27 June 2016

Professor Tansen Sen

Abstract: The Impact of Zheng He’s Expeditions on Indian Ocean Interactions

This paper examines the consequences of the Ming maritime expeditions led by Admiral Zheng He in the early fifteenth century on Indian Ocean trade, diplomacy, and cross-cultural interactions. It will argue that these expeditions significantly altered the nature of political and commercial exchanges between Indian Ocean polities and may have had a much broader and long-term impact on intra-Asian connections. The presence of powerful Ming navy in the region not only contributed to the expansion of several, particularly Chinese, mercantile and shipping networks, but also introduced an unprecedented militaristic aspect to the Indian Ocean region. At the same time, the Ming court tried to incorporate its relations with Indian Ocean polities using the Confucian rhetoric of harmonizing tianxia (All Under Heaven). All these aspects, as the paper will demonstrate, are evident from the activities of Zheng He and his entourage at several sites in South and Southeast Asia. The paper will conclude with an analysis of how the networks created during Zheng He’s expeditions might have eventually facilitated the rapid entry of European colonial polities into the Indian Ocean region.   

Tansen SenTansen Sen is Professor of History, City University New York (CUNY) and NYU Shanghai Campus. He specializes in Asian history and religions and has special scholarly interests in India-China interactions, Indian Ocean trade, Buddhism, and Silk Road archeology. He has done extensive research in India, China, Japan, and Singapore. Tansen Sen is currently working on two book projects: one examines cross-cultural trade in Asia during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the second is about networks of exchange and interactions between India, China and the world.