Expert Answer :C. Ruth Mostern in her essay “China’s Age of S


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Author(s): Geoff Wade
Source: Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 78, No. 1 (288)
(2005), pp. 37-58
Published by: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
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Accessed: 15-02-2018 19:05 UTC
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JMBRAS, VOL. 78, PART 1 (2005), pp. 37-58
Geoff Wade
The Ming eunuch Zheng He, who commanded fleets that voyaged to Southeast
Asia and the Indian Ocean in the early fifteenth century, is today depicted as
an ‘ambassador of friendship’ between China and other nations. The present
article suggests a revisionist view of the man and his voyages. By examining
these ‘voyages to the Western Ocean’ as simply an element of the southern
expansion by the Yong-le emperor (1403-24), linked to his invasions of Dai
Viet and Yun-nan, we see these ‘voyages of friendship’ as aggressive attempts
to achieve a pax Ming in the Asian maritime realm, with Melaka, Palembang,
and Samudera as key elements. We also observe Ming efforts to dominate the
trade routes linking the Middle East and East Asia. The paper concludes with
a discussion of the characteristics of colonialism and imperialism and
suggests that the voyages constituted a maritime proto-colonialism.
There exists around the world today, or at least within Chinese societies, a range of what
one might call ‘popular’ perceptions of the Ming eunuch Admiral Zheng He and the
voyages he commanded in the early fifteenth century. These views are well represented
by the extracts below:
& <*Б»№ЙЛ + ¥» From the age of Zheng He until the new period of socialist construction, achievements of Zheng He during his voyages to the Western Ocean been excellent materials for conducting patriotic education for the Chin nation. Huang Hui-zhen and Xue Jin-du, 'Eighty Years of Researching Zheng He' л, «мгягйни*«#, ж, шш, шттш* , 2оо4^7я 1 The author wishes to thank Anthony Reid for comments and criticisms on an earlier draft of this paper. 37 This content downloaded from on Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:05:23 UTC All use subject to PART 1, 2005 These were thus friendly diplomatic activities. During the overall course of the seven voyages to the Western Ocean, Zheng He did not occupy a single piece of land, establish any fortress, or seize any wealth from other countries. In the commercial and trade activities, he adopted the practice of giving more than he received, and thus he was welcomed and lauded by the people of the various countries along his routes. Xu Zu-yuan, PRC Vice Minister of Communications, July 2004 3. <35 fH Xitì »27«, 2003^6Я Zheng He was the greatest maritime voyager in history. Tan Ta-sen, Asian Culture , No. 27, June 2003 4. тштж, Min ¥£#{£# , з M À ift Ш ® , -t Л a íft 55 , Ä ?LÜ И И Д§ Ж E 35 ) 2 0 0 0 ^ Ж IK Zheng Не was a great maritime voyager of the Ming dynasty, and an outstanding envoy of peace and friendship. He led a huge maritime force of close to 30,000 persons on seven voyages to more than 30 distant lands in Asia and Africa. Thereby he made outstanding contributions to global navigation and to the friendship between China and other countries. Kong Yuan-zhi, 'Zheng He and Malaysia', 2000 These statements were made by a diverse group of people: 1. Two PRC academics who have surveyed most of the studies of Zheng He which have been written up to the present; 2. A PRC government officiai responsible for the upcoming Zheng He 600th anniversary celebrations; 3. Tan Ta-sen, the chairman of the International Zheng He Association based in Singapore, and the developer of a Zheng He Museum and associated retail arcades and hotel in Malacca; and 4. Kong Yuan-zhi, a historian and linguist of Southeast Asia based at Beijing University. These are a subset of a similar range of assessments, fairly common in Chinese publications, about the eunuch voyager and his position in Chinese and global history. The orthodox or traditional view of Zheng He, at least within Chinese traditions, is thus that of a Ming envoy who was sent by the Yong-le emperor on seven occasions (an eighth mission in 1424 is usually ignored) to lead armadas abroad, and who braved the waves and travelled to distant lands to develop relations of peace and friendship with the rulers of those lands. He engaged in trade en route and brought many of the foreign rulers back to China to offer tribute to the imperial court. Obviously, with the impending 600th anniversary of the first voyage by Zheng He to the polities of what is today Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean (being 38 This content downloaded from on Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:05:23 UTC All use subject to JMBRAS VOL. 78 commemorated in 2005), there will in the coming years be much more attention paid to the Zheng He voyages and their position in world history. Greater attention will almost inevitably mean a more diverse range of views. As part of this process, I would like to offer a somewhat revisionist view of the maritime voyages, their impetus, their function, and the eunuchs who led them. Zheng He: The Man and the Voyages Who was this man? The story of a Muslim lad from Yun-nan, surnamed Ma, captured during the Ming invasion of the region and castrated to serve as a palace eunuch, is well known. He became a close confidante of Zhu Di, the son of the Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang, and followed him when he was accorded the title of Prince of Yan and assigned what is today the area around Bei-jing as his fiefdom. Zheng He (a name he was given by the Ming Prince) fought with Zhu Di during his battles against the Mongols, and when Zhu Di launched a coup against his nephew, the Emperor Jian-wen, in 1399, Zheng He followed the Prince of Yan southward to what is today Nan-jing and became part of the new administration. As the new emperor, Zhu Di assumed the reign title 'Yong-le', a name by which the man himself is also often known. Expansion Under Yong-le In examining the maritime voyages in which Zheng He was to participate, let us first look at their context. The new emperor's military push to the south from Yan-jing (the modern Bei-jing) did not stop at the Ming capital, situated at what is today's Nan-jing. Rather, Yong-le decided to try to expand his influence to the known world. To this end, he pursued three prongs of southern expansion (see Fig. 1). I. The Invasion and Occupation of the Yun-nan Tai Polities : Successful Ming Land-based Colonialism In 1369, only a year after Zhu Yuan-zhang had formally founded the Ming dynasty, he sent proclamations for the instruction of 'the countries of Yun-nan and Japan' )2 This early recognition of Yun-nan as a 'country' which lay beyond the Ming was to change very soon thereafter. By 1380, Yun-nan was considered to have been 'China's territory since the Han dynasty',3 providing a moral basis for the invasion of the region. About 250,000 troops were then deployed in an attack on the polities of the region, taking Da-li, Li-jiang, and Jin-chi in 1382, and settling Chinese military families throughout the area. Consequently, the Ming founder took control of the major centres of the north-western part of what is today Yun-nan, including several Tai areas. These colonies were the first to be absorbed into Ming 'Yun-nan'.4 2 Ming Tai-zu shi-lujuan 39.1b. (The juan is the unit or section into which each shi-lu is divided. This reference is to page 1 (verso) of juan 39 of the Tai-zu shi-lu.) Another reference to Yun-nan as a 'country' can be found at Tai-zu shi-lu, juan 53.9a-b. 3 Ming Tai-zu shi-lu Juan 138.5a-b. 4 For much of the Ming, in addition to being a provincial designation, the term 'Yun-nan' was a generic term for areas to the south-west, extending as far as knowledge extended. In this respect, Yun-nan was somewhat like the term 'the West' in the European movement across the Northern American continent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 39 This content downloaded from on Thu, 15 Feb 2018 19:05:23 UTC All use subject to PART 1, 2005 v Ч&, . Uangs^S „ 595 JMJi n JLT |BanguiBay , I <žf. 392 Jöa( VA409l0V ÍTai-kung v Ч&, . Uangs^S „ 595 JMJi n , I <žf. JLT |BanguiBay ( X J ^'^а09 r v в») Tushan J . 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