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Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405-1433 (Library of World Biography Series) Paperback – May 13, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0321084439 ISBN-10: 0321084438 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

'This book is highly recommended to all thise who really want to know how to evaluate what Zheng He did or did not do. The author does not advocate a point of view or exhort us in any way.' Wang Gungwu, East Asian Institute, Singapore

From the Back Cover

This new biography, part of Longman's World Biography series, of the Chinese explorer Zheng Hesheds new light on one of the most important “what if” questions of early modern history: why a technically advanced China did not follow the same path of development as the major European powers. 

 

Written by China scholar Edward L. Dreyer,Zheng Heoutlines what is known of the eunuch Zheng He's life and describes and analyzes the early 15thcentury voyages on the basis of the Chinese evidence.  Locating the voyages  firmly within the context of early Ming history,itaddresses the political motives of Zheng He's voyages and how they affected China's exclusive attitude to the outside world in subsequent centuries.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pearson; 1 edition (May 13, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321084438
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321084439
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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80 of 85 people found the following review helpful By W. D ONEIL on May 25, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The table of contents, which I've reproduced at the end of this, gives a good idea of the book's coverage and organization. Dreyer is a professor of history at the University of Miami, where he teaches Asian history, Chinese history, and military history. His previous publications include studies of early Ming political history (based on his 1971 Harvard dissertation) and China's experience of war in the first half of the 20th century.

The author surveys the secondary literature and draws upon some earlier reconstructions which he finds credible and consistent, particularly in the matter of the voyages' itineraries. However, he relies on the primary sources (and a smattering of archeological evidence) in every respect. Indeed, at the end of the book he provides his own critical translations of the key primary sources.

He works through the background and issues in a methodical manner, carefully evaluating the evidence in light of his extensive knowledge of early Ming history. Naturally this does not make exciting beach reading, but Dreyer does a good job of making the exposition clear and straightforward. The glossary provides brief entries for all of the places and people mentioned, in the event one loses track.

The only lapses I could see seem to be in his knowledge of European history, where he repeats a few obsolete views: "[W]hat drew the Western powers into the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia in the first place was the wealth they could gain by controlling the seaborne trade of the region." (p. 8) "[B]roadside firing and line ahead tactics ... only began in European waters almost two centuries after Zheng He." (p. 56) These are minor issues of degree that do not materially affect the value of the book.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Peter Huston on October 18, 2008
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First, although I have studied much of Chinese history, I claim no particular expertise in the Ming Dynasty or the history of Zheng He's voyages. However, I've been looking for a source to fix that for sometime and therefore read and liked this book. The author does a good job of sticking to the evidence and weighing the sources of evidence carefully. He makes a strong attempt to put the voyages, as well as the cessation of the voyages, and their motivations in historical context and argues things well. At one point, for instance, while trying to discuss the size of Zheng He's largest ships he carefully considers the sorts of ships that could and could not travel the river routes in China that the fleet traveled to get from Nanjing to the ocean. Although he concludes the largest ships were possibly the largest wooden vessels ever constructed, he also concludes that they were probably not nearly as large as some have claimed and not capable of some of the more fanciful sailing through hazardous areas that some authors have credited them with. One thing that surprised me about this work is how much about these voyages and their routes are actually known, particularly when some authors have claimed our lack of knowledge about them allows for extremely fanciful claims about their routes and accomplishments. All in all, although I have not studied these voyages in depth, I found this to be a good place to start if one wishes an account that carefully weighs what is and is not known about these voyages.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By MarkK VINE VOICE on February 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
In the early 15th century, the coastal states of Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean were the sites of a remarkable event, as they received repeated visitations by a large fleet of Chinese ships. Dispatched by the order of the Ming emperor Yongle, they consisted of thousands of men on board the largest wooden ships ever built. The expeditions were all commanded by Zheng He, a eunuch with a long history of service to the emperor. Yet in spite of the dramatic novelty of the voyages, they and their commander received only the scantiest attention in the Chinese historical sources, with many of their exploits becoming as much myth as reality. In this book, Edward Dreyer attempts to uncover the man behind the myths, assessing his goals and achievements by evaluating them in the context of his times.

To do this, Dreyer reconstructs Zheng's life as completely as possible from the available contemporary and near-contemporary sources. This provides at best only a sketchy outline, which the author then fills in with a broader analysis of the voyage, the ships and men involved, and the broader background of events. He argues that, contrary to later writers, Zheng's expeditions were not voyages of exploration or assertions of naval hegemony but an effort to extend the Chinese tributary system to that part of the world. Though far less inspiring a motivation than the others, it is one that helps to explain the subsequent abandonment of the effort after a final voyage in 1431-33, as the returns were far outweighed by the considerable expense of the effort - a factor that became critical during a time of enormous expenditure on military expeditions to Mongolia and construction of a new imperial capital in Beijing.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Sceptique500 on June 26, 2011
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Written after Menzies' book on Zheng He - 1421 - this work has two aims. The first is to set the factual record right. A painstaking analysis of Zheng He's travels is undertaken, and many matters are clarified. The second aim is to explain why Zheng He's travels were not followed up, and why China failed to establish an overseas empire. The author explains the specific context of early Ming history, and points the finger at "deliberate decisions made by rulers". "Cultural grounds" - whatever that means - are also evoked, though not made the dominant aspect.

The factual analysis is certainly right, but incomplete, and thus unfair to the man. It is not enough to discuss at length how big the "treasure boats" were. Zheng He's genius rested on two pillars: his capacity to build such a fleet, and his capacity to operate it without major catastrophic losses over 30 years. When one pieces the facts together as they lay scattered across the narrative, one discovers that Zheng He achieved something no other navy, ancient or modern, has managed to emulate to this day: to project power repeatedly, over extended periods at a stretch, while operating without supply bases on the way. To keep an army of 5'000 soldiers fit for fight, while on board ships for 20 months is unrivalled. From a logistics point of view, Zheng He has yet to meet his match.

The historical analysis is inadequate. "Deliberate decisions", and "cultural grounds", are "just so" arguments. History is full of contingencies, but this does not exempt us from understanding the underlying forces against which contingencies play out. Applying the "tribute system" to the Indian Ocean was bound to fail. This system emerged in China's north and reflected China's need for horses as well as the nomads' appetite for silken plunder.
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