The ancient Chinese were bellicose

We have sailed over a hundred thousand li of the vast ocean and conquered huge waves that towered up to the sky like mountains. We cast our gaze on barbaric regions, far away and hidden behind the blue transparency of thin veils of fog, while our sails, clouds, held course day and night.

And we drove on wild waves as if we were walking across a street, "proudly proclaims a stone tablet that Zheng He, admiral of a Ming armada of up to 300 ships with a crew of 30,000, approached in 1432 after seven voyages of discovery and conquest from China to Built the coast of Africa.

Because of its enormous size, this fleet - made up of eight-masted junks, with special ships full of drinking water, horse transporters and herb reserves for the ship's pharmacy, and fast signal ships - must have looked like a floating city made of red silk with its sails.

Each ship was decorated with wide eyes on the bow, and 24 bronze cannons on each large ship showed the grandiose superiority of this mixture of conquering army and expeditionary force. Admiral Zheng He, to whom the Ming Emperor Yongle (Enduring Joy) had given control of this sea power, resided in palace-like rooms.

Out of nowhere, Zheng He had the Armada lumbered together on the basis of the tried and tested cargo junks in just a few years. For the high seas, the ships were built in an almost unsinkable bulkhead design. The Chinese were also familiar with the compass and a kind of hourglass. The monster fleet was ready for long journeys.

Zheng He had an unusual career as a descendant of local Muslim insurgents. At the age of ten he was emasculated, but as the court eunuch of Prince Zhu Di he won his full trust and was a proven fighter in many battles against Mongol attackers when the prince overthrew the rightful heir and became emperor.

Yongle was able to have all of the competitor's concubines and relatives massacred, but the competitor likely escaped. On his travels, Zheng He was always instructed to make sure that he wasn't hiding somewhere.

The actual destination of the dragon fleet was the profitable spice and trading ports in India and on the Persian Gulf. The land route to the west, the Silk Road, had become unsafe at the time of the first voyage in 1405. The new shipping route served as a relief to reinforce trade and loyalty to vassals. What else did they have in mind?

The hundred thousand Li that Zheng He speaks of would have been enough to sail around the world, not to mention the sophisticated maritime logistics of the fleet, which could easily have made the leap across the South Atlantic.

They had probably reached the southern tip of Africa. When Vasco da Gama had circled the Cape of Good Hope from the west in 1497 and wanted to exchange simple glass beads for valuable treasures from the native inhabitants of Madagascar, they laughed at him. Gigantic ships had already been there, they said, and of course their sailors had offered more.

Zheng He's trips are well documented in the reports of his translator and chronicler Ma Huan, but one and a half years of the 6th trip are missing.

Theories of "alternative historians"

All the theories of "alternative historians" about the discovery of both Americas by subordinate admirals now find their way into this loophole. The retired British submarine commander Gavin Menzies, in particular, has turned it into a "science for himself" with a fan base, his own website and several thick tomes teeming with scientific footnotes.

Menzies "discovers" the remains of junks left behind in Mexico, Chinese characters in Peru and the exact coastline of Florida from a time before it was discovered by Ponce de Léon in 1513. Also Chinese rice varieties that shouldn't even exist in Latin America.

Indeed, there are a number of inconsistencies in the grand narrative of the European discoveries. Fernando Magellan is said to have had a secret map from the Portuguese treasury when he circumnavigated the world from 1520, which made it easier for him to join the passage of the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific. Even a Chinese nautical chart?

On the world map of the Ottoman admiral Piri Reis there are references to the mouth region of the Rio de la Plata, with a little empathy, also to the difficult passage long before it was actually discovered. Be that as it may, none of this leads to any real evidence that the Chinese around Zheng He could have discovered America.

The mystery remains unsolved, as does the mystery of the sudden end of Chinese sea expansion after the Yongle stroke. Apparently those forces had seized power in the palace who spoke of the isolation of China with a large wall on the border and a tightly closed Forbidden City in the middle of Beijing.

Zheng He's fleet was dismantled, and junks suitable for the ocean were even banned a little later. The court officials wrote in a memorandum: "Your servants hope that Your Majesty will not indulge in warlike plans and gain glory through expeditions to distant lands. Give up the sterile foreign lands and give the people a period of rest." This cleared the way for European colonial adventurers.