Why Did the Ming Dynasty Decide on Ceasing Zheng He's Maritime Voyages?

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Why did the Ming dynasty decide on ceasing Zheng He's maritime voyages?

The cessation of Zheng He’s maritime voyages by the Ming dynasty is multi-faceted. Each facet can be broadly classified as the political factors, economic factors and defence factors. Nevertheless, each reason is interdependent on one another which led the Ming dynasty to eventually terminate Zheng He’s voyages. On the other hand, hypothetically it may be asserted that China could have been a dominant power of Asian seas routes, somewhat effortlessly surpassing America and Europe in technological advancement and innovation. Hence, though Zheng He’s voyages were terminated on sound economic premises, instead of total cessation, the Ming dynasty could have tweaked the political motive and economic structure of the voyages in view of a more advanced China in the long run.

Firstly, the political facet. Zheng He’s voyages had, to a large extent, accomplished their intended objective of incorporating other countries into the Ming tributary system by securing a declaration of loyalty and submission from the incorporated Tributary States to the greatness of the Ming Court’s Emperor. As most of the countries visited over the seven (7) voyages were already a Tributary State of the Ming Court, it somewhat, invalidated the need to further continue any more maritime voyage. For instance, (Yamashita, 2006) “though from the 1st voyage to the 4th voyage, the number of newly discovered states was progressive (i.e. 1 new state (Siam) discovered during the 2nd voyage; 4 new states (Quilon, Kayal, Coimbatore and Puttanapur) discovered during the 3rd voyage; 11 new states (Pahang, Kelantan, Aru, Hormaz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Barawa, Malindi, Aden, Muscat and Dhofar) discovered during the 4th voyage), the 5th voyage onwards, however, the number of newly discovered states started regressing (i.e. 1 new state (Sharwayn) discovered during the 5th voyage; 2 new states (East Africa and Arabian Peninsula) discovered during the 6th voyage) and during the 7th voyage, though 18 states were visited in total, all of them were repetitive of previous visits.” Hence, as all the states visited in the 7th voyage already came under the Ming Court Tributary system, the voyages had, somewhat, achieved its intended political objective and thus invalidated the need to further continue the maritime voyages.

Analysing Zheng He’s voyages by today’s standards, it is somewhat parallel to today’s space exploration ventures that developed countries undertake, both Zheng He’s voyages of the yesteryears and the space exploration programs of today did (does) bring back some materials and information back to their respective countries that they were sent from. However both were (are) very expensive investments, generating very little returns back into the economies of the countries that had sent them, at least in the short run. This in essence, moves us to our next aspect, more importantly the economic aspect of why the Ming dynasty decided to cease Zheng He’s maritime voyages.
Secondly, the economic facet. The economic nature of Zheng He’s voyages was fundamentally on unsound economic premise that made it greatly unprofitable in the short run and largely unsustainable in the long run. Despite tremendous investment of resources, the voyages produced very little economic gain to China. The investments made into the voyages containing vast amounts of valuables such as gold, silver, porcelain and silk were exchanged, in greater quantities, for returns worth lesser than a quarter of their value such as, (Murphey, 2009, p. 213) “giraffes, zebras and ostriches”, probably to please the Ming Court but of little value to the Chinese economy. Despite huge amount of resources invested on the voyages, little economic returns was generated back into China’s economy and over the years without adequate replenishment of resources from the returning voyages, the...
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