Spain: colonizer and colonized

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Jul 4 10:32:17 MDT 2003

Julio Huato:
>If the main reason why they didn't evolve capitalist production was
>because England/Europe robbed them, then we need to explain satisfactorily
>why England/Europe could rob them as opposed to being robbed by
>them.  Perhaps the reason is that England/Europe had a superior navy and
>military.  Why?
>How could they build such navy?  Perhaps they had a production apparatus
>that gave them an edge.  What give their productive apparatus such
>edge?  We don't want to run in circles.

In 1405, Zheng was chosen to lead the biggest naval expedition in history
up to that time. Over the next 28 years (1405-1433), he commanded seven
fleets that visited 37 countries, through Southeast Asia to faraway Africa
and Arabia. In those years, China had by far the biggest ships of the time.
In 1420 the Ming navy dwarfed the combined navies of Europe.

Ma He, as he was originally known, was born in 1371 to a poor ethnic Hui
(Chinese Muslims) family inYunnan Province, Southwest China. The boy's
grandfather and father once made an overland pilgrimage to Makkah. Their
travels contributed much to young Ma's education. He grew up speaking
Arabic and Chinese, learning much about the world to the west and its
geography and customs.

Recruited as a promising servant for the Imperial household at the age of
ten, Ma was assigned two years later to the retinue of the then Duke Yan,
who would later usurp the throne as the emperor Yong Le. Ma accompanied the
Duke on a series of successful military campaigns and played a crucial role
in the capture of Nanjing, then the capital. Ma was thus awarded the
supreme command of the Imperial Household Agency and was given the surname

Emperor Yong Le tried to boost his damaged prestige as a usurper by a
display of China's might abroad, sending spectacular fleets on great
voyages and by bringing foreign ambassadors to his court. He also put
foreign trade under a strict Imperial monopoly by taking control from
overseas Chinese merchants. Command of the fleet was given to his favorite
Zheng He, an impressive figure said to be over eight feet tall.

A great fleet of big ships, with nine masts and manned by 500 men, each set
sail in July 1405, half a century before Columbus's voyage to America.
There were great treasure ships over 300-feet long and 150-feet wide, the
biggest being 440-feet long and 186-across, capable of carrying 1,000
passengers. Most of the ships were built at the Dragon Bay shipyard near
Nanjing, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Zheng He's first fleet included 27,870 men on 317 ships, including sailors,
clerks, interpreters, soldiers, artisans, medical men and meteorologists.
On board were large quantities of cargo including silk goods, porcelain,
gold and silverware, copper utensils, iron implements and cotton goods. The
fleet sailed along China's coast to Champa close to Vietnam and, after
crossing the South China Sea, visited Java, Sumatra and reached Sri Lanka
by passing through the Strait of Malacca. On the way back it sailed along
the west coast of India and returned home in 1407. Envoys from Calicut in
India and several countries in Asia and the Middle East also boarded the
ships to pay visits to China. Zheng He's second and third voyages taken
shortly after, followed roughly the same route.

In the fall of 1413, Zheng He set out with 30,000 men to Arabia on his
fourth and most ambitious voyage. From Hormuz he coasted around the Arabian
boot to Aden at the mouth of the Red Sea. The arrival of the fleet caused a
sensation in the region, and 19 countries sent ambassadors to board Zheng
He's ships with gifts for Emperor Yong Le.

In 1417, after two years in Nanjing and touring other cities, the foreign
envoys were escorted home by Zheng He. On this trip, he sailed down the
east coast of Africa, stopping at Mogadishu, Matindi, Mombassa and Zanzibar
and may have reached Mozambique. The sixth voyage in 1421 also went to the
African coast.

Emperor Yong Le died in 1424 shortly after Zheng He's return. Yet, in 1430
the admiral was sent on a final seventh voyage. Now 60 years old, Zheng He
revisited the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and Africa and died on his way back
in 1433 in India.

Zheng He's Junks

Zheng He's flag "treasure ship" was four hundred feet long - much larger
than Columbus's. In this drawing, the two flagships are superimposed to
give a clear idea of the relative size of these two ships. Columbus's ship
St. Maria was only 85 feet long whilst Zheng He's flag ship was an
astonishing 400 feet.


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