The overseas maritime expeditions of imperial Chinese admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho)

Dr. Josefine Huppertz

In a lecture held at the Royal Geographical Society in London, submarine ex-captain Cavin Menzies stated that Chinese admiral Zheng He (ca. 1371-1435 AD) had visited America with his ships, 72 years before Columbus. Menzies' dates for the admiral's maritime expeditions to the American continent, however, cannot possibly be correct because, during these years, the admiral's fleet had sailed towards the West, as far as Africa.

In this article I describe some of the pioneering maritime expeditions of Zheng He, which had the consequence that China's Great Power status was made known also to overseas countries as late as the 15th century. Not until the ban on further maritime expeditions towards the West (which may have become too costly) became it possible for the Europeans to colonize the world, so to speak. In 1567, when the Ming emperors lifted the ban on overseas expeditions, it had become too late for China to establish itself as a navel power able to hold the Europeans in check. Until quite recently it never dawned on the Europeans that the Chinese had already established, even in distant BC times, commercial transpacific contacts with America, long before Columbus.