The Voyages of Zheng He

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From 1405-1433, Zheng He, aChinese imperial eunuch, led seven massive ocean expedition for theImperial emperor of Ming that have never been matched by any seavoyage in world history (Gronewald1). These expeditionswere astounding as much for the sheer distance they covered as forthe size. In the first mission, Zheng He journeyed all the form fromhis homeland China, to Far East places in the Southern part of Asia.He then travelled to India, through some of the major commercecenters on the India’s Southwest Coast.

In his fourth expedition, hetraveled to the Persian Gulf, but in the last three voyages he wenteven further to different places in the East Coast of the Africancontinent (NationalGeographic Society 1).It is important to note that Zheng He missions were not impressivebecause no other Chinese had traveled to such far places, on contraryChinese traders had traveled this far before his voyage, but whatmade his voyage spectacular was the sheer number of ships and numberof individuals that accompanied him in his mission. Zheng He’sfirst voyage had at least three hundred ships, and sixty of thesewere very massive “Treasure Ships” (Edward23)Theseenormous vessels were 160 feet wide, over 4oo metres long, hadnumerous stories, atheist 9 masts and 12 sails, and boosted of lavishstaterooms complete with balconies (Johnson1). Such enormous shipshad never been seen before in the globe, and it was not until theFirst World War that such a fleet of vessel would be come togetheragain. The story of how these armadas came to be pulled together,where they went and even what befell them, is one of the greatconundrums in the history of the world (Johnson1). This paper willdiscuss the Voyages of Zheng He to different parts of the world andidentify what propelled the emperor to authorize such costlyexpeditions to unknown lands.

TheAmbitions of the Ming Emperor

The Mingempire that lasted between 1368 and 1644 was a powerful Chinesedynasty with a Chinese majestic family, different from the empirethat existed before it such as the Chinggis and Mongol or others thatsucceeded it such as Qing and Manchu dynasty (Johnson 1). As a way todemonstrate the Ming supremacy, the first emperor instigatedoperation to resolutely any local or foreign threat. The thirdemperor of the Ming empire, Zhu Di was predominantly belligerent andpersonally marshaled his forces to fight major Mongolian tribes tothe West. The emperor had wild dreams of glory and fame and wantedall the countries to recognize that China was the strongest giant inthe far East (National Geographic Society1). The emperor used any resource at his disposal to make China astrong country like it had been during the earlier Chinese dynasties. In ancient tributary pacts , countries bordering China had agreed todistinguish China as their superior and the leader as the lord ofeverything on the surface of the planet. These countries frequentlygave gifts of tribute to the emperor in order to attain certainbenefits such as trade agreements. In the system maintained by theMing emperor trade and peace was guaranteed provided you cooperatewith the emperor.

Nonetheless,the Ming emperor had already recognized the fact that major threatsto his empire came from the North, more specifically from theMongols, and that is why he made it a his mission to subdue them. Inother areas where some degree of treaties was salient, the Mingemperor sent some of the most trusted military generals to suppressit. Such areas included Japan, Vietnam, Manchuria and Korea (NationalGeographic Society 1). In regards to missions to the West and South,the emperor decide that it was time for China to make maximum use ofthe advanced technology and all the resources the country couldprovide, In this light prolific missions were mounted to exhibit theMing’s power to the whole world. For these special expeditions, hepicked one of the most trusted general – Zheng He.

Admiral Zheng He

Born in 1371 Zheng He physicalprowess and intelligent had endeared him to the most powerfulindividuals in the Ming dynasty. He was born in Muslim family and wastrained in military ways as he grew up in the capital of the city(Suryadinata41). His talent andintelligent saw him climb the military ladder with ease, in theprocess making strong allies the courts. His religious beliefs wouldplay a crucial role especially when the emperor wanted to diplomatsfamiliar with Islam and the manner and ways of the people living inthe South. When China needed a man to lead its armada to the WesternOceans, it was not surprising that the emperor chose Zheng He(Suryadinata2).

Preparing the Armada

For more than 300 years Chinahad been significantly expanding its power in a move to satisfy therising demand for raw material, species and herbs in China. In thispursuit Chinese merchants had to cooperate with Indians and Muslimsmerchants in order to build and develop a strong network of commercethat at one time went beyond the South East Asia onto the peripheryof the Indian Ocean (Edward24).

When the Ming dynasty came topower, China was at the peak of naval te hnology, which hitherto wasunmatched in any part of the globe. When crafting sea vessels Chineseshipbuilders adopted technologies they had learnt from seafarers inthe Indian ocean and the South China sea. For many decades, China wasthe supremacy in maritime power could not be rivaled by any nation inthe Asia (Liu, Zhongping &amp Gregor 23).

Whe Sheng He commenced ionhis mission China was surrounded by rising nations that posed significant threat to her power. Hostilities in the South East wasnot a new phenomenon, for many centuries South East Asia countrieshad mainatiane suspicion due to comoetition for resources and power(National Geographic Society 1). In manybatlles of supremacy and show f power China had succeded to defeatall her adversaries. At this point in history the two greatestcountries in South east Asia Java and Siam were expanding theirterritories and in this move they waged wars and defeatedneighbouring countries such as Champa, Malacca and Chenla. Thesecountries were responsible for the killing of Chinese envoys,andntercepting their missions. In addition priracy was rampant in theSouth East Asia seas and this significantly affected tade betweenChina and her partners in India (Edward27).To portray China as a peaceful nation , the Ming emperor adopted apeaceful foreign policy to support the dwidling trade revenue andvolume in along the South China Sea.

The emperor goal was toincrease trade between China and foreign nations and one way ofachieving this goal was to ensure that that the seas were secure andthat other nations regarded China as a peaceful trading partner(Johnson 1).Zheng He was sent to use diplomacy and mediation to strengthenChina’s relation with different nations in different parts of theworld, improve the security of seas and improve China stability anddevelopment by reducing hostilities and trying to establish long termand stable international environment. In this way Zheng He would notonly improve the prestige of the Ming dynasty but would also boosttrade and prosperity in China. The emperor had realized that warcould not improve the geopolitical power of China in the region, butrather trade and good political relations were the key to a betterand more powerful China (Johnson1).

China also dreamt ofexpanding its influence to the middle East, South East China andAfrica, and through maritime commerce and diplomacy this dream would become reality.

Impacts of Zheng HeExpeditions

The voyages of Zheng He,promoted the economic and cultural exchange among China, Asian andAfrican countries, strengthened the friendly relations between Chinaand the other countries, which came more than half a century earlierthan European navigators (Jungpang 1). The voyages of Zheng Headvocated to mediate conflicts, quell conflict and eliminatebarriers, it is conducive to the stability of surrounding, maintainthe stability in Southeast Asia and South Asia and maritime security,which significantly improved the popularity of the Ming dynasty(Edward23).Therefore, it can be seen that Zheng He’ s fleets have a strongmilitary power, not for aggression, but is for peaceful purposes.Under the condition of the international environment at that time,without a strong military power, it is difficult to achieve peace.

At that time, the factors ofthreat to the Ming dynasty mainly came from two directions: the enemyin the eastern sea, north of the Mongolian Yuan remnants, and thenorthwest Timur empire. At the end of the Yuan Dynasty has Japanesepirates started to affect Chinise operation on the seas, the domesticcivil war took place in Japan, in order to survive, there were a lotof Samurai and Ronin rob of the money in China’ s coasts (Jung-pang1). To the period of beginning of Ming dynasty Zhu Yuanzhang times,piracy was extremely rampant. At that time, the Ming Dynasty justestablished, has not been able to establish domestic stablity,therefore, the officials centered on internal stabbing, in thenational defense adopts the passive defensive strategy, sets up thehealth institute in the coastal province side, repairs the Great Wallin the north and dispatches troops and saveguarding the borderregions (Edward25).

During the period of Yongle,there are pose a serious threat to the security of the Ming Dynastyin two aspects of land and sea, change the passive defense strategyof striving forward with initiative the land has imposed relocatethe capital, personally led his soldiers in a military operation andconquest of North Desert the direction of the sea formed Zheng Heand Zhou Shi, to deter and combat pirates and anti Ming forces, andimplement interchecking of strategic from the northwest direction, soas to reduce the pressure of the north (Edward23).Thevoyages of Zhen He were mainly for political purposes, but also witha certain economic purpose, the national implementation of suchstrategic actions, it is considering in many aspects. In the processof Zheng He fleets to the western seas on many trade activities,there are mainly three forms of it:

Established the first kind oftribute trade this trade is the basic form of Western trade underthe Zheng He voyages and trade activities, with the nature of thefeudal imperial power. Through this form, it won the recognition ofthe sovereign status of the country, which is the tributary trade forpolitical purposes. At that time, in order to get the protection, allcountries had to offer their tribute for China (Jung-pang 1).According to statistics, in the 22 year of the reign of Yongle, thereare a total of 318 times a year on average 15 times that Asian andAfrican countries were related to Zheng He’ s foreign envoy toChina, shows an exceptionally grand occasion (National GeographicSociety 1). Even more four countries of Brunei Malacca, Su Lu more,Gu Long Ma assassination has been led delegation of the seven kingspersonally, once the most diplomatic corps are 18 countries in Chinaat the same time, there are three king, died in China during thevisit, they will want to bury the China, Ming dynasty according tothe treatment of burial of king.

The second kind of officialtrade. It is an important content of Zheng He’ s voyage, as it ispresided by officials from both sides with local businessmen to dobusiness, and it is also an important approach to expand overseastrade of the Ming dynasty (Jung-pang 1). Except for the Zheng Hefleet grants loading with the present, but also has China’ s cargo,like copper cash, silk, chinaware, iron hardware and so on. This kindof trade can use copper in Ming dynasty, most of the barter trade.Most influential is applauds the fixed price law (Jung-pang 1). Inthe Indian ancient in country, after the Chinese fleet arrives, isresponsible for the transaction matters concerned by the local agent,the cargo belt to the transaction place, both sides negotiates aprice in front of under the official management the fixed price, oncesettles, reneges on a promise in no way. Both sides applaud mutuallyexpress the deal (Edward23).This friendly trade way becomes conversation topic in the locality.Under the period of Zheng He voyages Western countries, especially,the latter several expands trade scale, the deference equality isvoluntary, the exchange of equal value, has equipped with some basicprinciples of international trade (Jung-pang 1).

The third kinds of folk trade.This trade to a certain extent in the western trade of Zheng Hevoyages. It is not the official, but by businessmen or folkspontaneous expansion. Zheng He’ s voyages to eliminate pirates,maintenance of maritime security, has opened up a route, promotingand stimulating the private trade (Jung-pang 1). According toscholars, the Zheng He mission is not prohibited under the Westernsoldiers with some Chinese goods along the Southeast Asian, andpeople are prefer to exchange. The Chinese silk, porcelain, tools,Zheng He’ s fleet to all fall over each other to the boat or docktrading, some soldiers to please local market trading. At the timeChina warn the main output of silk, tea, porcelain, lacquer warecoins, metal products, China exchange back are mainly jewelry,spices, herbs, rare animal, then Chinese imported from overseas 100pounds of pepper, the value rate is 1 to 20 home sales, win a lot ofprofits (Jung-pang 1).


Zheng He voyages played a keypart in helping to increase foreign interest in Chinese commoditiessuch as porcelain and silk. In the same vein his mission broughtforeign items to China, that hitherto had not been present in theChinese communities. Nonetheless it is eminent that the sole purposeof Zheng He expeditions was not to promote trade, promote peace andmaintain domestic stability in the face of hostile neighbors in avolatile region, but rather the emperor wanted to display China’sprowess in the maritime affairs and show the whole world that Chinawas a strong and powerful nation. The main objective of using massiveships and large convoys was to show superiority of the Chinesemilitary and power in the sea. Nonetheless, Zheng He missions playeda crucial role in helping bring peace in volatile areas. For examplethe eliminate piracy in the South China sea and helped bring back thelegitimate leader to the throne in Ceylon. Following the death of theemperor all expedition were halted and Zheng He retired a proud man.He died in 1433 and many historian believe that he was buried at sea,even though a small grave monument still exist up to date in Jiangsuprovince.

Works Cited

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Gronewald, Sue. TheMing Voyages. Asia for Educators.2015. Retrieved from:

Johnson, Jean.Timeline: AChronology of the Ming Voyages.2015. New York University. Retrieved from:

Jung-pang Lo. ChineseTrade in the Indian Ocean . Asia Society.2015 Retrieved from:

Leo,Suryadinata.Admiral Zheng He andSoth East Asia. Institute of South East Asia. Pasir Panjang.2005.Print

Liu, Ying, Zhongping Chen, andGregory Blue. ZhengHe`s Maritime Voyages (1405-1433) and China`s Relations with theIndian Ocean World: A Multilingual Bibliography.Leiden: BRILL, 2014. Internet resource

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Zheng He`s Voyages Down theWestern Seas.Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2005. Print.

Zheng He`s Voyages Down theWestern Seas.Beijing: China Intercontinental Press, 2005. Print.