History is an interesting thing. Take for example this story about new findings from Chinese archaeologists in Kenya.
It turns out that something as simple as a recently excavated coin could re-write how we understand Chinese-African history as it dates Chinese explorers in the area from far back as 1403. Likely it was brought there by legendary admiral Zheng He, who at his peak controlled a fleet of over 200 ships and made seven naval expeditions around the Indian Ocean. Amazingly, his flagship was a whopping 9-masted, 400 foot long juggernaut that carried over 1000 people. As a point of comparison, Christopher Columbus’ ship was 70 feet long and had around 25 men.
More importantly, the presence of rare Chinese porcelain in the area indicates that Zheng He was a peaceful envoy bearing gifts from the emperor and treated the Kenyan leaders he visited as equals. This is a marked change from the current Chinese government’s approach to the region as increasingly aggressive business tactics have caused many to accuse China of neo-colonialism in Africa.
The challenge that this archaeological find brings then is not only to re-write popular history to show China’s exploration into Africa well before European powers, but also to spur the Chinese government to follow the footsteps of its ancestors and treat African countries as equal trading partners.