The Rise of Western Power: When China Ruled the Sea Essay

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The rise of Western power is a relatively recent development in the modern era. Previously the world could be seen as polycentric with overlapping spheres of influence (Marks 34). However, by the fifteenth century, China held considerable economic and military power, leading the world in size, population, agriculture, and commerce (Mungello 1). China also excelled in technology, military strength, learning, and the fine arts (Mungello 2). Leading China through its glory days was the Ming Dynasty which endured more than 250 years until its decline in 1644 (Dardess 1). Before the Ming dynasty, China had become little more than a portion of the Mongol Empire. Hongwu, formerly Zhu Yuanzhang, became the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty…show more content…
These treasure ships or bao chuan were built in the docks of Nanjing and the first voyage consisted of 317 ships that were up to 400 hundred feet long (Levathes 21). The sheer size of the bao chuan can be compared to the ships of Columbus and de Gama nearly a century later and a quarter of the size (Levathes 22). Zheng He and his treasure fleet traveled from China to the coast of East Africa, stopping in major ports in the Spice Islands, India, and Arabia. For centuries the Indian Ocean had been a coveted and profitable source of commerce and trade due to the market for spices and textiles especially after the fall of the Roman Empire and the decline of the Mediterranean. The Silk Road served as the primary route to reach the trade cites of the East until its decline with the fall of the Mongol Empire (Pagden 57). As the Silk Road fell into decline, navigation techniques improved, and the Ottoman Empire rose in power, sea routes became an increasingly important way to reach trade in the Indian Ocean. The voyages of Zheng He had a couple of effects on world history. The primary effect of the voyages was to opening a sea route that connected the China Seas with the Indian Ocean (Marks 48). This allowed for trade to flow from the eastern coast of Africa to Japan making the East an extremely profitable market. In
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