The Chinese Fleet of the Ming Dynasty

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Raziel, May 9, 2012.

  1. Raziel Well-Known Member

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    I was just wondering about this. As we all know that during the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese had built a fleet that could rival the British Fleets. We also know that the sailed and reached parts of Africa and India.

    The question is since the Chinese as one of the biggest fleet know to history, could they have settle down, in any POD event, in the New World before the Europeans? If so, would it result in a revolutionary war as well?

    Thanks for the reply. :)
     
  2. eliphas8 Frankentrotsky

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    It entirely depends on what happens between "Chinese Settle American West Coast" and the revolution.
     
  3. Armored Diplomacy Has migrated to Sufficient Velocity

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    I've read the books of Gavin Menzies, which says they did land in the new world some 90 or so years before Columbus during a worldwide tour, but returned back, where the great ships rotted at their moorings and a lot of the records were lost.

    A lot of people disagree, and there is an entire website dedicated to debunking him. This guy does believe China influenced everything. He has another book on how China sparked the Renaissance, and his book "1421" (which deals with the alleged landing on the new world) was followed up with "1434" (I haven't bothered to look at it for now).
     
  4. carlton_bach Member

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    Technologically, there was nothing to stop the Chinese from discovering and settling America. Of course you could say much the same about the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Caliphate of Cordoba and the Romans. The problem is coming up with a set of circumstances that makes this a) known and b) look like a good idea.

    While Chinese geographers were convinced that the ocean was full of islands in general terms, there is little evidence to suggest they were aware of America specifically. Neither, of course, were they aware of any lack of knowledge since they had a good enough idea what was there. Any expedition would have come back with exactly the news that were expected - the sea is full of islands with strange, exotic people on them. Even assuming there was a commercial interest in exploring them, it is hard to see a Chinese Columbus.

    Then there is the question of motivation. What do the Chinese want in America? Given a Pacific crossing is a lot harder and longer than an Atlantic passage, the profit will need to be correspondingly greater. Otherwise the whole thing looks like the Ming equivalent of the Apollo mission.

    The problem with the traditional Whig narrative of progress tends to be that it simplifies things intro "the means come into being, and then it is done". Humans almost never push the technological envelope without a perceived need. Call it the Thor Heyerdahl fallacy. He believed that proving an ancient people had the ability to travel somewhere automatically proved that they did. Ain't so, otherwise we'd have had global trade networks almost immediately after Ug figured out that logs float.
     
  5. Iori ダークアビスの特使。

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    Their was always the legends of Fusang; the great land to the East, that could be a motivator if someone becomes convinced of it.
     
  6. Simreeve Differently-Sane Scientist

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    Too far away for the Emperor to control effectively: Forget the idea of any official support for a colonisation venture...
     
  7. carlton_bach Member

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    Why would you want to leave the centre of the known universe to live somewhere else anyway? Only peasants and poor townsfolk would do such a thing. No, the emperor should simply ensure that all rulers of these distant islands stay in proper subjection, pay tribute and behave themselves. Kalikut was too far away to control too, but that wasn't the point.

    If this is going to happen, I would envision it happening either through peripheral powers or as a byproduct of some other policy. Once the Chinese start regularly trading with Californ ia, some will move there. given the technology advantage, they'll thrive. More will follow. Before you know it, all of San Francisco is Chinatown and the emperor gains a new territory he never asked for (and can't use, but that's another story). Expatriate Chinese communities aren't a modern phenomenon, and they were largely created through private enterprise against the wishes of the Ming and Qing government. Given the slightest bit of encouragement, the Hodenausaunee will be playing go over rice wine by 1750.
     
  8. Umbral Member Donor Monthly Donor

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    I believe there once were an interesting thread on how the demand for furs could cause the chinese to send trading missions gradually further north and west, reaching America by way of the Aleutians.
     
  9. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    But Siberia was a sufficient source, no?
     
  10. Montanian Well-Known Member

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    I liked Menzies books but then I respect veteran ship's captains about oceanic travel more than faculty who just navigate the campus library.
    On the same assumption the Chinese wouldn't repeatedly cross the Pacific unless there was an immediately compelling economic reason, preferably both exotic trade goods and sizable markets, most of the European colonies along the Atlantic didn't happen either as the gold was inadequate for many years and constantly played out, the crops took years of expanded cultivation (tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, indigo, corns, potatoes, squashes, beans, cocaine, etc.) and sizable infrastructure/farms/ports to become serious cash crops-even lumbering and other mining did too. Losing money on voyages, colonies, military and exploratory expeditions, on seized land without infrastructure was standard results (Alan Taylor's "American Colonies" and David Landes' "The Wealth & Poverty of Nations", Fred Anderson's "Crucible of War", John Steele Gordon's "An Empire of Wealth" all bring out that difficulty of making colonies here pay even 200-300 years after initial discovery. The Chinese focus on building trading stations and accessing customers and high value products rather than conquering militarily any land they found would drastically change the cost and logistics of the Americas, like the Phoenician and Minoan empires, the Portuguese, or the Dutch.

    The story of Fu Sang describing a long overland trek by a small Chinese party down what sounds like several thousand miles over 5-8 years including a description of the Grand Canyon, flora and fauna, etc. is quite a ways back as are the many Shang Dynasty elements found with the Mayans (mathematics, symbols, jade, astronomy, etc.), the Pacific Northwest's boats/homes/woodworking etc. that look far more like what stranded sailors would build and are unlike any other NA Native uses of wood (planks) or Balboa's observation of what he thought were Chinese junks on the Pacific side of the Panamanian coast suggest the Chinese did find the Americas a viable market for trade well before Menzies' 1421 book discusses.

    Along with the placer gold and minable gold in Oregon and Northern California, the massive ships' timbers of the Pacific Northwest or California redwood trees (that fueled much of New England's trade, not a lot of tobacco exports from Boston or Portland Maine), whaling, corn, sweet potatoes (a major staple in China today), salmon, tuna, or further inland copper, coal, silver, tin, cocaine/coca leaves, chocolate/cacao, etc.) If this isn't sufficient for long distance ship-borne trade, then you don't have a compelling case for European and African trade which in our time line goes back thousands of years with rude commodities and uncertain markets for voyages of many months.

    A Chinese trading network with trading posts in Korea, Japan, Aleutians, Alaska, Vancouver/Washington, California, down to Mexico or even Peru seems pretty reasonable, just like everyone else had to set up logistical bases along the best routes. Emigrating populations are usually more despite government choices, the same vigorous families who have the wherewithal and skills for emigrating are middle class, skilled citizens rather than boatloads of the poor (unless that's how you run things like the Pacific Mail loads of Cantonese peasant men organized into work companies and rented for western railroad building and then brought home.) The Chinese had far more people to send out in emigrant communities than the comparatively tiny populations of England, Portugal, Holland, Norway, Belgium, etc. so establishing sizable port cities, farming clusters, overseas armies, etc. would be more within their resources than anywhere in the world at the time. And the Chinese for a thousand years or so had a more sophisticated army than Spain's (longer use of artillery and muskets, integrated cavalry, signalling, Sun Tzu etc. tactical doctrine, logistics from running vast armies in the field, etc.).
     
  11. Malta Kirked

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    Fishing of course. With the pile on that is the Asiatic seas with piracy and infighting and what not more safer and un harbinged shores are much greater interest
     
  12. scholar Banned

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    For the most part the areas around their borders were considered too far away for the ruler to control effectively, this was one of the founding principles behind the Tributary system. Its why "Korea" and many other states even exist. Its not that China didn't have the capacity to conquer them, its that they were too far away and too irrelevant to them. Even Vietnam was given up on for as long as the Kings that ruled there bowed to the Emperor and were appointed by the Emperor, and this was mostly nominal in nature.
     
  13. scholar Banned

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    This presupposes China had something that could be referred to, even loosely, as a "middle class"...
     
  14. Iori ダークアビスの特使。

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    Nowhere had Middle-classes before the 18th century (well, Rome might have, but..), but that did'nt stop them from doing stuff.
     
  15. eliphas8 Frankentrotsky

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    Why on earth do the Chinese need a middle class when the Europeans didnt need one for the same thing.
     
  16. YLi \m/

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    China had a middle-ish class of urban residents, merchants etc. who likely had more resources to hire tutors to allow their children to take the civil service exams.

    Also, something like 40-50% of the mandarins were people who did not come from wealthy families.
     
  17. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

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    Europeans kind of did need a class that was not part of the aristocracy, however. The burghers.

    China did not really have an equivalent. Wherever the mandarins came from, officialdom was - loosely - equivalent to the aristocracy.
     
  18. eliphas8 Frankentrotsky

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    Well there was the urban residents who did fulfill somewhat similar functions in Chinese society. The Burghers also wherent middle class, they where lower class and those who where rich usually bought titles in order to enter the nobility.
     
  19. Elfwine Byzantophilic Brony

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    They were middle class to the extent the society of the day had it, and not all of those who were rich bought titles - otherwise the Fuggers would be kings, to pick an extreme case.

    And simply being urban residents isn't the same thing as a proper - word chosen intentionally - bourgeois.

    I think the real problem is not so much whether there as the development of a bourgeois or not but that with overseas trade tightly restricted, by a state which could actually meaningfully enforce that - not necessarily stamping out all such trade, but certainly far more than any European state had the apparatus to do - there wouldn't be much besides what is officially done, and that was little for a variety of reasons, some quite valid.

    And trade within China, whatever else it can be said for it, wouldn't exactly encourage overseas colonies or other forms of imperialism, so it's not going to lead anywhere for the treasure fleets.
     
  20. carlton_bach Member

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    The power of neo-Confucian ideology tends to be as greatly overestimated as that of the Catholic church. China at one point did outlaw seafaring, and tried to make it stick. That was the outcome of a specific policy battle, though, and need not repeat itself. There is nothing inherent in Chinese government that makes them hostile to navigation, just unlikely to have such a massive ship fetish as Europe does.

    That said, why does everyone assume you need the Chinese emperor actively involved in conquering American colonies? Not that that would be impossible - both the Tang and the Han conquered enormous stretches of useless, hard-to-control land in Central Asia. But it is not necessary. The founding capital outlay of European ventures was often tiny and the returns (if it worked) huge. Chinese commercial operations IOTL could be on a scale to dwarf the VOC or Virginia Company in its nascent stages. Remember that even with the ban in place, Chinese merchants operated shipping networks that reached as far as the Bay of Bengal. In a scenario where the Chinese government is the party inflicting traumatic change rather than seeking to protect itself from it, why would they be concerned over people building ships? The Song weren't.