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Monday, Nov 29, 2021
Outlook.com
Power Of The Sea

The Reborn Armada Of Cheng Ho

The ‘Indo-Pacific’ will be the theatre of this century’s biggest world rivalry

The Reborn Armada Of Cheng Ho
The Reborn Armada Of Cheng Ho
outlookindia.com
2017-01-07T12:06:11+05:30

In the year 1500, China accounted for 30 per cent of the world’s GDP while India ran a close second with 25 per cent. Three centuries later, these figures had chan­ged dramatically, with a small group of nor­th­west European countries contributing the greater part of the world’s GDP while retaining only a small percentage of its population. The story of how the European nations conquered the world is deeply rooted in industr­ial strength exerting its influence upon the sea power of these nations. In fact, the subjugation of a vast country like India by a small European nation and its commercial represe­ntative—the East India Company—is a classic example of the change in global power equations. Economists refer to the period around 1500 as the Great Divergence, when per cap­ita income began to grow astronomically in the European countries while it remained static in India and China. In the case of India, there is little doubt that the question of who was entitled to hold knowledge, rat­her than what the level of knowledge was, led to the beginning of the Great Divergence and a change in prosperity. The fact that non-Brahmins were kept in ignorance prevented India from progressing in many fields.

In the 11th century, the full-rigged sailing warship of 2,000 tonnes represented advanced technology and the perfection of man’s achievement as much as, say, the Lunar Rover and its launching spacecraft did in the 21st century. In the year 1000, ship construction was an equal science in India, Arabia, Turkey, Venice and England. By 1600, the art of ship-building had grown exponentially in the West, firstly by the introduction of model-­making and the use of those models to achieve curved hulls that were so precise that architects could venture beyond the limited length-to-breadth ratio of the conventional hull. Hundreds of oak trees were felled to build a single hull capable of withstanding a round shot fired by cannon at close range. In western shipyards, the making of a ship’s drawings became a complex art. This enterprise depended on the joint effort of a traditional carpenter, a mathematician, a naval architect and a draughtsman, whereas in India the ship was built without any drawings and remained limited in size to what the carpenter could memorise. In India particularly, a carpenter building a ship remained illiterate because his caste was too low for him to claim the right to education. Marine archaeologists used to sing the praises of the illiterate Indian ship carpenters turning out sailing ship hulls from memory without fully realising that the limitations of this very carpenter caused the maritime defeats at sea suffered by the ships he built.

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