How would the Native Americans have fared had the Chinese colonized the Americas?

Say Zheng He or some other Chinese explorer had made it to the Americas before Columbus and staked a claim, would the natives have fared any better than they did under European domination?
How did the natives fare in other lands that the Chinese conqured closer to home?

Not too well. The Han are famous for displacing and absorbing indigenous non-Han peoples within what is now China. There still exist minority groups within what is now China, but in relatively small numbers: they are something like 9% of the population.

The main damage to aboriginal Americans came from imported old world diseases like smallpox. This would be no different if the Chinese rather than Europeans invaded.

OTOH the Chinese had no interest in spreading their native religion(s); no missionaries, no crusading fervour.

The missionaries were usually the friends to AmerIndians, a distinction which gets lost when people tend to lump all colonial activities together. Misionaries commonly fought for native rights and strongly against the semi-aristocrats and settlers. The dispute was unusualy sharp among the Spanish - they did indeed come for gold and glory and God. Unfortunately, those who came for gold and glory were not those who came for God, or their religious faith was swept away rather easily. I won’t go into the nasty history of Protestant preachers in north America either, as it’s not a very pleasant tale. I wouldn’t exactly say it was racism, but more a general apathy about anything or anybody outside the “tribe”, whether than was an AmerIndian tribe or a European nation.

While there’s a lot of truth in what Smiling Bandit says here, one should also note the tendency of some missionaries to equate the cultural norms of the society they came from with God’s will. It’s very easy to find examples of missionary dickitude – or of missionary kindness and compassion – depending on what you’re setting out to prove.

With regard to the OP, though, one wonders how well the Han would have done in establishing a colonial empire. Remember that when the Beothuk came up against the Vikings, it was the Vikings who suddenly remembered an important appointment elsewhere and left. There’s a complex set of factors behind the success of the Spanish, Portuiguese, French, and English some centuries later, including internecine politics among the NAI nations, technical superiority, disease, etc. To what extent this might have benefitted the Han is highly debatable.

If Zheng He conquered the Americas he would have turned all the indians gay and made them dance around in frilly laces! :wink:

[ /Dynasty Warriors]

How much more organized were the Indian tribes on the West Coast? Were there organizations along the line of the Powhatan Confederacy?

Nor all that much interest in expanding trade routes, they already had all the raw materials and luxury goods they needed, Britain had to get them hooked on Opium so they had something to trade.

I assume a Han Chinese willing to settle in the Americas would do so because he was unsatisfied in some way with life in China, so it’s not purely Chinese culture that is a concern, but what actions might be taken by somebody operating in (at least partial) rejection of it.

Then again, if their motivation was to go to the Americas, get rich by exploiting resources and then get back to the home country ASAP, I expect whatever the Chinese touched to be as fucked up as any Spanish colony ever could be.

No not at all. The Amerindians of California were some of the most primitive of that group.

I can’t think of a scenario where the Chinese (especially the regular peasants) would have WANTED to settle in and colonize the Americas. The nobles didn’t seem interested in that kind of thing, and the peasants didn’t have the means or the same set of imperatives that later generations of dissatisfied Europeans did.

As for disease…assuming the Chinese DID come to the Americas they would have brought the same diseases with them. Things like the Black Death originally came from China, IIRC.

The only benefit to the NAI’s would have been that I doubt the Chinese would have been as bent on serious colonization, or attempted to establish such indepth colonies. Other than that it would have still been the same kinds of shocks and still probably lead to similar reductions in population until the survivors developed immunity.


If the Chinese settled America it would be because they were ordered to! It is still possible (since nobody really knows where they came from) that the Japanese started as a central Asian awkward squad ethnically cleansed from China. After all, where do you have to be to see Japan as the Land of the Rising Sun?

The Chinese might have done quite well. In Zheng He’s time the Imperial Court was Manchu and it is his bad luck that by the time he got home, the native civil service had persuaded a new young emperor that if barbarians were not civilised enough to bring him tribute of their own accord they weren’t worth knowing about. They would probably not have bothered to urbanise but they might have established trading posts and established farms, perhaps deported undesirables, since China has relatively little cultivated land so they’d eat anything. They were good at assimilation. Zheng He himself was a Muslim POW - Uighur?

They were good at diplomatic language too. So they would probably have seen the natives as like some of their tribal peoples, classed trade as tribute, and left them alone as long as they didn’t cause trouble. If they did they would have massacred them. The Manchu were still Mongol horsemen and they had cannon. On the whole though I think they would have got on well because the Chinese were much what the Indians might have become had they discovered metal-working and unified themselves. There might be a vast developmental gap but Chinese technology was something easy enough to figure out by looking. Daoists would have probably loved them as the perfection of the Simple Life.

Nitpick - Zheng He was living during the Ming dynasty, so definitely pre-Manchu.

Fair enough. Not native Chinese though - Mongol of some sort. That is why his emperor was still looking outwards but the Mandarins had got to the next one.

Hui, a corruption of the word Uighur, but actually somewhat distinct from them ( today, quite distinct - the term now essentially refers to ethnic Han Muslims ). Back then it was a grab-bag category of sorts and he came from the then still Mongol-controlled Yunnan in the south. His actual ethnic background in his patriline appears to have been Khwarezmian - so probably Turco-Persian, probably/possibly mixed with whatever else down the generations ( his family’s general Mongol caste of Semu was an even wider grab-bag of cultures and ethnicities ).

Consider South America.

Many of the empires there were into large-scale human sacrifice.

If China offered an alternative, many smaller, subject tribes would flock to their side.

South America was not in large-scale human sacrifices. Where did you get that idea.
Incas sacrified at most ten people a year. You are confussing them with the Aztecs.

Besides, Chinese also practised human sacrifices of theirs own, if you didn’t know,

I just noticed that the Incan Empire was starting up just as Zheng He’s voyages were ending. It’s possible that the Incans might never have risen to such power, had the Chinese been in the picture.

they would have been less inhibited by “thou shall not kill and steal without big necessity” Christian-inspired principles (e.g. here is a nice little 18th century genocide and land grab that you will not hear mourned by bleeding heart Chinese liberals, if any such exist) but less capable of rapid expansion due to technical limitations and, possibly, bureaucratic inertia. At least bureaucracy would have been an issue if Beijing were to try ruling from afar like Madrid did, as opposed to the local merchants and warlords striking out on their own. Come to think of it, a major goal for the hypothetical Chinese viceroy might well have been keeping his subjects from spreading out too far out of his control where they, God forbid, could end up starting their own states and ignoring the rule of the Son of Heaven. So the policy might end up being deliberately anti-expansionist instead of the manifest destiny sort.

Were the Europeans substantially ahead of China in gun technology in the 1400’s? If so, I would think Indians would have a better chance of defending their land.

How about the diseases carried by the Chinese? Did they have contagious diseases that could have had the devastating effect of smallpox?

No, the Ming dynasty was pure Han-Chinese. (Zheng He was of Persian and Mongol descent.)