Louise Levathes is an editor, author, and multimedia producer with broad experience across all media platforms -- print, radio, TV, film, and the Web -- and has a particular interest in culture, science, and history. She is currently senior editor at two international Internet journals, The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, where she write about theater, art, design, and public spaces. She is also developing a non-fiction Web book.
As a staff writer and editor for National Geographic, Health magazine, and the Daily News, Louise has 20 years experience reporting on important trends in science and the environment in the US and abroad. She is particularly interested in anything to do with water -- river systems, wetlands, the oceans. She worked on the joint National Geographic/NPR radio shows, such as "The Sounds of the Rainforest." She was a Neiman Fellow finalist in 1984. In addition to her print work, she has had part-time reporting and producing assignments at CNN, CNNI, and WNET, and, from 1997 to 2000, she ran Film Projects for the Arts, a foundation focused on raising money and producing cultural documentary films for public television. She has done freelance development work and scriptwriting for Dreamworks Animation and Summer Productions.
A hundred years before Columbus and his fellow Europeans began making their way to the New World, fleets of giant Chinese junks commanded by the eunuch admiral Zheng He and filled with the empire's finest porcelains, lacquerware, and silk ventured to the edge of the world's "four corners." It was a time of exploration and conquest, but it ended in a retrenchment so complete that less than a century later, it was a crime to go to sea in a multimasted ship. In When China Ruled the Seas, Louise Levathes takes a fascinating and unprecedented look at this dynamic period in China's enigmatic history, focusing on China's rise as a naval power that literally could have ruled the world and at its precipitious plunge into isolation when a new emperor ascended the Dragon Throne.
During the brief period from 1405 to 1433, seven epic expeditions brought China's "treasure ships" across the China Seas and the Indian Ocean, from Taiwan to the spice islands of Indonesia and the Malabar coast of India, on to the rich ports of the Persian Gulf and down the African coast, China's "El Dorado," and perhaps even to Australia, three hundred years before Captain Cook was credited with its discovery. With over 300 ships-some measuring as much as 400 feet long and 160 feet wide, with upwards of nine masts and twelve sails, and combined crews sometimes numbering over 28,000 men-the emperor Zhu Di's fantastic fleet was a virtual floating city, a naval expression of his Forbidden City in Beijing. The largest wooden boats ever built, these extraordinary ships were the most technically superior vessels in the world with innovations such as balanced rudders and bulwarked compartments that predated European ships by centuries. For thirty years foreign goods, medicines, geographic knowledge, and cultural insights flowed into China at an extraordinary rate, and China extended its sphere of political power and influence throughout the Indian Ocean.
Appropriate for grades 10 and up.
Course lesson plans for When China Ruled the Seas are currently in development.