Tuesday, July 19, 2005

nytimes: china invents more history

jul 19th


since this fellow allegedly sailed around the indian ocean, why, it should be called the chinese ocean! seems fair to me, doesn't it to you?

and if it is called the chinese ocean, why, just like the south china sea, it must be chinese property, no?

the chinese must have oodles of party hacks who do nothing but invent (convenient) history.

we will soon find out that bengal and kerala are populated by the descendants of chinese sailors in this fellow's alleged fleet, just like vast tracts of africa are. so china does have a legitimate claim to begal, kerala, and most of africa, correct?

and oh, this alleged admiral was a muslim. that explains why marxists are so chummy with muslims, doesn't it?

ps: i dont know if this will come through in text, but this article was sponsored by an ad for a film called 'Separate Lies'. how appropriate!


China Has an Ancient Mariner to Tell You About

Published: July 20, 2005

NANJING, China, July 17 - The captivating tale of Zheng He, a Chinese eunuch who explored the Pacific and Indian Oceans with a mighty armada almost a century before Columbus discovered America, has long languished as a tantalizing footnote in China's imperial history.

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China Photos/Getty Images

The 15th-century seafarer Zheng He, now a huge statue in Shanghai. An outward-looking China is celebrating him.

Guillaume Bonn for The New York Times

Mwamaka Sharifu, 19, a Kenyan who claims Chinese ancestry because of a shipwreck.

Zheng He (pronounced jung huh) fell into disfavor before he completed the last of his early 15th-century voyages, and most historical records were destroyed. Authorities protected his old family home in Nanjing, but it was often shuttered, its rooms used to store unrelated relics.

Now, on the 600th anniversary of Zheng He's first mission in 1405, all that is changing. Zheng He's legacy is being burnished - some critics say glossed over - to give rising China a new image on the world stage.

Books and television shows, replicas of Zheng He's ships and a new $50 million museum in Nanjing promote Zheng He as a maritime cultural ambassador for a powerful but ardently peaceful nation.

Officials have even endorsed the theory, so far unproven, that one of Zheng He's ships foundered on the rocks near Lamu island, off the coast of today's Kenya, with survivors swimming ashore, marrying locals and creating a family of Chinese-Africans that is now being reunited with the Chinese motherland.

The message is that Zheng He foreshadowed China's 21st-century emergence as a world power, though one that differs in crucial respects from Spain, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and, most pointedly, the United States.

"In the heyday of the Ming Dynasty, China did not seek hegemony," says Wan Ming, a leading scholar of the era. "Today, we are once again growing stronger all the time, and China's style of peaceful development has been welcomed all over the world."

The Communist Party hopes to signal to its own people that it has recaptured past glory, while reassuring foreign countries that China can be strong and non-threatening at the same time.

Even within China, though, the use of poorly documented history as modern propaganda prop has generated a backlash.

Several scholars have publicly criticized the campaign as a distortion, saying Zheng He treated foreigners as barbarians and most foreign countries as vassal states. His voyages amounted to a wasteful tribute to a maniacal emperor, some argue.

Zheng He resonates, favorably or not, in Asia. Arguably for the first time since his final voyage in 1433, China is vying to become a major maritime power.

Beijing has upgraded its navy with Russian-built Sovremenny-class guided missile destroyers, Kilo-class diesel submarines and a new nuclear submarine equipped to carry intercontinental ballistic missiles. It has flirted with the idea of building an aircraft carrier, according to conflicting reports in state media.

Sustained double-digit increases in defense spending have helped make China one of the largest military powers in the world, though still well behind the United States. China says it aims only to defend itself. But others are skeptical.

"Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: why this growing investment?" Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asked recently in a speech on China's buildup during a visit to Singapore last month.

Beijing clearly hopes history will help answer the question.

Zheng He was a Chinese Muslim who, following the custom of the day, was castrated so he could serve in the household of a prince, Zhu Di.

Zhu Di later toppled the emperor, his brother, and took the throne for himself. He rewarded Zheng He, his co-conspirator, with command of the greatest naval expedition that world had ever seen. Beginning in July 1405, Zheng He made port calls all around Southeast Asia, rounded India, explored the Middle East and reached the eastern coast of Africa.

The three ships Columbus guided across the Atlantic 87 years later, the Niña, Pinta and Santa María, could fit inside a single large vessel in Zheng He's armada, which at its peak had up to 300 ships and 30,000 sailors. Some of China's maritime innovations at the time, including watertight compartments, did not show up on European vessels for hundreds of years.

Zheng He was China's first big ocean trader, presenting gifts from the emperor to leaders in foreign ports and hauling back crabapples, myrrh, mastic gum and even a giraffe.

In time, though, the emperor turned against seafaring, partly because of the exorbitant cost, partly because of China's religious certitude that it had nothing to learn from the outside world. By the latter part of the 15th century the country had entered a prolonged period of self-imposed isolation that lasted into the 20th century, leaving European powers to rule the seas.

For Chinese officials today, the sudden end of China's maritime ambitions 600 years ago conveniently signals something else: that China is a gentle giant with enduring good will. Zheng He represents China's commitment to "good neighborliness, peaceful coexistence and scientific navigation," government-run China Central Television said during an hourlong documentary on the explorer last week.

Earlier this month, authorities opened a $50 million memorial to Zheng He. Tributes to him fill courtyard-style exhibition halls, painted in stately vermillion and imperial yellow. A hulking statue of Zheng He, his chest flung forward as in many Communist-era likenesses of Mao, decorates the main hall.

As the Zheng He anniversary approached, delegations of Chinese diplomats and scholars also traveled to Kenya to investigate the claims that islanders there could trace their roots to sailors on Zheng He's fleet.

On one remote island, called Siyu, the Chinese found a 19-year-old high school student, Mwamaka Sharifu, who claimed Chinese ancestry. Beijing's embassy in Nairobi arranged for her to visit China to attend Zheng He celebrations. Beijing has invited her back to study in China, tuition-free, this fall.

"My family members have round faces, small eyes and black hair, so we long believed we are Chinese," Ms. Sharifu said in a telephone interview. "Now we have a direct link to China itself."

The outreach effort has generated positive publicity for China in Kenya and some other African countries, as well as around Southeast Asia, where Zheng He is widely admired.

But Zheng He has been more coolly received by some scholars in China and abroad.

Geoff Wade, a China specialist at the National University of Singapore, argued in an academic essay that Zheng He helped the Ming state colonize neighboring countries. His far-flung expeditions aimed at enforcing a "pax Ming" through Southeast Asia, allowing China to wrest control of trade routes dominated at that time by Arabs, he wrote.

Several Chinese experts also questioned whether Zheng He's legacy is as salutary as government officials hope.

Ye Jun, a Beijing historian, said the official contention that Zheng He was a good-will ambassador is a "one-sided interpretation that blindly ignores the objective fact that Zheng He engaged in military suppression" to achieve the emperor's goals.

"These matters should be left to scholars," Mr. Ye said.


Anonymous said...

Big deal!As Rajeev says, it is still the INDIAN ocean.
some silly "chinese" "admiral"( even Capt.Cook was mere a captain not an admiral) went on a voyage(s) & the chinks are making a song & dance about it.Aiding them in this massive,almost Goebbelesian, propaganda are the fools like the National Geographic (http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0507/feature2/index.html) - the asian edition had this story as the cover.
As far as India's influence goes - how about this story re: India & Ethiopia:

Anonymous said...

the july edition of National Geographic has a cover story on this chinese sailor. this is not a NY times scoop , it is a Ny times lift.

Tap Sum Bong said...

I don't know why this has to mean China is making up stories, especially since it is the girl herself saying that she is of Chinese descent. Both Chinese and Africans alike have been known to travel beyond their borders for hundreds of years, pre-dating Europeans. I'm also not sure why anyone else should have a problem with it. It's not like either Chinese or Indians genuinely care about Africa anyway.