Although Admiral Zheng He sailed almost a century before Columbus, both
feats for their day. Although each accomplished many goals, Zheng He’s
achievements did not remake the world in the way that Columbus did. According to Nicholas D.
Kristof, “in Zheng He’s time the prospect of a New World settled by the Spanish or English
would have seemed infinitely more remote than a New World made by the Chinese” (Reilly,
When Zheng He was a child he was seized by the Chinese Army and castrated. Although
many men die from this, Zheng He overcame the pain to become a leader. To his good fortune he
became a houseboy of Prince Zhu Di, whom he grew very close to. Together Zheng He and
Prince Zhu Di overthrew the prince’s nephew so that he could become the emperor of China.
Prince Zhu Di became China’s youngest Yongle Emperor and one of his first acts was rewarding
Zheng He with a great fleet to sail the world with. Yongle launched a series of expeditions that
went as far as India and the east coast of Africa, and went up the Red Sea to Jidda in today's
Saudi Arabia. (Bentley, Streets-Salter, Ziegler, 453, Module, Reilly, 552-553).
Zheng He led seven major expeditions between 1405 and 1433. He commanded the
largest armada that the world would see for the next five centuries; until the 19th century British
fleet. His fleet included 28,000 sailors, and 300 ships. The biggest ships he had were called
“treasure ships.” They were 400 feet long, 160 feet wide and had nine masts in three rows raising
sails of bamboo and cloth; necessary to move ships of this size and weight. It also had multiple
decks and luxury cabins with balconies. The rest of his armada included supply ships that carried
horses, troop transports, warships, patrol boats, and twenty tankers that carried fresh water. The
crew members were interpreters for multiple languages, astrologers to forecast the weather,
astronomers that studied the stars, pharmacologists that collected medical plants, ship repair
specialists, doctors and two protocol officers that helped organize official receptions. Columbus
on the other hand only had 90 sailors, 3 ships, and his biggest ship was 85 feet long (Module,
Reilly, 553, 555).
The technologies that the Europeans had were ships, sails and navigational instruments.