Van deze Chinese meneer had ik nog nooit gehoord, Zheng He,totdat ik ‘Geschiedenis in het groot’ beluisterden.Deze Chinese ontdekkingsreiziger (!) heeft al ruim voor‘onze’ grote ontdekkingsreizigers, vele tochten gemaakt.Wikipedia zegt onder andere het volgende:
In 1405 leidde Zheng He een enorme vloot van 62 jonken en meer dan 100 kleinere scheepjes, met in totaal ongeveer 28.000 bemanningsleden, naar het verre Calicut in Zuid-Indixc3xab. Bij latere expedities, tussen 1407 en 1433, deed hij 40 landen rond de Indische Oceaan aan, tot in de Rode Zee en de Swahilisteden in Oost-Afrika.
Nu ben ik voor het eerst een artikel over deze zeevaarder tegengekomen.Dat kun je dus hier vinden:Rebuilding a Treasure Ship by Mara HvistendahlIn its 15th-century navy, China discovers a model for its new global ambitions.Using many 15th-century techniques, shipbuilder Fang Jiebo workson what will become one of the ribs of a reproductionof a massive “treasure ship” captained by the Muslim eunuch explorer Zheng He.Modern Chinese officials want to use Zheng He’s legacy to shape perceptionsof their country’s rise to global prominence.An improbably small worker in gray coveralls tugs at a thick iron chain,his mouth set in a resolute line.The chain extends to an overhead pulley and back down to the midpointof a massive square log that the worker is slowly, excruciatingly tryingto turn on its side.Few tasks are too gargantuan in today’s China, but this is a bit much.The log is 52 feet long and weighs more than eight tons. Finally, it tips over with a resounding thump.Once this log is sanded and varnished, it will become part of a titanic reproduction,based partly on archaeological evidence, of a boat captained by Zheng He,China’s legendary fifteenth-century explorer.T. J. Jia smiles approvingly from under his white supervisor’s hard hat.A good-humored man with wide-set eyes, his supple leather jacketand flawless English hint at a privileged background.He is a former Chinese foreign ministry official with an MBAfrom the Garvin School of International Management in Arizona.He stands in a large, hangar-like warehouse.Outside, the brown waters of the Yangtze River roil by.“We’ve had to import balau wood from Malaysia,” Jia says apologetically.“We don’t have it in China anymore. The forests are gone.” This is just a slight inconvenience.Jia is deputy general manager of Dragon Boat Development Company,which is overseeing the project with the city of Nanjing.With a $10 million budget and a three-year timeline,he can afford to import wood for historical accuracy.The company even uses many fifteenth-century construction methods,which explains why the tiny workman uses a pulley instead of a forklift. The story of the boat now being reconstructed begins in 1402,when a dynamic young prince named Zhu Di ousted his brother by force,usurping the Ming throne.For centuries, China had been dominated by Confucian advisorswho convinced the emperors to spurn international commerce and look inward.Referred to as the Yongle (meaning “eternal happiness”) emperor,Zhu Di wanted to reinstate foreign trade, invite in foreigners,and unite “the four seas”–what China then saw as the rest of the world.The following year, he ordered the construction of a fleetlarger than any in history, with 317 boats.Its centerpieces were majestic “treasure ships,”named for the wealth of goods they carried.According to historical sources, each ship boasted a tall, curled prow,nine staggered masts, and 12 red silk sails.Watertight compartments carried porcelain, silk, and teafor trading with distant lands.It is unclear how many such ships Zhu Di’s initial fleet included–a novel from the period suggests there were four–but each was apparently more than 400 feet long,or four times the length of Columbus’s Santa Maria.The man the emperor chose to captain the voyages,a Chinese Muslim eunuch from among his closest advisors,was as imposing as the fleet he led.Standing over six feet tall, Admiral Zheng He had distinguished himselfin an offensive against the Mongols in 1390 and againwhen the emperor seized China’s throne.As head of the fleet from 1405 to 1433, Zheng He led explorations of Vietnam,Siam, Malacca, Java, India, Sri Lanka, Arabia, and other lands.He commanded 27,000 sailors, along with doctors, astrologers, translators,and pharmacologists.Eighty years before Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope,Zheng He reached eastern Africa.Before the death of the Yongle emperor and subsequent political shufflingput an end to his voyages, China ruled the seas.“We have traversed more than one hundred thousand li [around 25,000 miles]of immense waterspaces and have beheld in the ocean huge waves,like mountains rising sky-high,” boasts a tablet Zheng He had erectedin Fujian in 1432, near the port from which he sailed. In 1424, the Yongle emperor died.Zheng He followed him in 1433, at age 62, dying at sea of unknown causes.In the next few decades, the Chinese elite began to question the costof maintaining a large fleet.Just as Europe was launching its own maritime expeditions,power reverted to the Confucians, who scaled back the shipyard’s operationsand eventually banned maritime trade altogether.By the next century, China had again closed out the world. Zheng He’s legacy endures in the Fujian tablet,which was erected shortly before his death.“We have set eyes on barbarian regions far away,” it reads,“hidden in a blue transparency of light vapors, while our sails,loftily unfurled like clouds day and night, continued their course[as rapidly as] a star, traversing the savage wavesas if we were treading a public thoroughfare.” Once the replica treasure ship is completed,its planners intend it to follow a similar course,retracing Zheng He’s voyages.And, like its Ming predecessors, the ship will one day be part of a fleet.Dragon Boat is already fielding orders–a cultural bureau from New York’s Chinatown is among those expressing interest.When asked about the future, Jia smiles.“We will build another one,” he says. “And another one. And another one.” Mara Hvistendahl is a freelance writer based in Shanghai.xc2xa9 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of Americahttp://www.archaeology.org/0803/abstracts/zhenghe.html