately a time of humiliation by foreign powers, particularly during

the Opium Wars (A.D. 1839-1842) and the subsequent interventions of Britain,

Germany, Japan and Russia. In the 20th century, China finally emerged from

what some termed “a long sleep” and is now one of the world’s largest naval

powers and sea trading nations.

Vancouver Maritime Museum

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  • 3 weeks later...

are there any sources that talk specifically about the chinese ships that reached san francisco? I've looked on the web some, but mostly I hear about a possible colony set up in Rhode Island and such... But I thought the proof of visits to Sanfran was more established and accepted...

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unfortunately i'm in bj and was hoping to find something online. I'm also shying away from that book because it's so controversial. if there was a greater amount of literature on the subject then perhaps I'd look at that book as well, but it seems to be an island in and of itself. chinese sources would be ok too (I haven't had a chance to do a keyword searchin chinese.. if someone wants to do it for me..) :clap

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I was going to be on "vacation", but . . .

The guy who wrote _1421_ was on PBS in the US a few weeks ago (may have been a BBC show, I don't know) and whether or not the Chinese reached the Americas, that guy surely has no idea whatsoever what he's talking about.

He's just financing his retirement. It was sad really, because when the book first came out I read part of the introduction in the bookstore and it sounded intriguing. Problem is when one reads history one likes the author to be honest with the reader. He is not. He just blatantly twisted things. Find that video or information on it -- particularly the interview they conducted with the author -- if you want to know more.

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