From 1403 to about 1492 China participated in numerous voyages led by Zheng He, the leader of their maritime operations, including the visiting of 37 countries and traveling through the Atlantic Ocean around the tip of Africa and beyond Europe (pg 202). Countries such as Ceylon, India, and the Persian Gulf were a few of their stops along the way. These voyages proved that China was the supreme world sea power whose shipbuilding techniques and navigational abilities were unmatched by any other nation (pg 208). The preparation for these explorations were a series of briefings and religious ceremonies ordered by Zheng He.
Once performed the ships were able to sail leisurely until intense training was eventually carried out (pg 212). The result toward the end of China’s maritime passages was a shift in populations away from the coast losing an estimated total of eight million people. Thesis: Although it may appear that China’s worldview was the main contributing factor involved in the extinction of their maritime programs, historical evidence supports the ideas that many other influences also contributed to this diminishing resolution.
The reopening of the Grand Canal in 1411 made the shipping of grain through the inland route a possibility once again. A negative result in regards to the maritime ventures of this reopening focuses on the coastal fleets that were reassigned to work on the canals. Along with this renovation came the command from the government in 1415 to officially ban grain transport by sea. It also authorized the construction of three thousand shallow-draft canal barges which required the work of many men.
“These regulations were issued that reassigned the men of the Indian Ocean expeditionary force to canal duties as stevedores” (pg 213). Not only were fleets taken from maritime operations and relocated to the Grand Canal, but the men on these ships were also needed for building these advancements. Along with these orders, was the military setbacks China suffered which deflected interest in maritime expeditions. The war of independence launched in Annam around 1418 and continued on for about nine years.
About two years later on the Red River, the Ming navy lost an important battle which contributed to a loss of men and money. Eventually in 1427 the Chinese emperor grew weary of the increasing war costs and evacuated nearly one hundred thousand Chinese soldiers from Annam, many of whom also participated in maritime procedures. Mongol raids continued in the north along the entire length of the Great Wall. Despite the efforts made to minimize the weakening of his navy and defending of his people, the Chinese emperor was captured in 1449 (pg 214).
This resulted in the resurrection of their continental defense strategy, including all maritime plans and officials. The emperor abolished ships from sailing not because of their “worldview” but because of costs and fears. “By the middle of the fifteenth century, the first in a series of eunuch strongmen ascended to power” (pg 214). Soon after these men seized control over the most important government agencies, grasping the authority of the army, the police, and the financial aspects.
Terrorizing those who questioned their authority was the only response the eunuchs resorted to. When a eunuch initiated a request to prepare another series of maritime expeditions he was greeted by fierce opposition within the government officials. Soon after all records of the Indian Ocean voyages were destroyed in order to eliminate any attempt to imitate the early Ming excursions, ending the majority of Chinese travels by sea. The depreciation of maritime expansion was also due to a neo-Confucianism viewpoint influenced by Buddhist teachings.
It suggested a policy which included the minister looking down upon military pursuits and expeditions in foreign countries. Emphasis was instead placed on the value that a husband should serve in Chinese culture, devoting themselves to their family and school instead of maritime activities. These adventures and wars caused suffering for the men and families involved and it stressed that soldiers would not sacrifice their lives in order to continue their dynasty for ten thousand generations (pg 215).
According to this article many other factors were involved in ending maritime ventures, voyages and exploration. China’s worldview may have added to this confinement, but was by no means the only cause of this specific resolution. Examples are also provided to argue the cause of the abrupt halt on Chinese expeditions was due to their outlook in the world. Stated in NIcholas D Kristof’s article are two main reasons accounting for this ending of sea voyages for China. One of these being their lack of selfishness and greed when it came to profiting off other countries.
The second discusses their appreciation and respect for authority and traditions in terms of economic and intellectual complacency (pg 206). He uses this evidence to support the ideas that China lost interest in maritime exploration because of their outlook on the rest of the world. However when analyzed through a different perspective these facts aid in defending the opposing side. It clearly states that Europe was consumed with greed along with Portugal and other countries. One can conclude that other countries attitudes and behaviors negatively influenced China, causing them to retreat from oversea interaction.