1405 : A massive unexpected storm off the coast of China blows Chinese Explorer Zheng He's 62 ships far away. This storm destroys most of his ships, but through luck and good seamanship 20 of his ships manage to survive by the time the storm dissapates. But there's a problem. He doesn't know where he is. He sails around a bit to try and get his bearings. He makes some astronomical equations from his observation of the stars, it seems he has been blown north. No wonder it's so cold, he thinks. After further observation he discovers the Aleutian Islands. He scouts around for wood, and finds some, albeit from stunted trees. He repairs some of his ships, and tries to make them more seaworthy, it was nigh-on a miracle that the 20 ships and some 10, 000 crewmen had survived the storm, they were only really coast-hugging warships. He continues island-hopping, and makes contact with some primitive Aleut. They are relatively friendly, but wary. For some trinkets they provide the temporary favours of some of their young virgins to Zheng's crew and allow some of the crew to join them in a whale hunt, as well as trading driftwood for treasure with the Chinese visitors. but pretty much they simply observe the Chinese as they explore. By the time they leave the Aleut are experimenting with rudimentary sails made of hide on their umiaks.
What he doesn't notice are the Japanese pirate ships that have been shipwrecked by the storm a few islands back, on OTL's Amchitka I. And, of course, he didn't notice the umiaks of peaceful Aleut fleeing the island following an attack by 'demons'. He just saw ahead...
1406 : Zheng's fleet continues to sail down the North American coast. He avoids sailing with the Alaskan current into the Gulf of Alaska, and instead follows the Californian current, hugging the coast along the way. He interacts with the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Haida, Bella Coola, Kwaklutl, Nootka and Chinook as he slowly sails down the coast, charting islands, straights, and bays.. He puts down several attempted mutinies, and is forced to attack one of his own ships at one point. However, his crew aren't feeling that rebellious, they've picked up lots of artifacts (including a whole totem pole stolen from a tribe on the Queen Charlotte Is.) native women, and salmon as they travel. They leave a swath of disease and half-Chinese children, a curse that may turn out to be a blessing....
The fleet sails down Baja California and Zheng He guesses he should be about due East of China, but he cannot be sure. He is about to take a gamble and try and find a westerly current when, on rounding the Baja Californian Penisula, his ships encounter an Aztec fishing boat. In the mood for one more 'First Contact' before sailing into the unknown seas, he follows it into port, the port of Acapulco, an Aztec city. A young cabinboy named Waa's first reaction spoke for the whole crew - "Woah!"
1407: 6 months later, Zheng He leaves the Aztec Empire and sails west. On board are various treasures, gold and artifacts to take back to China, as well as maize, marrows and beans. In addition to, of course, the great stories to tell. The most advanced culture they encountered, it was definately an eye-opener. Great pyramids on which sacrifices to barbarian gods were performed, a city build on a lake, swords made of volcanic glass. And the goods that they had could fetch big prices in China, at least until they could be grown domestically. Yes, Zheng He was pleased.
Back in Mexico, there was much ado. This contact had shocked the Aztec bureaucracy, who had thought itself the world's greatest power. And now disease was eating it's way through the Empire. But these upsets were nothing compared to discoveries being made. The inventions of the Chinese were stunning to behold, but of course it is definate that the Aztecs will catch up to that level of science. Already Aztec wise men were working on recreating Chinese vessells, tools and weapons. Why, they'd even been able to build a small junk while they were here...
Zheng He's fleet reaches the Hawaiian Islands in good condition. He takes the opportunity to restock the larders and to partake of some of the native women, and then sails away, leaving a minor epidemic ravaging the population.
1408 : When Zheng He's fleet (Of only 17 ships, regrettable incidents do occur, after all) arrives back at Nanking there is a lot of surprise. They had been mainly given up for dead. The treasure and artifacts of Cemanahuac (the Aztec name for the New World, adopted by He as a description on his rudimentary maps) is of great wonder to many, including the young Ming Emperor.
The Emperor considers. He was thinking of expanding outward, into Mongolia. But this new information.... Too many Emperors had forced China in on itself. And those eunuchs at the Chinese Civil Service too, how he hated them! Eunuchs, bah! He began to imagine a China, large powerful and advanced, active trade with the more advanced barbarians of the West, and of course with these Aztec people, expanding outward at all direction, into Mongolia, Luzon, Manchuria Japan and Korea, and far out into this.....this.....New World. He nodded to himself. It will be done.
1409: At ports throughout China, ships were being built. Traders and seamen enlisted to man them. Cartographers, Botanists and Geographers to explore with them. The Emperor decreed it. Of course, their were many in the governmental status quo against it. Could let in barbarian ideas, they said. The Emperor was not impressed, of course. HIs famous quote "Ours is the greatest nation on Earth. Our philosophies, our ideals are superior. If we are going to be so easily swayed by foreign influences, then surely, are we not doing something wrong?" was used universally as a motto for those out for adventure.
Huge junks built to brave the oceans were constructed. Smaller, but faster and more maneuverable vessels, warships, were being built. A wide array of different designs were being used. Plans were being drawn up, on defeating the pirates of Annam, Japan and Java. China stood on a precipice, a storm was bringing it to greatness, but would the weight of it's own troubles bring it down upon itself?
1410-1425: The Golden Age of Chinese Discovery. The Great Fleet explore Indonesia and India. Zheng He visits Bombay and Calicut and talks to local leaders there (with a rough knowledge of Nahuatl, Vietnamese and Persian, Zheng He is quite the linguist) about possible trade deals, following the orders of the Emperor himself (mainly being - "If the buggers have anything worth buying, buy it! If they look like they want something of yours you can do without, sell it! Got that?" It was not as widely quoted). Thus the Bombay-Canton trade route is established.
A second fleet sails past Japan north to the Aleutian islands. They miss seeing the growing Japanese community on Amchitka Is., but the Japanese don't miss them. It is put down to shipwreck when a small galley sent out to explore on it's own disappears. They sail along the same route as Zheng He, but chart better maps. They are confronted by a sour looking group of Haida in a canoe, after a lot of wasted time on translation, it appears that they want their totem pole back. The fleet admiral, in an aggreeable mood, gives them a small ship instead. They accept it as payment.
They continue to sail, bumping into some suspicious tribes, some wary tribes, and some REALLY ANGRY tribes, all slightly less in number than when Zheng He's lot met them. Botanical and Zoological samples are taken, and a large amount of salmon is caught, smoked, and put with the rations.
They get to Mexico, and the Aztecs are ready for them. Little sailing ships are zipping around the Acapulco harbour, and some of the Aztec military are armed with rudimentary crossbows. Obsidian swords now coming included with bronze edges, with still are no match for a Chinese weapon, but when demonstrated attacking the pure obsidian blades used by the Aztec's enemies, shows how these have become the weapon of choice in the Aztec Empire. The Chinese fleet does a big trade with Aztecs, and I mean a big one, hundreds of junks filled with stores, of various useful commodities. Diseases are exchanged, and of course technologies. Horses and gunpowder serve to really excite the Aztecs. The Chinese fleet sails back, now with a minor addiction to cacoa beans , triumphant. The Aztecs stay where they are, sniffing and wiping their noses and some of them croaking, pleased with this new contact with the Far West.
Meanwhile in Africa and the Middle East, similar expeditions take place. Zheng He sails with most of them, he is renowned for his people skills when contacting new cultures. Making contact with Maasai, Kaguru and Ethiopians, as well as setting up 'Chinese Trade Companies' in cities such as Mogadishu, Sofala and Berbera. The fleet sails all the way up the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, even contacting the Mamluk Egyptians and the Persians, who profess friendship.
In 1420 an Indian ship rounds the Cape of Good Hope. On board is a Chinese emmisary. 'Another ocean....', he thinks.
1426 : The Ming Chinese government demands that King of Japan Yoshimitsu do more to counteract the trader-pirates, who have moved from their traditional raids along the coast of Korea to attacking the huge merchant fleets sailing the North-Eastern route to Mexico. Yoshimitsu replies that he is occupied by growing domestic problems but will try his best. The Chinese Emperor states darkly that if the political situation in Japan doesn't improve he may have to use his army and navy to lend a hand....
A scrawled picture of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan enters the hands of a Mamluk Egyptian noble. He notices the difference between the pyramid and existing pyramids in Egypt, and asks the Chinese trader from which it was attained on what it was modelled. The Chinese trader points to a trade boat arriving from India filled with Aztec corn, and says that to find the pyramid the noble must find the origin of the corn. The noble is fascinated, and begins to make his own investigations.
1427: The Aztecs, now with superior weaponry and tactics, as well as adept at using the horse, (which are increasingly being found wild for some reason, they are thought to be the descendants of those lost when an experimental overly-large early junk ran aground on the Baja Californian Peninsula in 1411) defeat the Triple Alliance of Tetzcoco, Tlacopan and Azcapotzalco with minimal losses. The ease of this defeat is attributed to the fact that the Triple Alliance is weak from epidemics, while the Aztecs seem to be over the worst of theirs, that the Aztec iron chain-mail armour (bought from the Chinese) is almost impervious to the obsidian blades of the Alliance, and also the fact that in the heat of battle, the Aztecs let off a flurry of fireworks, utterly terrifying the Alliance warriors (who think it's a mass use of rockets, they have experience of battle using those from a raid on a Chinese merchant fleet) most of whom turn tail and flee, and are dispatced by a flanking formation of Aztec crossbowmen as they attempt to escape.
1428: Great Peasant revolt in Japan. The Ming Chinese emperor uses it as an excuse to begin raiding of Central Japan. Some of the warrior clans assist the Chinese, but others resist most vehemently. But the Japanese civilisation is damaged already, loss of the merchant-pirates as a profitable force has crippled the economy, and the shogun has been reduced to a vassal. Many begin looking for a way out.
1429-34: Chinese forces continue to expand into Japan, with more and more fiefdoms changing sides and allying with them. In early 1430 a ship arrives in Kamakura, crewed by a mixed Japanese/Aleut accompaniment. They tell of their small colony in the Aleut Islands, and how it is a good raiding point for raids on the Chinese merchant fleets. When word comes that the Chinese have captured Odowara, a great number of the Kamakura population boards any vessel they can find and follow the ship to the Aleut islands, taking with them tools, weapons, supplies and a larger gene pool.
The burning of Joan of Arc at the stake is postponed till April 8 due to heavy rain. However, on April 6, a group of French soldiers storms the jail in an operation unauthorised by Dauphin Charles and rescues her.
In 1432 an exploratory fleet manages to sail across from Java to Northern Australia. Nothing much of interest, though. The locals seem to be one of the most primitive yet encountered, although the animal and plant life is amazing! The fleet continues to sail around the new continent, making note of the various green bits and nice bays. They manage to circumnavigate Australia relatively easily due to prevailing winds, only losing 3 ships out of 7. While the discovery is noted by the Chinese government, it is more preoccupied with the new trade routes opening, but the people at Java are more interested. In 1433 a group of Muslim missionaries leaves to convert the native Australians.
Stories have begun to circulate in Europe and the Middle East of a great 'Empire' in the East, encompassing India, China and as-yet unknown (at least to Europeans) lands. This is an exagerration of the new 'Ring of Trade' between the Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Javanese, Aztecs, and of course Chinese, with opening relations with the Arabians, Ethiopians, Annamese and Chimu culture in Peru (Contacted by a joint Aztec/Chinese expedition in early 1434), but is still a valid statement. It is clear that their will not be a Westernisation of the world as in OTL, well, if there is, I can expect the bloodshed and difficulty to be much higher.
1435: A small group of Chinese vessels exploring the coast of Kamchatka comes across a small village of Chinese/Eskimo (on the site of OTL's Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka). It is revealed that they are they remnants of about 1200 crewmen from Zheng He's original fleet who were shipwrecked here in 1405. It seems they were forced to intermingle with the locals, known as Itelmen, to survive. The Admiral of the vessels sends a letter to Emperor Yung-lo recommending the establishment of a trading colony here. Yung-lo authorises it.
A bedraggled Mamluk fleet arrives in Nanking. The crew of 3000 is suffering from scurvy and are near mutiny, but their moods pick up when they reach the port. The captain, an aging Mamluk noble, bumps into Zheng He, fresh back from an expedition to New Caledonia and asks him where he may find the source of the corn traded to Egyptian markets. Zheng shows him a map of Chinese-explored Pacific Rim, and, on seeing the flabbergasted look on the noble's face, suggests he hitch a ride with a merchant fleet heading that way. The noble nods his head. Oh, and he tells Zheng that on the way, he was attacked by some pirates but beat them off, and had their leader, a powerful Chinese pirate. Now it was Zheng's turn to be flabbergasted. The same Chinese pirate who the emperor had wanting him to get 30 years ago...
In Australia, a small Muslim settlement has been set up on Melville Is. and some of the local Aboriginals, known as the Tiwi, have been converted. Although some of the locals are less than thrilled with this incursion, the Javanese superior weapons keep them in their place for now. Epidemics do spread around the natives and even to the mainland, but they don't kill off all of the natives and are still a majority over the Javanese in Australia.
In Mexico, a large slave revolt is put down after an influenze epidemic sweeps the Aztec capital. Slaves die by the thousands, commoners by the hundreds, and nobles by the dozens. It becomes a fad among the Aztec nobility to have frequent baths, to wash away the evil spirits of disease plaguing the city. Others scoff, and bare themselves at the cleansing power of the sun god Huitzilopochtli. The ones who bath are less likely to die of epidemics. The ones baring themselves at the sun get sunburnt, and die anyway. People note this.
1436-40: Epidemics in Australia and the New World become more virulent. Although the worst of the deaths within the Aztec empire proper have ceased, it has spread to other places in Mesopotamia. This allows the Aztecs to expand further, even into Tarascan territory and via ship to Baja California. In Australia, the Javanese Muslims are exploring and converting along the North Australian coastline, inflaming local rivalries by providing weapons to those who convertto Islam and not to those who don't. Minor wars are erupting all over North Australia.
A Mamluck fleet arrives in Acapulco in 1437 following a long voyage spent hopping the tiny Chinese colonies down the North American coast. The noble notes in his journal that while these colonies are often made up mainly of intermarried local natives, the culture is unmistakably Chinese, until Aztec waters are reached. The Mamluck explorers observe Aztec culture and religious practices with interest, particularily the sacrifices atop the great pyramids. The noble wonders if it is feasible to sail from the Aztec Empires western port in order to reach Africa. The locals shrug. Where's Africa?, they ask. The noble sighs. This is going to be more difficult than he thought...
Zheng He visits Constantinople. He is impressed by the city, especially by the Hagia Sophia as well as the city's great walls. He is, however, wary, as he cannot shake the feeling that the Byzantine empire is on the way out. The Ottomans look like they may want to flex their muscles. Although perhaps he's just getting old, he thinks.
Japanese Aleut pirates are becoming a real threat to Chinese shipping, as are Hawaiian cannibals. The sea-ploying junks are becoming more and more well armed and armoured.
In Peru, fledgling Aztec and Chinese trade is threatened by Incan incursions on Chimu territory. If this continues, says the Chinese emperor, there will be trouble.
1441-45: Zheng He dies of natural causes while visiting the Papal States in Italy. His son, Zheng He Lee, who has been travelling with his father for many years, is given virtual admiralty over the 'Mediterranian Fleet' (which is basically a whole lot of Egyptian and Byzantine ships adapted to Chinese designs) until it arrives back in China. They set sail for Castile and meet with local leaders there, then go on to Portugal. After island-hopping down the coast of north-west Africa and circumnavigating the Cape of Good Hope, they rest for a while in Mogadishu and then return to China via India and the East Indies.
The colony of Zheng He Tsien (OTL's Petropavlovsk) is going well, as is the Javanese colony in North Australia and the Japanese pirate nests in the Aleut islands. An uprising of Hawaiian natives is put down by Chinese naval forces near O'ahu.
The Mamluck fleet finally arrives back in Egypt. The noble uses his newly acquired Chinese printing press to produce a record of his voyage, which is popular in Egypt and spreads around the Middle East and Europe. Some hail him as 'Marco Polo for the 15th Century'.