Tianfei Temple. Source: Nanjing Travel at https://tinyurl.com/y8y56xdq.
Video viewing and discussion
Estimated time: twenty-five minutes
How the teacher chose to have students record their video reports will determine how students are able to view and comment on fellow student videos. If Flipgrid, an online classroom video discussion platform, was used, students may log into the Flipgrid page set up by the teacher and view fellow student videos. The program allows fellow students to also comment on viewed videos, engaging in a fluid class discussion about the information in the videos. The Flipgrid app allows the teacher to view and monitor student comments.
If the teacher chose to utilize Google Slide as a source for sending in video reports, the teacher can randomly choose videos to show to the class. An excellent discussion strategy is to have students do a timed “turn and talk” after viewing each video. A final class discussion and question session may best serve to wrap up the video viewing.
Estimated time: twenty minutes
Students should be presented with a copy of the culminating activity handout (also below). Have students silently read the primary source excerpts that focus upon aspects of the voyages:
Source No. 1:
Due to so many unexplained difficulties and bad omens, the Majesty is humbled and concerned … To alleviate the situation, all policies that cause the public inconvenience, if not urgent, should be stopped … policies temporarily stopped include the voyages to foreign countries, horse trading with the remote western and northern areas.
—Excerpt from a speech by Emperor Yong Le explaining the decision to stop the voyages of Zheng He: 1433 (Source: Asia for Educators at https://tinyurl.com/kw52z43)
Source No. 2:
Riches and honors are what men desire. If it cannot be obtained in the proper way, they should not be held … The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell … The superior man is aware of righteousness, the inferior man is aware of advantage … The virtuous man is driven by responsibility, the non-virtuous man is driven by profit …
—Excerpts from chapters 2 and 4 of Analects (approximate publication dates (400–100 BCE)
Source No. 3:
… deceitful exaggerations of bizarre things far removed from the testimony of people’s eyes and ears… the expeditions of San Bao [meaning “Three Jewels,” as Zheng He was called] to the West Ocean wasted tens of myriads of money and grain and moreover the people who met their deaths may be counted in the myriads. Although he returned with wonderful precious things, what benefit was it to the state?
—Excerpt from a discussion between the Ministry of War to emperor of China in 1477, response to attempts by eunuch factions to begin more voyages (Source: Asia for Educators at https://tinyurl.com/kw52z43.)
Directions: Read and answer the following three questions for each source.
What is the author’s point of view?
What claim does the author make about the sea voyages? (Confucius obviously made no claim but it is important that students think about how the greatest sage in Chinese history might have reacted to the Ming voyages had he lived at the time they occurred.)
What words or phrases are used to convince the reader of their argument?
After students read and answer the three questions as they apply to each of the three excerpts, discuss how the ideas expressed in each excerpt might have contributed to the Ming dynasty’s decision to end China’s sea voyages.
Ask students if, in their research for their video reports, they found any other events or factors that may have influenced the decision to end the sea voyages. Make a list on the board as students discuss the factors. After a list of possible factors that contributed to the end of the Ming sea voyages is written on the board or overhead, ask students to rank the listed factors on their own paper from the most influential factor to the least influential factor. Discuss the results, and, as a class, decide what factors were the most influential in ending the sea voyages.
Estimated time: twenty minutes
We know the Ming dynasty stopped sending out their magnificent treasure fleet and retreated into a period of isolationism, but what if they had not? How do you think world history might have turned out differently if Ming emperors had not turned to a policy of isolationism and had instead pursued a vigorous colonialization policy?
The teacher should make sure students understand that not too long after Ming China ended the sea voyages and retreated into a period of isolationism, Europe moved forward with their exploration and colonialization of the “New World.”
The above question can be posed to students in one of several ways. Students love to blog! Pose this question as a blog question for students to read and respond to in the blog. Check with one of your school’s language arts teachers and ask if they have a student blog. If not, you can easily and safely set up your own blog page for students on a website called Kidblog.org. Check with other teachers at your school; they may have experience with this or other sites. On educational blog sites, students may write, read, and respond, interacting with fellow students in a way that can be monitored by the teacher during the activity.
Author’s note on students’ reactions
]It is interesting that some students referred back to our study of the fall of the Roman Empire in an attempt to answer the extension question. Several students discussed the concept of overexpansion and eventual invasion by foreign powers as a possible result if China had attempted to compete as a colonizing power instead of retreating into isolationism. It was a struggle for many of the middle school-age students to envision possible changes to current world events and cultures. The depth of the question appears to be a challenge to students with limited worldviews.
The other nontechnical option to complete this extension question is to have students do a free write on their own papers and then pass their papers, writing comments and responses onto papers as they are passed in a timed round robin activity. There is no talking during the activity. Papers eventually end up back with the original student, and then the teacher leads a whole-class discussion on possible answers to the question to end the activity.
References and Resources
http://www.learn.columbia.edu/nanxuntu/html/economy/ming.pdf: “The Ming Voyages” by Sue Gronewald on Asia for Educators summarizes Zheng He and the Ming sea voyages, along with providing alternative classroom activities. It is also the resource for the modified warmup reading. The second link is for a PDF version of “The Ming Voyages”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DJkE3zh6RE: This is aYouTube video by CCTV9 that introduces the Ming dynasty, discussing in detail the construction of the royal treasure fleet.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212682116300099#b0095: This is a link to Li-sheng Huang, “The Issues of Islands Governing in Early Ming Dynasty,” Journal of Marine and Island Cultures 5, no. 1 (2016): 5–10. This is an article on sea travel and trade during the early Ming dynasty.
https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/millennium/m3/kristof.html: This is a link to Nicholas Kristof, “1492: The Prequel,” New York Times Magazine, June 6, 1999. This is a great teacher resource from The New York Times where a researcher and reporter explore and search for current-day evidence left behind by the Ming sea voyages.
http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/active_learning/explorations/1492/1492_zhenghe.cfm: This is an entry on Zheng He by the University of Houston’s Digital History website. This site is a basic short summary and comparison of Zheng He and Columbus’s ships.
http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1093&context=undergrad_rev: This is a link to Mark Dwinnells, “Lost Leviathans: The Technology of Zheng He’s Voyages,” Undergraduate Review 4 (2008): 127–131. This is an excellent article for the teacher to better understand the political and military strategies under consideration during Ming rule, as well as the superior shipbuilding techniques needed to build such grand sailing vessels.
https://omniatlas.com/blogs/cause_and_effect/countries-beyond-horizon/: This is a link to Rick Westera, “Why China Didn’t Discover America,” OmniAtlas, last modified October 14, 2011. This is the source of Class No. 3’s warmup quote.
http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat2/sub4/entry-5603.html: This is the entry on the Yongle emperor of the Ming dynasty by the website Facts and Details.
Jakub J Grygiel, “The Geostrategy of Ming China,” Great Powers and Geopolitical Change (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 123–163: This resource text is an excellent source for reading and understanding the influence and effect of Asia’s geography on political decisions, and its influence on social and cultural changes.
Stewart Gordon, “Treasure and Treaty,” When Asia Was the World (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008), 117–136: This resource text shares excerpts and personal perspectives from the diary of a member of the crew (Ma Huan), who sailed on three of Zheng He’s voyages.
Below are suggested resources for student research:
https://new.utc.edu/sites/default/files/2021-01/factsaboutasiacolumbuszhenghe.pdf: “Facts About Asia: Two Significant Maritime Achievements,” from Education About Asia10, no. 3 (2005): 46–47.
https://www.thoughtco.com/the-seven-voyages-of-the-treasure-fleet-195215:Kallie Szczepanski, “The Seven Voyages of the Treasure Fleet,” Thought Co., March 8, 2017.
https://www.thoughtco.com/cheng-ho-biography-1435009: Article by Matt Rosenberg, “Biography of Explorer Cheng Ho,” from Thought Co., June 5, 2017. (“Zheng He” is spelled “Cheng Ho” in the article.)
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/ancient-chinese-explorers.html: Article by Evan Hadingham, “Ancient Chinese Explorers,” from PBS Nova, January 16, 2001.