- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Pearson; 1 edition (May 13, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0321084438
- ISBN-13: 978-0321084439
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405-1433 (Library of World Biography Series) 1st Edition
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'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 He sheds 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 He" outlines what is known of the eunuch Zheng He's life and describes and analyzes the early 15th century 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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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.
One very welcome surprise is Dreyer's judicious and well-informed evaluation of the design of the ships of the Treasure Fleets.
Dreyer does not address the speculations and assertions of Gavin Menzies regarding far-flung voyaging, except to remark dryly on pages 29-30 that they rest on an assumption that exploration was a major purpose of the voyages (an assumption Dreyer demolishes quite thoroughly) and on pages 182-3 that it is very unlikely that the ships could have gotten far along Menzies' track before coming to grief. Surely the Chinese, with their nautical knowledge and skills, would have gone about exploration in a very different manner, had they had the intent.
Throughout, the author is skeptical in the best sense, carefully examining and weighing the evidence on each point, unswayed by preconceptions. This leads him to many conclusions that diverge from those of previous authors, always convincingly. Unless and until new evidence appears (possibly from marine archeology) this is likely to remain the definitive treatment of this interesting and revealing facet of Chinese history.
One of the best services Dreyer performs is to cut through the layers of projection and romance that have been overlaid on these voyages in respect of their purpose, conduct, and consequences. He insists, with strong documentary support, that the purpose was "to enforce outward compliance with the forms of the Chinese tributary system by the show of an overwhelming armed force" [p. 163, and passim] as a means of bolstering the Yongle emperor's political position and perhaps self-esteem. Dreyer scotches the notion that these were voyages of discovery or exploration in the European sense, adventurous though they were in their own terms. He makes clear their astronomical expense and how they contributed to economic pressures on the empire, and stresses that there were very real practical reasons (in addition to the undoubted cultural and political ones) for the opposition to them expressed by many senior scholar-bureaucrats. And he shows that far from being peaceful and amicable diplomatic missions they involved heavy measures of coercive force. It certainly lay within China's power to have constructed an Asian maritime empire much as the Europeans later did, but not within China's powers of conception. It equally was open to the Chinese to have gone exploring at least as widely was the Europeans were to, but that also was unthinkable in Beijing. And no one in China could do such things without imperial command.
The book is modestly but well produced, with good binding and stock. There is one overall map, a diagram showing Dreyer's concept of the design of a "treasure ship," and a few relevant illustrations. Oddly the house style seems to eschew source notes, but it is usually possible to identify sources in the general notes at the back of the book. Overall, the publishers deserve thanks for a valuable and high-quality monograph issued at a reasonable price.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. The Enigma of Zheng He.
The Chinese Tributary System and the Purpose of Zheng He's Voyages.
Traditional Chinese Interpretations of Zheng He's Career.
Zheng He's Voyages and Western Imperial Expansion.
Zheng He's Voyages and the Course of Chinese History.
Historical Problems in the Interpretation of Zheng He's Career.
II. Zheng He's Early Life and His Patron Emperor Yongle.
The Fall of the Yuan and the Rise of Zhu Yuanzhang to 1368.
The Reign of Emperor Hongwu, 1368-1398.
Civil War, 1398-1402.
Yongle's Reign as Emperor, 1402-1424.
III. China and the Asian Maritime World in the Time of Zheng He.
The Purpose of Zheng He's Voyages.
Patterns of Trade in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
The Malay-Indonesian World in the Hongwu Era.
Southern India and Ceylon in the Time of Zheng He.
IV. Sailing to India: Zheng He's First, Second and Third Voyages.
The First Voyage, 1405-1407.
The Second Voyage, 1407-1409.
The Third Voyage, 1409-1411.
V. Sailing to Africa: Zheng He's Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Voyages.
The Fourth Voyage, 1412/14-1415.
The Fifth Voyage, 1417-1419.
The Sixth Voyage, 1421-1422.
The Last Years of the Yongle Reign, 1422-1424.
VI. The Ships and Men of Zheng He's Fleets.
Dimensions and Displacements of the Treasure Ships.
Masts and Sails.
Shipbuilding Notices in the Taizong Shilu.
Numbers of Ships in Each of the Voyages.
VII. Zheng He's Career after 1424 and His Final Voyage.
Ming China in the Hongxi (1424-25) and Xuande (1425-35) Reigns.
Zheng He's Career from 1424 to 1430.
Zheng He's Inscriptions at Liujiagang and Changle.
Zheng He's Seventh and Final Voyage, 1431-1433.
VIII. The Legacy of Zheng He.
Appendix. Translations of Primary Sources.
Zheng He's Biography in Mingshi 304.2b-4b.
Zheng He's 1431 Inscriptions.
Note on Sources.
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. There were no "horses" to be had in the Indian Ocean, so there was no "vital interest" at work there for China. Secondly, the terms of trade were set, in the north, at China's border - the nomads paid transportation costs. In the Indian Ocean, the terms of trade were set far away, and China paid the transportation costs - which were overwhelming. The mandarins were right in judging that it was a hell of an expense just for a few more quilin. Thirdly, and most fundamentally, Europe's statelets were competing against each other to become the distribution monopolist in Europe. To secure the position in Europe they needed to control the supply chain all the way to the producer. China was united and had no such need - and logically chose a policy that did not include the expense of establishing colonies. The trading system brought the goods to its doors, and piracy was never too much of a problem: even pirates needed to survive, and sold in the end to China.
Zheng He has been misunderstood, says the author. He is right. Unfortunately he too has failed in the task of giving him his due.
Most recent customer reviews
It seems to be written from a european perspective and not from a Chinese point of...Read more