The first section of this article begins by investigating the term “going down to the Western Oceans” (xia xiyang 下西洋), which was used as early as the time of Zheng He. It also discusses the origin of the concepts of the Eastern and Western Oceans. The second section discusses the influx of overseas geographical knowledge into China before the time of Zheng He, especially over two important periods: first, the coming of Indian geographical knowledge along with Buddhism to China from the Wei-Jin period (220–420 ce), and second, the advent of Islamic geographical knowledge during the Mongol-Yuan period (ca. 1206–1368). The third section discusses the contributions of foreign members in Zheng He’s fleet, especially fanhuozhang 番火長 (foreign pilot). Through an analysis of the records of three military encounters—the suppression of the pirate Chen Zuyi 陳祖義, the attack on Ceylon, and the battle with pirates on a return journey—we find that the term fanhuozhang appears in all three cases, showing that foreign experts were commonly present in all branches or segments of Zheng He’s fleet, and that it must have been their job to navigate in the Indian ocean portion of the journey. Based on these findings, the author suggests that even before the beginning of Ming, Chinese people had developed an understanding of navigation technology and absorbed expertise from other peoples, and that this knowledge formed the technological foundation of Zheng He’s long-distance voyages, evident of the fact that China’s ancient navigational technology was an open knowledge system.
Using newly developed concepts of network theory, this paper tries to advance the theoretical analysis of Zheng He’s seven epic voyages across the Indian Ocean between 1405 and 1433, and to resolve some long-debated key issues on the subject. It also attempts to reveal how Zheng He helped change Sino-foreign relations in the early fifteenth century by developing tribute-trade networks overseas, and thereby influenced the history of China, the Indian Ocean region, and globalization in general. An examination of the primary sources from the network perspective indicates that the development of tribute-trade relations overseas made up the primary purpose, major activities and enduring historical legacies of Zheng He’s voyages. Zheng He initiated the construction of overseas bases for navigation and trade, and thus greatly promoted the institutionalization and expansion of tribute-trade relations between China and the Indian Ocean world. Both the tribute and trade networks contracted after Zheng He’s voyages ended because of their failure to diversify beyond state-monopolized diplomacy and trade. But their development in the early fifteenth century and their continuity thereafter brought China and Indian Ocean countries into unprecedented interactions. The dual networks also provided a foundation for the European “geographic discoveries” in the Indian Ocean later on, for the early contact between China and the West and ultimately for the globalization of the modern world. Therefore, a network analysis of Zheng He’s voyages and the subsequent tribute-trade relations between China and the Indian Ocean world can refine the current theoretical paradigms and narrative frameworks of world history, which are still centered on the rise and expansion of modern Europe and the West. It also reveals how such non-Western historical movements and premodern tribute-trade relations exerted influence on a global network revolution, which linked the old and new worlds through an unprecedented level of relational institutionalization, expansion, diversification and interactions between varied network members in global history.
In the history of the development of human civilization, the Silk Road has been an important route of traffic and exchange between the East and the West. From Zhang Qian’s 張騫 opening up of the Silk Road across the Western Regions (Xiyue 西域) to Zheng He’s 鄭和 sailing to the Western Oceans (xia xiyang 下西洋) more than 1500 years later, China had a continuous desire to explore beyond its borders. At the time of Zheng He, the term “Western Oceans” (xiyang 西洋) had a specific meaning. As shown by the account of Ma Huan 馬歡, who personally joined Zheng He on the voyages, the people of Ming China considered the “Western Oceans” to be the Namoli Ocean (Namoli yang 那没黎洋), later called the Indian Ocean. Thus, it could be concluded that the Western Oceans where Zheng He’s fleet went meant the Indian Ocean. Even today most scholars still divide the Eastern and Western Oceans at Brunei, with no clear understanding of where the Western Oceans to which Zheng He sailed were actually located. It is therefore important to make clear that the Western Oceans in his time referred to the Indian Ocean, before moving on to investigate the purpose of the voyages and related historical issues. Even more important is to point out that Zheng He’s expeditions in the early fifteenth century reflected that Chinese people took to the seas on a scale larger than ever before and joined the maritime and overland silk routes together. The place where this occurred was the Indian Ocean.
Japan and the Wider World in the 1910s
Edited by Tosh Minohara, Tze-ki Hon and Evan Dawley
Contributors are: Isao Chiba, Yuehtsen Juliette Chung, Evan Dawley, Martin Dusinberre, Bert Edström, Selçuk Esenbel, Rustin B. Gates, Tze-ki Hon, Masato Kimura, Chaisung Lim, John D. Meehan, SJ, Tosh Minohara, Hiromi Mizuno, Tadashi Nakatani, Sochi Naraoka, Yoshiko Okamoto, Sumiko Otsubo, Ewa Pałasz-Rutkowska, Caroline Rose, J. Charles Schencking, Chika Shinohara, Shusuke Takahara, and Sue C. Townsend.