Why don’t we all speak Chinese?
A brief description of Zheng He's fleet and a small analysis why the Chinese never conquered Europe.
The giant fleet of Zheng He
Back in 1405 the Chinese general Zheng He left china with a big fleet to explore the world. He sailed over to Indonesia and India, and later voyages would take him to Africa and possibly as far as around the cape of Good Hope. For 25 years he left on seven big expeditions, and founded trading posts as well as making diplomacy with foreign nations.
It was truly an enormous fleet! For the first voyage it consisted of around 300 ships, carrying well over 25.000 soldiers and sailors. The biggest ships were over 400 feet and had 9 masts as well as 4 decks. They had fast patrol boats, supply ships, and even 20 tankers to carry fresh water!
He brought doctors, carpenters, astronomers, and even translators that spoke Arabic and other big languages.
And mind you, this was a 100 years before Columbus sailed off to the New World.
In comparison, Columbus brought only three ships, of a size of about 60 feet with 90 men.
Sure they are not representative since they were second hand ready-to-scrap ships that he managed to find as a cheap way to do his expedition, but Europe (or any other civilization!) had never built anything as big as the Chinese ships! In fact, it would take almost half a millennia of development until in the early 19th century they build a 400 foot ship.
The Spanish armada sailing up only to be defeated by general Nelson was in comparison only consisting of 41 ships with less than 15.000 soldiers and sailors.
They would never have stood a chance if general Zheng would have dropped by Europe with his own superior armada. In fact, the Chinese would probably have conquered the entire continent with their advanced military technology, while the European states still struggled to climb out of the Dark Ages.
And today the entire world would have spoken Chinese.
So why didn’t they?
First of all, the voyages of Zheng He was not so much to explore and find new things, but rather to show the splendor of China to all other countries.
China was considered the all-perfect center of the world, and they looked at Europeans mainly (and maybe rightly) as barbarians with no valuable goods to produce. They simply lacked the interest to conquer Europe.
On mainland China there was a big opposition to Zheng He’s travels, with politicians arguing that the expensive journeys was not worth the cost and that the money would be better used for other purposes.
So when Zheng He died on what was then to become his seventh and last big expedition, the fleet was returned and scrapped and what would later be known as “The Big Withdrawal” started. It became illegal for a Chinese citizen to travel outside of China, and it was punishable by death to build a ship with more than two masts.
Zheng He was given a sailors burial at sea, and didn’t get the recognition and fame that he had rightfully earned.
And because of the order of an emperor, to recall the fleet and stay in china, I today write this article in English and not Chinese.