Author: SL Lee
Date: 04-10-10 09:13
Prof offers differing world history perspective
By Keith Vass - Victoria News
Published: April 07, 2010 3:00 PM
Updated: April 07, 2010 3:23 PM
Christopher Columbus, James Cook, Juan de Fuca, Zheng He.
If the last name seems unfamiliar, it’s not because it doesn’t belong with the others.
“His first navigation, he was in charge of 27,000 sailors and soldiers, together with hundreds of ships that were much larger than Columbus’ four small ships,” said Zhongping Chen, a history professor at the University of Victoria.
In China, where Chen was raised and educated, Zheng He is a “Chinese national hero and probably the greatest Chinese navigator, even the greatest navigator in the world,” Chen said.
Born to a Chinese muslim family in Yunnan province, he was brought to the court of the Ming dynasty emperors as an 11-year-old eunuch.
The details of his life, and the size of the fleet and ships he led on his 1405 voyage, are sometimes disputed. But what is clear is that his explorations opened up the world around the Indian Ocean for the Chinese, paving the way for trade and migration.
Chen, along with his history department colleague Gregory Blue and UVic librarian Ying Liu, have just received word that their research on Zheng He’s voyages will be funded as part of a multi-national effort to better understand how the Indian Ocean world, from coastal Africa, to India and across South Asia to China, developed from 300 BC to the present day.
“Previous studies were based on nation states ... you’d discuss the national histories in this area, Chinese history, Indian history. Our project will try to look at the trans-national connections,” said Chen.
“I contacted the Maritime Museum, I asked why are they not even mentioning this important man in the history of global navigation? They never gave me an answer.”
For Chen, Zheng He’s story isn’t just history. The project will help advance a new wave of scholarship on the Chinese diaspora.