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The Political Importance of Zheng He’s Voyages Essay

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Accompanied by 27,000 men on 62 large and 255 small ships, the Chinese eunuch Zheng He, led 7 naval expeditions to Southeast Asia, Middle East and east coast of Africa in the span of 28 years during the Ming Dynasty. The scale of Zheng He’s fleet was unprecedented in world history. The large treasure ships used during the expeditions were purported to be 440 feet long and 180 feet wide (Dreyer, p. 102). Throughout his travels, Zheng He brought Chinese tea, porcelain and silk products to foreign countries and also brought back exotic goods to the Ming court such as spices, plants and leather. Although his voyages fostered commercial trades and cultural exchange between China and foreign countries, the goal of his expeditions stemmed from…show more content…
Therefore, the original and main purpose of Zheng He’s expeditions to foreign countries was political and diplomatic. Emperor Yongle intended to awe the rulers of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean into sending tribute to China (Dreyer, p. 27). Zheng He and his fleets needed to establish Chinese presence and influences in those countries in order to enforce the tributary system. Although China had no interest in imperial expansion through oceanic exploration like the Europeans did, navy power was traditionally associated with the strength of a nation. Therefore, the gigantic treasure ships, the significant scale of Zheng He’s crew as well as the Chinese goods he brought to the foreign countries all served the political needs to display wealth and power of the Middle Kingdom. In order to understand the political motives behind Zheng He’s expedition, it is important to look into the historical background of Emperor Yongle’s reign. Yongle did not inherit the throne from his father Emperor Hongwu. Soon after his father’s death, Yongle, the Prince of Yan at that time, initiated a military rebellion and overthrew his nephew Emperor Jianwen. Because he usurped the throne, Emperor Yongle had a huge urge to suppress rumors and legitimate his rulership during his early years of reign. During the rebellion, Emperor Jianwen disappeared and he was rumored to survive the palace fire and flee overseas. Historians argued that one of the original goals of Zheng He’s
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