Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When China Ruled the Seas

Forget Columbus or that Leif fellow. How about an explorer who was a eunuch? A Chinese eunuch commanding a regal fleet to cross the oceans. No, this isn't a Chinese food delivery joke.

While I adore fiction, some stories are true and weird. Such as: In the 15th century, China was one of the most advanced nations in the world and a naval power. Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming ruler sponsored seven expeditions. The emperor wanted to spread the influence of China, through controlling naval trade in the region. Zheng He, who, when he was eleven was captured and made into a eunuch (ouch, times were tough for prisoners back then), was a favored advisor to the Emperor, who appointed him as admiral of a huge fleet. Nowadays, if you lack balls, people razz you.

Louise Levathes, a former staff writer for National Geographic, has written a fascinating historical account of Zheng and the fleet. You'll find the details in When China Ruled the Seas fascinating. Yeah, there are illustrations, but Levathes writes so well about palace hi jinx, concubines, and incredible wealth that you'll not want to stop reading.

With China becoming a world power once more, you should read this book and fill your head with colorful facts. Imagine how impressed your Social Studies teacher will be! Or that girl in the second row of Spanish class (she really wishes the class taught Mandarin). And you can show your parents that you're reading a New York Times Notable Book of the Year instead of running people over on the Xbox.

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