During the early fifteenth century, the Yongle Emperor sent out treasure ships led by Admiral Zheng He. Some world history books and courses present these voyages as a unique moment of Chinese expansion and openness before the Ming Dynasty became isolationist. History is rarely black-and-white. I’ve written before about the problems with calling China isolationist and how we can better understand Chinese foreign policy in the fifteenth century, but neither of those posts explores how we can teach about the legacies of Zheng He’s voyages in China. We can use giraffes as a fun way to explore how the Chinese living at the time of the voyages understood them, how Chinese rulers legitimized their power, and how the Mongol Yuan Dynasty influenced the Ming and Qing dynasties.
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