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Author: Zhongping Chen

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: China and Asia
Volume Editors: Ying Liu, Zhongping Chen, and Gregory Blue
Zheng He’s Maritime Voyages (1405-1433) and China’s Relations with the Indian Ocean World: A Multilingual Bibliography provides a multidisciplinary guide to publications on this great navigator’s activities and their impact on Chinese and world history. Admiral Zheng He commanded the fifteenth-century world’s largest fleet. In the course of seven voyages made between 1405 and 1433, his massive ships visited over thirty present-day countries in Asia and Africa. Those voyages reflected and reinforced the development of complex networks of trade, migration, cultural exchange, and political interactions between China and the Indian Ocean world.
This bibliography lists sources in thirteen languages, including both scholarly studies and popular works like Gavin Menzies’s controversial bestsellers claiming the Chinese sailed around the world before Columbus. Relevant translations, transliterations and annotations are provided to aid the reader.