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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Travelers and Explorers, Part 4: Zheng He -- the Admiral Who Turned the Indian Ocean Into a Chinese Lake

00:00 31:12
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What would have happened if China discovered America before Europe? More
importantly, what would have happened if it colonized America? It is a
plausible scenario. Prior to the nineteenth century, China was the wealthiest, most
technologically advanced civilization in the world and dominated trade along the Pacific coast. Its navy was well funded and dwarfed its rivals. Furthermore, at the height of its power it was helmed by Zheng He, the most towering figure in 4,000 years of Chinese naval history and maritime expeditions in the pre-modern world. He led seven voyages across the Eastern maritime world. He commanded a fleet of 27,800 sailors on 62 treasure ships – each with nine masts and larger than a football field, weighing 2,000 tons. The ships ferried porcelains, silks, and exotic treasures that were sold into the markets that dotted the Indian Ocean coastline or were gifted to their rulers. Each ship was twice as large as the first transatlantic steamer, built four hundred years later. They were so massive that all the combined fleets of Columbus and Vasco da Gama could have fit on a single deck of a single vessel of Zheng He. If he had ever encountered Columbus in the Atlantic, it would be like an African black rhinoceros and a meerkat eyeing each other from opposite sides of a watering hole on the savanna.
June 24, 2021
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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