A Treasure Ship Captain
大耳朵英语  http://www.bigear.cn  2007-09-24 20:55:52  【打印
A Treasure Ship Captain



Early in the 15th century, a huge fleet of ships set sail from Nanjing. It was the first of a series of voyages that would, for a brief period, establish China as the leading power of the age. The voyage was led by Zheng He, the most important Chinese adventurer of all time and one of the greatest sailors the world has ever known. In fact, some people think he was the original model for the legendary Sinbad the Sailor.



In 1371, Zheng He was born in what is now Yunnan Province to Muslim parents, who named him Ma Sanpao. When he was 11 years old, invading Ming armies captured Ma and took him to Nanjing. There he was castrated and made to serve as a eunuch in the imperial household.



Ma befriended a prince there who later became the Yong Le Emperor, one of the Ming Dynasty's most distinguished. Brave, strong, intelligent and totally loyal, Ma won the trust of the prince who, after ascending the throne, gave him a new name and made him Grand Imperial Eunuch.



Yong Le was an ambitious emperor who believed that China's greatness would be increased with an "open-door" policy regarding international trade and diplomacy. In 1405, he ordered Chinese ships to sail to the Indian Ocean, and put Zheng He in charge of the voyage. Zheng went on to lead seven expeditions in 28 years, visiting more than 40 countries.



Zheng's fleet had more than 300 ships and 30,000 sailors. The largest vessels, 133-meter-long "treasure ships", had up to nine masts and could carry a thousand people. Along with a Han and Muslim crew, Zheng opened up trade routes in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.



The voyages helped expand foreign interest in Chinese goods such as silk and porcelain. In addition, Zheng He brought exotic foreign items back to China, including the first giraffe ever seen there. At the same time, the fleet's obvious strength meant that the Emperor of China commanded respect and inspired fear all over Asia.



While Zheng He's main aim was to show the superiority of Ming China, he often got involved in the local politics of places he visited. In Ceylon, for instance, he helped restore the legitimate ruler to the throne. On the island of Sumatra, now part of Indonesia, he defeated the army of a dangerous pirate and took him to China for execution.



Though Zheng He died in 1433 and was probably buried at sea, a grave and small monument to him still exist in Jiangsu Province. Three years after Zheng He's death, a new emperor banned the construction of oceangoing ships, and China's brief era of naval expansion was over. Chinese policy turned inward, leaving the seas clear for the rising nations of Europe.



Opinions vary on why this happened. Whatever the reason, conservative forces gained the upper hand, and China's potential for world domination was not realized. Records of Zheng He's incredible voyages were burned. Not until the early 20th century did another fleet of comparable size take to the seas.





郑和下西洋──三保太监的不朽航程



15世纪初,一支浩浩荡荡的船队从南京启航。这次远航揭开了其后一连串海上航行的序幕,并在短暂时间内为中国确立了大国领先的地位。郑和统帅了这次远航,他是中国历史上最重要的探险家,也是举世闻名的最伟大的航海家之一。事实上,还有些人认为他是传说中水手辛巴达的原型。



公元1371年,郑和出生在现在的云南省的一个穆斯林家庭里。他的父母给他取名为马三保。马三保11岁时,被入侵云南的明军掳至南京,被净身后入宫,选去王府做内宫太监。



马三保在王府期间和王太子成为了好朋友,王子后来成为明成祖永乐皇帝,是明代最出色的皇帝之一。马三保英勇、强壮、足智多谋,又赤胆忠心,因此深得王太子的信赖。王太子登基之后,赐给马三保“郑和”这个新的名字,同时提升他为内宫监太监。



永乐皇帝是个雄心勃勃的皇帝,他相信通过国际贸易及外交上的“门户开放”政策,中国会在世界上享有更高的声望。公元1405年,永乐皇帝下诏让中国船队远航到印度洋,并派遣郑和负责此趟航程。在以后的28年里,郑和连续7次率领了海上远征探险的壮举,访问了40多个国家。



郑和的船队由三百艘大船及三万多名水兵组成。船队中最大的一艘船被称为“宝船”,其船身长达133米,船桅多达九根,可搭载一千人。郑和和汉人与穆斯林船员一起打开了中国在非洲、印度、及东南亚的贸易航线。



这几次远航刺激了外国对中国货物如丝绸、瓷器等的兴趣。此外,郑和也将外国的珍奇宝物带回中国,包括以前没见过的麒麟(长颈鹿)。同时,郑和船队显而易见的强大阵容,意味着中国皇帝获得了亚洲各国的敬畏。



郑和下西洋的主要目的在于宣扬大明的强盛国威,但他经常卷入出访地的政治。例如,在锡兰(即今天的斯里兰卡),他扶持合法统治者重登王位。在苏门答腊岛(今天印尼的一部分),郑和击退一支由残暴海盗领军的队伍,并将其首领押回中国处死。



郑和于公元1433年去世,并且可能葬身于汪洋大海之中,但江苏省现在仍有他的坟墓和一座小型纪念碑。郑和死后3年,新登基的皇帝下诏禁止远洋船舶的建造,中国这短暂的海军扩张时代也就到此结束了。中国的政策转而向内,把大海完全拱手让给欧洲新兴的国家。



中国的政策为何会发生这样的转变,一直众说纷纭。不管是什么原因,朝中保守势力占了上风,这样中国统治世界的潜力终究未能得到发挥。郑和令人惊叹的航海纪录也遭焚毁湮灭。直到20世纪初叶,中国才有另一支相当规模的船队驶向大海。

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