In a series looking at China’s expanding reach in the world, NPR’s Morning Edition goes back in history to look at China’s goals and motivations in undertaking global explorations under Admiral Zheng He (Listen to the full report here):
Western historians say Chinese dynasties do have a tradition of expanding their continental borders — Tibet and the Muslim northwest being examples — but that there’s no doubt Zheng He’s voyages show a less missionary and less expansionist side to Chinese culture.
William Kirby, a professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, however, says when you fast-forward 600 years to today, modern China’s motivations may be more like those of Western countries.
“It is not one of conquest; it is exploration and contact,” he says. “But in no case does it result in a conquest. Whereas it does appear Zheng He’s voyages were motivated by desires different from those of Columbus or Magellan or great Western explorers. Today China’s role in Africa seems to me to be very similar to that of other countries. I see China following, for better and possibly for worse, an American model of needing to secure energy sources and seeking to do so in a great variety of ways, wherever the energy can be found.”
China’s search for natural resources comes in the context of its growing military. But many Chinese people point out that it was the West that semi-colonized China in the 19th century, not the other way around, and they stress that China’s peaceful culture has not changed since Adm. Zheng He’s time.
Read more about Zheng He via CDT.