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Technology Decisions that Impacted History

This is a story of little known Admiral Zheng He and more well known Christopher Columbus.

China’s greatest adventurer, the 15th century admiral, Zheng He, a Muslim, a eunuch, a warrior and china’s best know naval admiral. Zheng He vastly outdid his approximate contemporaries, the Western naval heroes who helped define the global Age of Exploration. His armada of giant junks was several times bigger than any of the fleets Columbus commanded nearly a century later. And his ships were five times longer than those of the celebrated Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. With more than 300 oceangoing vessels and a crew of nearly 30,000 men, Zheng He helped transform China into the region’s, and perhaps the world’s, 15th century superpower. He exacted tribute, brought Sultans to their knees and opened up trade routes that helped develop the enduring taste abroad for Chinese porcelain and silk. He brought home quirky items, too, including the first giraffe China had seen—initially misidentified as the qilin, the unicorn central to Chinese mythology. One of the greatest sailors in the history of china from 1405-1433, some of the ships he commanded were 400 ft long with a crew of 500 sailors. He sailed all around china , to Africa , to India and Middleast, Saudi Arabia, also to Mecca… for he was not only an internationalist but a Muslim also As he was Inventing transportation of the era– sailing , Admiral Zheng fell prey to politics in Beijing, Many govt officials believed he was opening china to world and not spreading china to the world. One explanation, surely, is that the Chinese typically do not revere adventurers. This is a society that for centuries was dominated by a Confucian ideology that ascribed overwhelming virtue to orderliness. Everyone had a prescribed role to play according to his social status; “Chinese continually fail to appreciate that expansion can create power and wealth, not chaos.” So Beijing passed a law on the number of masts a ships can have, shipping subsidies were removed. Construction of any ship with more than two masts was deemed a capital offense. It was the triumph of the yellow river over blue water.

At the same time the king and queen of Spain gave funding to Christopher Columbus and heavily subsidized the shipping industry. Ladies and gentlemen post this decision Europe colonized the world and not China. It was not technology but decisions of people and cultures to embrace the power of technology and harness it that changed the course of history for 500 years.

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