Sunday, March 27, 2005

I may have said I'm shy, but one thing I am not shy about is saying "thanks" to Eileen for the blurb and blog about my forthcoming book and to Jean for her backchanneled comments about it. Salamat!
In the meantime, I am having to look thru tons of material on the Asian Diaspora and realizing how much I don't know about Asian history. Like the story of Admiral Zheng He who led 7 major sailing expeditions between 1405-1433 all the way to East Africa and commanded the world’s largest armada – a fleet of 28,000 sailors on 300 ships that were 400 ft long and 160 ft wide (Columbus had 90 sailors and 38 ships, 85ft long). His crew consisted of language interpreters, astrologers, astronomers, pharmacologists, ship-repair specialists, doctors, and protocol officers. During this time, India and China accounted for 29% of the world GDP.

Zheng He was a Muslim and a eunuch who was a houseboy to the prince who became the Yong Le emperor and later appointed He as his military commander. After the emperor died, an internal struggle between the traditional scholar-officials and the progressive eunuchs eventually led to the dismantling of China’s navy and it became illegal to build boats with more than 2 masts, and by 1525, all oceangoing ships were destroyed (3,500). All of Zheng He’s sailing records were destroyed. And China retreated into its "Middle Kingdom" while Europe and later the US rose to power.

Were the Chinese not greedy enough for world power the way the Europeans were? Did they have a "culture of complacency?" The Chinese didn't know how to make big profits (or didn't feel the need to) from their trading ventures even while they lavished foreign officials with gifts. On the other hand consider that Magellan once sold a cargo of 26tons of cloves for 10,000 times the cost.

The Chinese at that time also just didn't think they needed anything from Europe (they saw it as backward) and so didn't feel they had to push all the way to Europe.
So the husband says: If the Chinese thought they were already living in paradise/Middle Kingdom, why would they want to conquer or dominate other lands? The thinking that China wasn't greedy enough or was too complacent reveals more about the Western psyche than it does the Chinese'. Touche!

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