China and the naval entreprise

Much heated discussion has taken place over the ostensible decline of the U.S. Navy. A series of deadly and deeply embarrassing incidents, which involved U.S. vessels crashing into merchant ships, running aground and otherwise falling victim to outrageous failures of basic seamanship, have shed the Navy in a bad light and made many question whether decades of overreach, defunding and affirmative-action-based programs are leaving our nation’s premier line of defense a hollowed out mockery of its former glory.

Making matters worse, all of these collisions occurred near Chinese territory. Even if many people throughout the world fail to notice this deadly decline of U.S. Naval prowess, there is little doubt that the Chinese are paying very close attention.

Even among the current mainstream commentariat, there are still some who claim that the Chinese do not pose a genuine geopolitical threat and are not likely to become one at any point in the foreseeable future. However, those voices would be well advised to take a quick trip back through history, surveying the almost unbelievable aptitude that the Chinese have displayed over the centuries for the highest Naval achievements.

Zheng He’s globetrotting legions

When Bartolomeu Dias discovered Cape Town, South Africa, and, two years later, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, Europeans civilization demonstrated that it had the ingenuity and spirit of adventure necessary to conquer the globe.

But the fact is that Christopher Columbus used sailing vessels that were only around 60 feet in length and, today, wouldn’t even qualify as yachts.

Few know that 87 years before Columbus ever set sail, a Chinese admiral by the name of Zheng He commanded an expedition of nearly 30,000 men on ships that would prove to be the largest wooden ships ever built. 85 years before Bartolomeu Dias, Zheng He and his phalanx of mariners were cruising the African coast, picking up samples of local vegetation and even bringing emissaries back to the Qing Dynasty capital city of Nanjing.

When people claim that Chinese naval might is nothing to worry about, they might want to consider China’s long but largely unknown history of being the incontestable rulers of the sea.