Final Paper Submission Why did the Ming dynasty decide on ceasing Zheng He’s maritime voyages? The cessation of Zheng He’s maritime voyages by the Ming dynasty is multi-faceted. Each facet can be broadly classified as the political factors, economic factors and defence factors. Nevertheless, each reason is interdependent on one another which led the Ming dynasty to eventually terminate Zheng He’s voyages.
On the other hand, hypothetically it may be asserted that China could have been a dominant power of Asian seas routes, somewhat effortlessly surpassing America and Europe in technological advancement and innovation.
Hence, though Zheng He’s voyages were terminated on sound economic premises, instead of total cessation, the Ming dynasty could have tweaked the political motive and economic structure of the voyages in view of a more advanced China in the long run. Firstly, the political facet.
Zheng He’s voyages had, to a large extent, accomplished their intended objective of incorporating other countries into the Ming tributary system by securing a declaration of loyalty and submission from the incorporated Tributary States to the greatness of the Ming Court’s Emperor.
As most of the countries visited over the seven (7) voyages were already a Tributary State of the Ming Court, it somewhat, invalidated the need to further continue any more maritime voyage. For instance, (Yamashita, 2006) “though from the 1st voyage to the 4th voyage, the number of newly discovered states was progressive (i. . 1 new state (Siam) discovered during the 2nd voyage; 4 new states (Quilon, Kayal, Coimbatore and Puttanapur) discovered during the 3rd voyage; 11 new states (Pahang, Kelantan, Aru, Hormaz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Barawa, Malindi, Aden, Muscat and Dhofar) discovered during the 4th voyage), the 5th voyage onwards, however, the number of newly discovered states started regressing (i. e. 1 new state (Sharwayn) discovered during the 5th voyage; 2 new states (East Africa and Arabian Peninsula) discovered during the 6th voyage) and during the 7th voyage, though 18 states were visited in total, all of them ere repetitive of previous visits. ” Hence, as all the states visited in the 7th voyage already came under the Ming Court Tributary system, the voyages had, somewhat, achieved its intended political objective and thus invalidated the need to further continue the maritime voyages. Analysing Zheng He’s voyages by today’s standards, it is somewhat parallel to today’s space exploration ventures that developed countries undertake, both Zheng He’s voyages of the yesteryears and the space exploration programs of today did (does) bring back some materials and information back to their respective countries that they were sent from.
However both were (are) very expensive investments, generating very little returns back into the economies of the countries that had sent them, at least in the short run. This in essence, moves us to our next aspect, more importantly the economic aspect of why the Ming dynasty decided to cease Zheng He’s maritime voyages. Secondly, the economic facet. The economic nature of Zheng He’s voyages was fundamentally on unsound economic premise that made it greatly unprofitable in the short run and largely unsustainable in the long run.
Despite tremendous investment of resources, the voyages produced very little economic gain to China. The investments made into the voyages containing vast amounts of valuables such as gold, silver, porcelain and silk were exchanged, in greater quantities, for returns worth lesser than a quarter of their value such as, (Murphey, 2009, p. 213) “giraffes, zebras and ostriches”, probably to please the Ming Court but of little value to the Chinese economy.
Despite huge amount of resources invested on the voyages, little economic returns was generated back into China’s economy and over the years without adequate replenishment of resources from the returning voyages, the Treasury started depleting. Hence as the economic costs of continuing Zheng He’s voyages any further, far outweighed the economic benefits that it returned to China, it yet again invalidated the need to continue the Maritime voyages any further. Analysing it economically by today’s standards, Zheng He’s voyages back then is similar to how a nation with massive losses in its investments may run the risk of bankruptcy.
The lack of a competent economic model made it financially impossible for the Ming Emperors to politically sustain its overseas tributary structures and therefore caused the eventual cessation of Zheng He’s maritime voyages. Thirdly, the defence factor. As there was constant nomadic threat in the North from Mongol, the Ming Emperor moved his capital from Nanjing in the South to Beijing in the North which inevitably diverted the attention of the Ming Emperor from Southward maritime explorations to Northward defensive postures.
This is attested by (Chung, 2004) “The Emperor did not say that sending fleets aboard was a wrong policy but stopped the voyages only to concentrate on other urgent issues, the new threat of the Mongols. ” Hence fearing resurgence of the Mongals was seen as an imminent priority by the Ming Emperor in comparison to maritime explorations which could have been perceived by the Ming Emperor as secondary and therefore ceased. There are also other reasons such as the (Dryer, 2007, p. 66)“demise of Zheng He after he returned from the last voyage in 1435” as reasons cited to why the Ming Dynasty decided to cease Zheng He’s voyages. This could possibly be the case because there was no close successor to take on and lead the maritime voyages after Zheng He’s passing. However one has to be critical and take this with a pinch of salt because if the Ming Emperor had the power to launch over 20,000 men for each of the maritime voyage, he could have effortlessly groomed a successor for Zheng He if in the first place, it was found worth continuing.
On the other hand, hypothetically it may be asserted that the Ming dynasty choosing to cease Zheng He’s maritime voyage explorations had caused China to being surpassed by America and Europe in technology and advancement in just two short centuries. Instead if China had made major reforms in its political motive of shifting from tributary trade to entirely commercial trade, making it economically profitable and sustainable in the long run, it could have retained its spirit of innovation and naval power and supremacy, preventing or at least slowing down, the subsequent European colonisation of Asia.
Nevertheless nay sayers may sceptically argue that China may still lack in innovation as America and Europe would still have surpassed China despite its continuation of Zheng He’s voyages. Yet what sceptics fail to realise is the tremendous innovation spirit and naval supremacy that China possessed as it can be aptly seen from the elaborate Zheng He Voyage in contrast to the later Columbus Voyage. For instance, (Murphey, 2009, p. 38) “Zheng He vessels were seaworthy and fast sailors with the monsoon winds; many were large and had separate watertight compartments and far greater capacity than the Columbus voyage which was fitted with square sails for sailing with the wind”. This in essence proves the marvel of China’s innovation spirit and naval supremacy bearing testament to how it would have hypothetically surpassed America and Europe in technological advancement. In conclusion, Zheng He’s maritime voyages proved to be economically unprofitable, and politically, an aberration towards a non-existent empire.
Though it may be criticised that later Ming Emperors had abandoned Zheng He’s voyages unduly, one has to agree that it was fundamentally impossible for China to continue the voyages without, at least, changing its political, economical and social structure. Perhaps if the succeeding Ming Emperors had, hypothetically, tweaked the political and economical structure of the voyages, it could have continued on its maritime explorations towards accelerating China to the pinnacle of innovation and technological advancements of today. Word Count: 1262) Bibliography Chung, T. L. -n. (2004, 04 12). Zheng He Studies. 19th Chinese Culture Symposium. Harvard University . Dryer, E. L. (2007). Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty. New York : Pearson Longman. Murphey, R. (2009). A History of Asia. New Jersey : Pearson Education Incorporation. Rhoads, M. (2009). A History of Asia. New York: Pearson Education Incorporation. Yamashita, M. (2006). Zheng He : Tracing the Epic Voyages of China’s Greatest Explorer . Vercelli, Italy: White Star Publishers.
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