treasure fleet one

The Seven Voyages



dawn (2) rival unrivaled
grip seem grip on power
scale fleet treasure
cargo supply vanish
soon continue journey
helm eunuch discover
hail expand towering
follow admiral lifetime
explore epic lead/led
fleet ahead ahead of its time
amount advanced incredible
by far share (3) sophisticated
measure finally put together
dispute undisputed unprecedented
enigma dominant millennium
world globe confident
instead half-way think/thought
triumph through throughout
giant length master
frame thunder bellow (2)
glare wield formidable
believe surround controversy
argue scholar put forward
exist precise marvel
doubt deck beneath
design protect sink/sank/sunk
tight damage cutting edge
flood remain compartment
afloat purpose thereby
vessel bamboo inspiration
stalk purpose incorporate
convert crusade endeavor
respect extreme encounter
equal careful wonderful
vigor exactly articulate
profit occupy conquer
crisis empire country (2)
entire grasp commander
vision sever lay to rest
famine deplete treasury
imperial influence interfere
stress (2) foreign necessary
base (2) filial self-sufficient
respect ancestor obligation
abroad attend demeaning





The dawn of the fifteenth century. China is the unrivaled ruler of the seas. With an all-mighty grip on power, it seems unstoppable.

Nothing compares to the scale of China’s Treasure Fleet: 27,000 men. 317 ships. They must have been worlds onto themselves, with enough supplies to last for months, and cargo bays of treasure – fit for kings.

But soon, the fleet would vanish.

And China would close its doors to the outside world.

National Geographic photographer, Mike Yamashita, continues his journey to discover what happened to this great age of expansion, and the man who was at its helm, the towering eunuch admiral, Zheng He, who in his lifetime, was hailed as a hero in China.

From Asia to Africa, we follow the voyages of China’s greatest explorer, Zheng He.

For nearly 30 years, he led the treasure fleet on seven epic voyages. It was a fleet centuries ahead of its time.

“China was incredibly more advanced, scientifically, culturally, and economically. It amounted by far the largest share of the world economy.

Maybe the best measure of China’s sophistication was that it was not until World War One that Europe and the West were finally able to put together a fleet as sophisticated as China had in the early fifteenth century.”

The great treasure fleet had hundreds of ships, some many times this size, making China the undisputed ruler of the sea.

Yet this unprecedented period of Chinese expansion would some day suddenly come to an end.

“The central enigma, I think, is why it’s the West that’s dominant in the world, rather than the East.

Anyone from the first half of the millennium, would have been confident that it would have been China who would have been the major player in the world economy and in the global military.

And instead, half-way through the millennium, something happened, and in fact it was Europe and people of European stock who ended up triumphant today. And the key question is how that came to happen.”

Twenty-seven thousand men. Three hundred and seventeen ships. Giants of the ocean. Some, four hundred feet (122 meters) in length, under the master eye of its titanic leader.

They say his voice bellowed like a dozen thunderous bells, and his eyes glared down from his seven foot frame.

A formidable man, with power to wield as he choose, in peace or in war.

“One of the greatest controversies surrounded this whole Zheng He episode was the size of his treasure ship. Some people believe it was very large: 44 Chinese tsan, which equates to longer than a soccer field. Other people believe it was a little bit smaller, 2000 liau, which would be around 62 meters long.

A lot of scholars believe that they existed. An argument that they put forward is the fact that pyramids cannot be built today, does not mean that pyramids were not built in the past.

At 400 feet, the largest bauzhuan would have been nearly five times as long as the ships of Columbus, which said nearly a century later.

The precise length may never be known. But there’s little doubt that the great treasure ships were high-tech marvels.

In scale along, they were centuries ahead of their time.

But the ships’ real genius lay just below their 70,000 square foot decks. Here, a cutting edge design protected the treasure ships from sinking.

Each hull was divided into thirteen, water-tight compartments. If one was damaged and flooded, the remaining compartments could keep the ship afloat.

But that wasn’t their only purpose.

“Now the interesting fact is that in this last compartment, it is sometimes open to the sea, so that when a vessel is coming down a wave, water enters the compartment, thereby lifting the bow of the vessel, and enabling the vessel to ride safely out of the wave.”

The design might sound complex. But its inspiration came from something that was all around them: a simple stalk of bamboo.

It would take nearly 400 years for Western naval architects to incorporate this same technology.

“European voyages were not only trade voyages but they were very much religious endeavors to convert non-Christians to Christianity. They were crusades.”

“The Chinese were extremely respectful of all the religious that they encountered on their voyages, as exemplified by the wonderful cryptic in Ceylon: ‘To all of the gods on the island: to Buddha, to Allah, and to the Hindu gods.’ And very carefully articulated in the tablet is equal gifts to all; all gods exactly the same.

The Chinese had none of the religious vigor of Western exploration.“

“By the time Zheng He comes to Eden, as Yemen is called today, he’s not really looking for profits. He wants basically to show the world his power, China’s power, as the greatest country in the world.

And of course that’s why he’s traveling with 300 ships with 27,000 soldiers in these huge treasure ships of 400 foot length.

It’s a big show of power. He’s not here to conquer. He’s not here to occupy…he just wants to show the world: we’re the greatest.”

But back in China, the world’s most powerful empire was in crisis. The days of Zheng He and the treasure fleet are numbered.

As commander of the floating army, Zheng He would have appeared unstoppable, and the entire world must have seemed within his grasp.

Judi could well have saved the treasure fleet.

As Judi’s body is laid to rest, so with it is his vision for China as a global superpower.

His expansionist projects and sever famine had seriously depleted the imperial treasury.

Within a year, Confucian influence begins to dominate.

“Confucian philosophy, I think, stressed that the empire should be self-sufficient, that trade was really unnecessary. We didn’t want foreigners interfering in your country.

The son should not go abroad because he couldn’t attend to the filial obligations of his ancestors.

Trade was base and demeaning and not well respected by the Confucians.”


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1. Europeans had always dominated sailing, exploration and trade. Is this true or false?

2. The Treasure Fleet was centuries ahead of their time. What does this mean?

3. Where did the ship engineers and architects get their ideas for the ships’ buoyancy?

4. Did the Chinese force others to accept Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism?

5. Was the purpose of the Treasure Fleet voyages to invade, occupy and conquer other lands? Did they seek trade?

6. The Chinese continued the maritime expeditions. Yes or no?
A. Why did the Chinese end their maritime voyages?

B. Why did the Portuguese and other Europeans expand sailing, exploring, trade and colonization?

C. What should the Chinese emperor done?

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