Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World


Posted by Gerald on July 9, 2008

Archaeology had an article a couple of months ago about China’s project to build a replica of one of Zheng He’s treasure ships.  This is being constructed in Nanjing using the materials mentioned in the written sources and using hand tools.  This ship is then going to re-trace the voyages of Zheng He’s fleet – sailing all over the Indian Ocean and hitting all the major ports.

The Chinese government is doing this to demonstrate China’s new role in the world.  They are writing history to suit their ambitions (no surprise there – who doesn’t?)  They are using this story as a way to draw a distinction between China and the West.  The story is that Westerners sailed all over the place bringing disease and violence and planted colonies.  The Chinese brought gifts and trade and then went home.

The problem with this is that the vast fleet Zheng He commanded included thousands of soldiers.  One of the leading non-Chinese experts on the Ming dynasty made the point in the article that these voyages were about showing power and projecting it even in the absence of invasion or the creation of colonies.

My reaction was one of familiarity.  A dominant technological and economic power sails advanced ships around the world.  It doesn’t create colonies, but establishes unequal diplomatic and economic relations with less powerful and wealthy countries.  It overawes with its culture and wealth, but also uses the veiled threat of force to establish itself.  Through this all, it is guided by an unshakable sense of its own superiority.

Isn’t this neocolonialism?

Once again, China proves how it has already invented almost everything the West later came up with.  Just as Europeans began their first forays into imperialism, the Chinese were already transcending imperialism by moving on to the more subtle oppressions of neocolonialism.  Now the Chinese are using their wealth and technology all over Africa and Asia.  Even as the former colonial world celebrates its independence from the dominance of the West, it is finding its way into the system being created by the once and future champs at world domination.


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