Tomorrow is Columbus Day, and guess what? Christopher Columbus was an also-
Half a century before the first Europeans suspected the world was round, an armada of Chinese ships crossed the China Sea and ventured west to Ceylon, Arabia, and East Africa. Many scholars now believe that Zheng He, the most famous of the Chinese explorers, discovered America while circumnavigating the world. From 1405-1433, the treasure fleet made seven journeys to ports around the Indian Ocean, trading Chinese silk, porcelain, and lacquerware to Arab and African merchants for spices, ivory, rare woods and pearls coveted by the Chinese Imperial Court.
The fleet consisted of giant nine-masted junks and supply ships, water tankers, transports for cavalry horses and patrol boats, with a crew of 27,000 sailors and soldiers. The largest junk was over 400 feet long by 150 feet wide, while the Santa Maria, Columbus' largest ship, was only 90 by 30 feet, with a crew of 90.
It's interesting that the Chinese under the Ming Emperors chose not to exploit these newly discovered lands politically or commercially, as the Europeans did when they arrived. They did not slaughter or enslave any Natives. Zheng He didn't even open a restaurant. We may have to change a lot of place names from Spanish to Chinese when this hits the fan.
Meanwhile, the Nobel Peace Prize was just awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for campaigning for political reform and human rights. His government has censored the news, blacking out all mention of it in the media, although his wife was allowed a visit to inform him of the honor bestowed upon him. She is now under house arrest and unable to communicate with anyone. Chinese authorities consider Liu a criminal and said that his winning "desecrates the prize," while the state-run newspaper called it "an arrogant showcase of Western ideology" which disrespects the Chinese people.
I wonder if Zheng He would be in prison if he were alive today, not for discovering new lands but for declining to turn them into mindless authoritarian states.