Skip to main content Accessibility help

The impact of Zheng He's expeditions on Indian Ocean interactions

  • Tansen Sen (a1)

This article examines the consequences of the Ming maritime expeditions led by Admiral Zheng He (1371–1433) in the early fifteenth century on Indian Ocean diplomacy, trade, and cross-cultural interactions. The presence of the powerful Ming navy not only introduced an unprecedented militaristic aspect to the Indian Ocean region, but also led to the emergence of state-directed commercial activity in the maritime world that extended from Ming China to the Swahili coast of Africa. Additionally, these expeditions stimulated the movement of people and animals across the oceanic space and might eventually have facilitated the rapid entry of European commercial enterprises into the Indian Ocean region during the second half of the fifteenth century.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Bagchi, P.C. 2012 [1945]. “Political relations between Bengal and China in the Pathan period”, in Wang, Bangwei and Sen, Tansen (comp.), India and China: Interactions through Buddhism and Diplomacy, A Collection of Essays by Professor Prabodh Chandra Bagchi. London: Anthem Press, 109–35.
Beaujard, Philippe. 2012. Les mondes de l'océan Indien: tome 1 de la formation de l'Etat au premier système – monde afro-eurasien (4e millénaire av. J.-C.–6e siècle ap. J.C.); tome 2 l'océan Indien, au coeur des globalisations de l'Ancien Monde (7e–15e siècle). Paris: Armand Colin.
Chaudhuri, K.N. 1989. “A note on Ibn Taghrī Birdī’s description of Chinese ships in Aden and Jedda”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1, 112.
Church, Sally K. 2004. “The Giraffe of Bengal: a medieval encounter in Ming China”, The Medieval History Journal 7/1, 137.
Church, Sally K. 2005. “Zheng He: an investigation into the plausibility of 450-Ft treasure ships”, Monumenta Serica 53, 143.
Da Tang Xiyu ji 大唐西域記 [Records of the Western Regions Visited During the Great Tang Dynasty]. By Xuanzang 玄奘 and Bianji 辯機. Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新修大蔵経 T. (51) 2087.
Dong, Wang and Xin, Jiang. 2012. “China's maritime security: priorities and challenges”, in Ho, Joshua H. and Bateman, Sam (eds), Maritime Challenges and Priorities in Asia: Implications for Regional Security. London: Routledge, 181200.
Dreyer, Edward L. 2007. Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405–1433. New York: Pearson Longman.
Duyvendak, J.J.L. 1939. “The true dates of the Chinese maritime expeditions in the early fifteenth century”, T'oung Pao 34/5, 341413.
Duyvendak, J.J.L. 1953. “Desultory notes on the Hsi-yang chi”, T'oung Pao 42/1–2, 135.
Finlay, Robert. 1992. “Portuguese and Chinese maritime imperialism: Camões's Lusiads and Luo Maodeng's Voyage of the San Bao Eunuch ”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 34/2, 225–41.
Finlay, Robert. 2008. “The voyages of Zheng He: ideology, state power, and maritime trade in Ming China”, The Journal of the Historical Society 8/3, 327–47.
van der Geer, Alexandra. 2008. Animals in Stone: Indian Mammals Sculptured through Time. Leiden: Brill.
Hsiao, Hung-te. 2006. “Fleet and wall: Ming China's strategic options 1392–1449”, PhD dissertation, Australian National University.
Xianlin 季羨林, Ji et al. 1985. Da Tang Xiyu ji jiaozhu 大唐西域記校注 (Annotation of the Records of the Western Regions [Visited During] the Great Tang Dynasty) . Beijing: Zhonghua shuju.
Kauz, Ralph and Ptak, Roderich. 2001. “Hormuz in Yuan and Ming sources”, Bulletin de l’École française d'Extrême-Orient 88, 2775.
Laufer, Berthold. 1928. The Giraffe in History and Art. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.
Levathes, Louise. 1994. When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne 1405–1433. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Li, Kangying. 2010. The Ming Maritime Trade Policy in Transition, 1368 to 1567. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Li, Rongxi (tr.). 1996. The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions. Berkeley: Numata Centre for Buddhist Translation and Research.
Liang, Qichao. [1904] 2004. “Zuguo da hanghai jia Zheng He zhuan” 祖國大航海家鄭和傳 [Biography of the Great Chinese Mariner Zheng He]. In Zheng He yanjiu bainian lunwen xuan 鄭和研究百年論文選 [Hundred Years of Research on Zheng He: A Selection of Essays], edited by Tianyou 王天有, Wang and Ming, Wan 萬明. Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 18.
Meicun 林梅村, Lin. 2005. “Zheng He jiri ji shenhou shi” 鄭和忌日及身後事 (English Title: The Day Zheng He Died and Related Problems), Jiuzhou xuelin 九州學林 3/2, 227.
Liu, Ying, Zhongping, Chen and Blue, Gregory (eds). 2014. Zheng He's Maritime Voyages (1405–1433) and China's Relations with the Indian Ocean. Leiden: Brill.
Malekandathil, Pius. 2001. Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India, 1500–1663. New Delhi: Manohar, 2001.
Menon, Sreedhara A. 1970 [1967]. A Survey of Kerala History. Kottayam: Sahitya Pravarthaka Co-operative Society Ltd.
Mills, J.V.G. (tr.). 1997 [1970]. Ma Huan Ying-yai sheng-lan: ‘The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores’ [1433]. Bangkok: White Lotus Co. Ltd.
Mills, J.V.G. (tr.) (rev. Roderich Ptak). 1996. Hsing-ch'a sheng-lan: ‘The Overall Survey of the Star of the Raft by Fei Hsin’. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Ming shilu 明實錄. 1966. [Veritable Records of the Ming Dynasty] . Taipei: Zhongyuan yanjiu yuan lishi yuyan yanjiusuo.
Moule, A.C. 1925. “Some foreign birds and beasts in Chinese books”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 2, 247–61.
Moule, A.C. 1930. “An introduction to the I yü t'u chih: or ‘Pictures and descriptions of strange nations’ in the Wade Collection at Cambridge”, T 'oung Pao 27/2–3, 179–88.
Pearson, M.N. 1991. “Merchants and states”, in Tracy, James D. (ed.), The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350–1750. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 41116.
Pelliot, Paul. 1933. “Les grands voyages maritimes chinois au début du XVe siècle”, T 'oung Pao 30/3–5, 237452.
Ptak, Roderich. 1989. “China and Calicut in the early Ming period: envoys and tribute embassies”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1, 81111.
Ptak, Roderich. 1991. “China and Portugal at sea: the early Ming system and the Estado da Índia compared”, Revista de Cultura / Review of Culture 13–14, 2138.
Ptak, Roderich. 2011. Birds and Beasts in Chinese Texts and Trade: Lectures Related to South China and the Overseas World. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Dashu, Qin. 2015. “Kenniya chutu Zhongguo ciqi de chubu guancha” 肯尼亞出土中國瓷器的初步觀察 (English Title: Archaeological Investigations of Chinese Ceramics Excavated from Kenya), in Dashu, Qin and Jian, Yuan (eds), Ancient Silk Trade Routes: Selected Works from Symposium on Cross Cultural Exchanges and Their Legacies in Asia. Singapore: World Scientific, 87109.
Ray, Haraprasad. 1993. Trade and Diplomacy in India–China Relations: A Study of Bengal during the Fifteenth Century. New Delhi: Radiant Publishers.
Rossabi, Morris. 1973. “Cheng Ho and Timur: any relation?”, Oriens Extremus 20, 129–36.
Roşu, Arion. 1982. “La girafe dans la faune de I'art indien”, Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient 71, 4762.
Sergeant, R.B. [1996] 2000. “Yemeni merchants and trade in Yemen, thirteenth and sixteenth centuries”, in Lombard, Denys and Aubin, Jean (eds), Asian Merchants and Businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 5378.
Sen, Tansen. 2006a. “The Yuan Khanate and India: cross-cultural diplomacy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries”, Asia Major 29/1–2, 299326.
Sen, Tansen. 2006b. “The formation of Chinese maritime networks to southern Asia, 1200–1450”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 49/4, 421–53.
Sen, Tansen. 2011. “Maritime interactions between China and India: coastal India and the ascendancy of Chinese maritime power in the Indian Ocean. Journal of Central Eurasian Studies 2, 4182.
Sen, Tansen. 2014. “Changing regimes: two episodes of Chinese military interventions in medieval South Asia”, in Singh, Upinder and Dhar, Parul P. (eds), Asian Encounters: Exploring Connected Histories. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 6285.
Sen, Tansen. 2016. “Diplomacy, trade, and the quest for the Buddha's Tooth: the Yongle Emperor and Ming China's South Asian frontier”, in Craig, Clunas, Harrison-Hall, Jessica and Yu-Ping, Luk (eds), Ming China: Courts and Contacts 1400–1450. London: British Museum.
Strong, John S. 2004. The Relics of the Buddha. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sun, Laichen. 2003. “Military technology transfers from Ming China and the emergence of northern mainland Southeast Asia (c. 1390–1527)”, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 34/3, 495517.
T'ien, Ju-kang. 1981. “Cheng Ho's voyages and the distribution of pepper in China”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 2, 186–97.
Tsai, Shih-shan Henry. 1996. The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty. New York: State University of New York Press.
Vallavanthara, Anthony C.M.I. [1984] 2001. India in 1500 ad: The Narratives of Joseph The Indian. Piscataway: Gorgias Press.
Wade, Geoff. 2005a. “The Zheng He voyages: a reassessment”, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 78/1, 3758.
Wade, Geoff. (tr.) 2005b. Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu: An Open Access Resource. Singapore: Asia Research Institute and the Singapore E-Press, National University of Singapore,
Wade, Geoff. 2008. “Engaging the south: Ming China and Southeast Asia in the fifteenth century”, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 51/4, 578638.
Wade, Geoff. 2014. “Ming China's violence against neighbouring polities and its representation in Chinese historiography”, in Singh, Upinder and Dhar, Parul P. (eds), Asian Encounters: Exploring Connected Histories. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2041.
Wang, Gungwu. 1968. “Early Ming relations with Southeast Asia: a background essay”, in Fairbank, John K. (ed.), The Chinese World Order: Traditional China's Foreign Relations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968, 3462.
Yuhu 徐玉虎, Xu. 1958. Zheng He pingzhuan 鄭和評傳 (A Critical Biography of Zheng He) . Taipei: Zhonghua wenhua chuban shiye weiyuanhui.
Yajima, Hikoichi 家島彦一. 1974. “Jūgo seiki ni okeru Indo yō tsūshōshi no hitokoma: Teiwaensei buntai no iemen hōmon ni tsuite” 15 世紀におけるインド洋通商史の一齣: 鄭和遠征分隊のイエメン訪問について (A Facet of the Commercial Interactions in the Indian Ocean during the 15th Century: On the Visit of a Division from Zheng He's Expedition to Yemen), Ajia Afurika Gengo Bunka Kenkyū アジア・アフリカ言語文化研究 8, 137–55.
Yajima, Hikoichi 家島彦一. 1976. A Chronicle of the Rasūlid Dynasty of Yemen from the Unique MS Paris No. Arabe 4609. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa.
Yule, Henry. 1875. The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, 2 vols. London: John Murray.
Yunzhong 周運中, Zhou. 2013. Zheng He xia Xiyang xinkao 鄭和下西洋新考 (New Examination of Zheng He's Expeditions to the Western Oceans) . Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies
  • ISSN: 0041-977X
  • EISSN: 1474-0699
  • URL: /core/journals/bulletin-of-the-school-of-oriental-and-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed