China’s role in Africa — the infrastructure projects in East Africa, investments in Sudan’s oil industry, mining contracts with various nations — is getting lot of attention these days. Now China is being accused of colonization and all the evils associated with Western powers.
The Chinese presence in Africa is not new; it is at least six centuries old. Zhu Di, the third Ming emperor sent a fleet of ships under the command of Zheng He in 1405 CE.There were 317 ships of which 60 were the large junks. These treasure ships which held lacquers, porcelain, and silks carried a total of 27,000 men which included soldiers, carpenters, physicians, astrologers, cartographers and interpreters. Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan or Francis Drake would never command such a fleet nor as many men.
Under Zheng He’s leadership, the fleet made seven voyages trading, transporting ambassadors and establishing Chinese colonies. Three of those were to India, one to the Persian Gulf and three to the Swahili Coast.
Now, besides doctors, diplomats and businessmen, China has also sent archaeologists to Africa and they have found a brass coin with a square hole near Malindi in Kenya (see video). This coin was minted between 1403 and 1424 and could have reached Africa through Zheng He’s fleet.
First, ancient texts told of Zheng He’s visit to the Sultan of Malindi – the most powerful coastal ruler of the time. But they also mentioned that Malindi was by a river mouth; something that the present town of Malindi doesn’t have, but that Mambrui does.
The old cemetery in Mambrui also has a famous circular tomb-stone embedded with 400-year-old Chinese porcelain bowls hinting at the region’s long-standing relationship with the East.
In the broad L-shaped trench that the team dug on the edge of the cemetery, they began finding what they were looking for.
First, they uncovered the remains of an iron smelter and iron slag.
Then, Mohamed Mchuria, a coastal archaeologist from the National Museums of Kenya, unearthed a stunning fragment of porcelain that Prof Qin believes came from a famous kiln called Long Quan that made porcelain exclusively for the royal family in the early Ming Dynasty.[Could a rusty coin re-write Chinese-African history]
Also read: Chinese Power in Indian Ocean