Summary of Nanjing and the Treasure Fleets in Modern China


In 1403, just one year into his reign, Emperor Yongle sent out orders to begin construction of a massive fleet intended to re-establish trade (and tribute) with neighbors of
China. While there have been claims that the first voyage was partially intended to root out Zhu Yunwen, the nephew he deposed to acquire the throne, his primary motive appears to have been much more diplomatic.


The very first order required
Fujian province to produce 137 sea-worthy ships. Three months later a number of other provinces were ordered to produce 200 more. Within the next three years, 1,681 ships were built or altered to be used in the fleet.

The Longjiang shipyard in Nanjing became the center of production for new ships. Situated on the Yangzi River, Longjiang grew significantly during the twenty five years of voyages. By 1433 and the last voyage, Longjiang shipyard had seven 1,500 foot dry-docks and between twenty and thirty thousand people working and living there.

 

Admiral Zheng He

 

 


Today the Chinese government is proudly exhibiting the history of Longjiang shipyard and the Treasure Fleet. Zheng Hes Treasure Fleet Ruins Park has opened last year in
Nanjing during to celebrate the sixth hundred anniversary of the first voyage. The park is built next to the ruins of the original Longjiang shipyard. It features a reconstruction of a Ming style temple as its administrative building, as well as a dry dock exhibiting the techniques used in constructing the largest flag ships of the fleet. Another part of the park focuses on the lives of the workers and their culture. And part on the actual voyages. Another part of the celebration of this period has been the reconstruction of the Tanfei Temple that Zheng He had constructed in 1407 to honor the Sea Goddess. The temple was destroyed in 1937 by Japanese artillery but was rebuilt in 2005.


Reconstructed Temple

Longjiang Shipyard Ruins Park

 

A road that parallels the Yangzi between the temples and the shipyard, a path Zheng He surely traveled, has been renamed in his honor. The interest in rediscovering one of the greatest expeditions of all time is not only taking place in Nanjing.

A Taiwan-based group, called the Society of Extreme are
recreating the voyages of the Treasure Fleet in an expedition that will reach all the known port-of-calls that the original voyages did. In
Great Britain, Gavin Menzies continues to lecture on his claims that the Treasure Fleet reached the Americas and circumnavigated the globe.

Menzies also says that he has located wrecks from the fleet and is working to document his discovery before revealing the site. Chinese governmental officials have hoped to use the peaceful nature of the Treasure Fleet, despite their undisputed superiority, as a sign that
Chinas rise in global status will be similarly affable and nonviolent. For others, the voyages are yet another reminder of Chinas history of ethnocentricity and unwillingness to take part in a global system. Considering the fact that a conflict over power between eunuchs and officials once destroyed the most important records of the voyages and pushed both Zheng He and his endeavors into relative darkness, a return to the light of Chinese History is an accomplishment in itself.