For the seas, it is less easily understandable. After all, the Chinese have maintained huge sea-faring fleets, and are credited with the invention of many tools that have improved navigation.
In spite of their achievements, the Chinese under the Míng practically sealed themselves off any sea-based communication and trade:
- At the beginning of the Míng dynasty, the Chinese coasts were suffering heavily from the activities of the Wōkòu (Japanese pirates). The Míng court implemented a policy to forbid civil trade with Japan, believing that limiting trade would in turn remove the incentive for piracy. On the contrary, the ban forced many Chinese merchants to trade with Japan illegally to protect their own interests. This led to the second major phase of Wōkòu activity which occurred in the early to mid-16th century, where Japanese pirates colluded with their Chinese counterparts and expanded their forces. At their height in the 1550s, the Wōkòu operated throughout the seas of East Asia, even sailing up large river systems such as the Yángzi. As a result, the Míng court went on implementing yet a further, harsher step: the whole coastal areas were to be emptied of all human settlement, and it was forbidden to re-settle those areas.
- Under the early Míng, admiral Zhèng Hé conducted incredible ocean voyages with his fleet made of giant sea-faring ships, much advanced compared with their Western counterparts. Yet after admiral Zhèng Hé's 7th ocean voyage (1430-33), his treasure ship fleet was disbanded, and the dockyards dismantled.