Not so in his native land zheng he was viewed with

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Notso in his native land. ZhengHewasviewed with deep suspi-cion by China's traditional elite, the Confucian scholars, who madesuretodestroy the archivesofhis journey. Even so, itispossibletolearnsomethingabouthis story from Chinese sourcesfrom imperialarchivesandeventhememoirsofcrewmen. The historical recordmakes clear, for example,thatitwas not some sudden impulseofex-troversionthatledtoZhengHe'sachievement.Itgrew, rather,outofalong sailing tradition. Chinese accounts suggest that in the fifth centurya Chinesemonksailedtoa mysterious"fareast country"thatsoundsverymuchlikeMayanMexico,andMayanartatthattime suddenlybegantoinclude Buddhistsymbols.Bythe thirteenth century, Chineseships regularly traveledtoIndiaandoccasionally to East Africa.ZhengHe'sarmadawas far grander,ofcourse,thananythingthatcame before.Hisgrandest vessels were the "treasure ships,"400feetlongand160feet wide, with nine masts raisingtedsilk sails to thewind, as well as multiple decksandluxury cabins with balconies. Hisarmadaincluded supply shipstocarry horses,trooptransports, war-ships, patrol boats,andas many as twenty tankerstocarry fresh water.The full contingentof28,000crew members included interpreters forArabicandotherlanguages, astrologerstoforecast the weather, as-tronomerstostudy the stars, pharmacologiststocollect medicinalplants, ship-repair specialists, doctors,andeventwoprotocol officerstohelp organize official receptions.In the aftermathofsuchanincredible undertaking, you somehowexpecttofind a deepermarkonChinese history, a greater legacy. Butperhaps the faintnessofZheng He's,trace in contemporary China is it-self a lesson. In theend,anexplorer makes history but doesnotneces-sariiy change it, for his impact depends lessonthe trail he blazesthanonthe willingnessofotherstofollow. The daringofa great expeditionultimately is hostagetothe national willofthosewhoremain behind.In February I traveledtoCalicut; aporttownin southwestern Indiathatwas (and stillis)the pepper capitaloftheworld. The evening I arrived,I wentdowntothe beach in the centeroftowntolookatthe coastlinewhere ZhengHeoncehadberthed his ships.Inthe fourteenthandfif-teenth centuries, Calicut was oneofthe world's great ports, known to theChinese as "thegreatcountryofthe Western ocean."Inthe early fifteenthcentury, the sightofZhengHe'sfleet riding anchor in Calicutharborsym-bolized the strengthofthe world's two greatest powers, ChinaandIndia.Onthis sultry evening, the beach, framed by long piers juttingoutto sea, wascrowdedwith young loversandice-cream vendors. Thosepiers are allthatremainoftheportofCalieut,andyou can seeata
9gChinese and European Expansionglance that they are no longer usable. The following day I visited theport offices, musty with handwritten ledgers of ship visits dating backa century. The administrator of the port,' CaptainE.G.Mo-

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Term
Fall
Professor
Avitable
Tags
Zheng He, Admiral Zheng

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