During the 15th century, the Chinese had one of the most advanced naval fleets known to man. As a result, China was able to establish many trade routes to places such as Africa, India, Singapore, etc If the Chinese wanted to, they could have sailed all the way to Europe and even as far as North America.
However, the Chinese ran into some political problems that prevented explorations in the future. If they had continued their voyages, it would have been possible for them to have discovered the New World before Columbus. Had China discovered America before Columbus, our world would be different from what it is today. During the mid 1400's, China was plagued with many political problems. Therefore, if China was to discover the New World, it would have been during the late 1300's under the rule of the Ming Dynasty.
As stated in Latourette's book, "From the military standpoint the Ming was stronger than any native Chinese ruling house" (225). Basically in this quote Latourette is saying that during the Ming Dynasty China was at a high point in power. Because of the Ming Dynasty, China was strong and able again. If China were looking to expand, the best time would be during the Ming Dynasty because the Chinese empire was at a peak. However, the Chinese didn't take advantage of their strong naval fleets and therefore they weren't able to reach North America before Columbus.
Although it was Columbus who discovered the New World in 1492, China could have easily discovered it decades earlier. If China had discovered the New World, the culture of the west would be very similar to that of the east. Chinese culture would probably be the most dominant culture in the world, since China would have control of the east and west.
"After freeing itself from it's conquest by the Mongols, China was seeking to restore and preserve its cultural independence" (Latourette 238). The best way to preserve the fading culture of Buddhism and Taoism would be to spread it throughout the west. If the Chinese had spread their culture throughout the west, we might be speaking Chinese, not have freedom of religion, and we might be limited to Chinese beliefs.
The Chinese navy in the early 1400's was very powerful but unfortunately it grew weaker and weaker over time. The cause of this was that China ran into political problems which prevented future voyages. Unfortunately for China, its military grew weak as well. If China had control over the west, it would have been a more powerful nation. Not only would it control both sides of the hemisphere, but it could easily attack its enemies from both sides. For example, if China wanted to attack Europe, it could easily do so from both sides.
This would have prevented future mishaps for China. For example, in the 1800's, many nations exploited China for its silk, spices, etc If China had control in the west, it would have been a more powerful nation and not have been taken advantage of. (Boyle 256-60)
China's control of the east and west would have made their form of government more widely accepted. Although many nations today are run under a capitalist government, if China had discovered America, many nations might follow them and become Communists as well. Due to the Communist government, China become a very aggressive nation. Usually, Communist governments stressed guerilla warfare and were skilled at it. As Houn mentions in his book about Chinese guerillas, "they used the captured weapons and equipment to arm the local peasant who had been mobilized to form guerilla bands.
The Communists were successful in expanding their military force in this fashion." (57) So based on this quote, its safe to say if a Communist government were to rule America, many nations surrounding that region would follow in China's path and become Communists. The Chinese government however, did not become Communist until the 20th century. Before Communism, China was ruled by emperors. "The Chinese polity came to be organized in such a way that the ruler's authority was totalitarian in practice, in the sense that no aspect of life was considered immune to his control, should he choose to expert it". (Hucker 57) The emperor basically had total control of the land and the people in it.
If we were living in the new China, the economy would be different from what it is today. "For most of the Ming Dynasty, foreign trade was outlawed" (Grimm 99) As history shows during the Ming Dynast, China was at a peak of it's power. This shows that since foreign trade was outlawed, the economy was at a boom. Today, because of export and import, countries have to deal with inflation.
If China controlled North America and present day China, they wouldn't have to deal with import and export because they'd be trading within the country. Prices for things such as tea, oil, silk, spices, etc would be much cheaper than what they are right now. The cost of living in the new China would be greatly decreased compared to what we're paying right now. Today, it is hard to live a comfortable lifestyle earning minimum wage. The reason for that is as people earn more money, prices increase.
If a country is trading within itself, there would be no need to increase prices because the buyer is also the seller. (Cotterell 256) Living in the new America would be completely different from the way we live right now. The food we eat, the way we dress, the language we speak, it would all be of a different ethnic background. Most of us would be eating Chinese food everyday rather than the traditional hamburgers and fries. Rather than wearing suits and ties for traditional garments, we might wear long, silk robes or other traditional Chinese clothing. Instead of English being the national language, most countries would adapt Chinese as a national language. Some of us might speak either Mandarin or Cantonese.
China could have changed the course of our history if it had discovered America. If they had discovered North America first, Columbus would have never been called the founder of the New World. Europeans may have never settled America in the 16th and 17th century. The land known as America may have a new name; it might be called China West. Many wars may have been avoided or many wars may have erupted had China taken over the New World. For example, the civil war would have never taken place or the World Wars might have never happened.
The slave trade would have never started and as a result, many African Americans might have stayed in Africa. China's discovering of America would have changed the future of not only America and China, but also the rest of the world. A small discovery by China could have changed our history for the past five centuries. For all we know, I could have written this paper in Chinese talking about what would have happened if Columbus had discovered America.
Boyle, John Hunter. China and Japan at War 1937-1945. California: Stanford University Press, 1972.
Cotterell, Arthur and David Morgan. China's Civilization. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975.
Grimm, Tilemann. Et. Al. Chinese Government in Ming Times. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Houn, Franklin W. A Short History of Chinese Communism. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973.
Hucker, Charles. China's Imperial Past: An Introduction to Chinese History and Culture. California: Stanford University Press, 1975.
Latourette, Kenneth Scott. The Chinese Their History and Culture. 1934. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968.