The Conundrum of Admiral Zheng He and Christopher Columbus

Jeremy Lent
Jeremy Lent
Published on Apr 23, 2014
In the 15th century, a massive Chinese armada of over 300 ships led by Admiral Zheng He traversed half the world, impressing populations in Africa, Arabia and Southeast Asia with its magnificence.

Later that century, Christopher Columbus landed in the New World with three dingy boats, all of which could have fit comfortably in one of Zheng’s.

Zheng’s fleet had virtually no impact on history. Columbus’ transformed the world, marking the beginning of our modern world order.

Why the difference? This presentation suggests the underlying cause for these different outcomes is to be found in the cognitive differences between the two cultural complexes of China and Europe, with two contrasting views of power.

These differences help us to understand the current cognitive structures that drive our civilization’s trajectory today.

I presented this at the Joint Meeting of the California and Northwest World History Association at UC Berkeley in February 2014.

The material is taken from a chapter of my book in process called “The Patterning Instinct: A Cognitive History of Humanity’s Search For Meaning.”

More information at

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