For nearly three decades in the early

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For nearly three decades in the early 15th century China was the most powerful force in the world.They had fine artisans who crafted the most beautiful, delicate porcelains and silks in the known world.They had the technologies of firepower, astronomy, and oceanic navigation.They had the belief that they were the center of the world, the "Middle Kingdom," and that the Son of Heaven ruled them.But most importantly, they had the means to bring their influences and culture to the rest of the world:the "treasure ships." These massive ocean-going junks, led by the eunuch Zheng He, launched China from a rich, expansive, yet introverted land, to the ruler of the Indian Ocean. Emissaries from as far away as Africa came to China to pay tribute to the Son of Heaven and acknowledge China's power.China was in a position to become the great colonizing nation of the world in a time when Europe was just awakening from the Dark Ages.In less than a century all of this was thrown away.Louise Levanthes's book, When China Ruled the Seas, is an exploration of how and why China rose to this pinnacle of power through the fleet of treasure ships, and the reasons behind its sudden self-inflicted isolation from the rest of the world.
From the time of Confucius in the sixth century until the late thirteen hundreds, most Chinese emperors were governed by the Confucian guidelines. Texts upon texts were written on the proper ways to conduct oneself according to Confucian ideals, and schools were founded in Confucius's teachings.Confucianists had an exceedingly conservative view of trade, especially trade with foreigners.They thought that "foreign trade and contact with the outside world were linked to . . . all that was wasteful and extravagant in the empire.A desire for contact with the outside world meant that China itself needed something from abroad and was therefore not strong and self-sufficie…

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