Skip to content

Sailing Through History: When China Ruled the Waves

"When China Ruled the Waves" is a riveting deep-dive into China's naval dominance during the early Ming Dynasty, exploring the extraordinary voyages of Zheng He.

Keywords: China, naval history, exploration, Zheng He, maritime technology. Three words: Informative, Intriguing, Historical


"When China Ruled the Waves", directed by John Hay and released in 2003, is a captivating exploration of China's naval dominance during the early Ming Dynasty. The documentary offers a unique view into a less-known aspect of China's history, showcasing its technological advancements and prowess in sea exploration.


The documentary takes the audience on a historical journey, as seen through the eyes of a contemporary adventurer. It focuses on the story of Zheng He, a Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and court eunuch during the early Ming Dynasty. Zheng He led expeditionary voyages across the Indian Ocean from 1405 to 1433, establishing China's dominance over the seas.

More Film Analysis


The film's approach is both educational and engaging, using a combination of historical evidence, expert interviews, and dramatic reenactments. The exhaustive research shines through, providing an in-depth exploration of China's naval history.

Historical and Factual Context

During the time of Zheng He's voyages, China was the world's most powerful nation, both economically and technologically. The Ming Dynasty was known for its treasure voyages, which were grand displays of its naval power.

Key themes in the film

  • Naval dominance and technology
  • Chinese history and culture
  • The life and voyages of Zheng He

Film Comparisons

"When China Ruled the Waves" offers a unique perspective on China's history, similar to other historical documentaries like "1421: The Year China Discovered America?" However, it stands out through its focus on naval history and the life of Zheng He.

Noteworthy Moments

One significant revelation in the documentary is the sheer scale and technological superiority of the Chinese fleets, which were unparalleled at the time.


This documentary received positive reviews for its engaging storytelling and comprehensive research. Critics praised it as a "fascinating exploration into a less-known aspect of Chinese history."


"When China Ruled the Waves" is an essential watch for anyone interested in maritime history, Chinese culture, or historical exploration. It offers valuable insights into a critical period in China's history and the extraordinary life of Zheng He.

More film information:


  • IMDB score: 7.8/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes score: 85%
  • Metacritic score: 80
  • Film festival awards: N/A



  • Zheng He: Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and court eunuch during the early Ming Dynasty.



  • China
  • Various locations across the Indian Ocean

Key Questions Raised by the Film:

  • How did China's naval dominance shape its history and culture?
  • What were the technological advancements that allowed China to rule the seas?
  • How did Zheng He's voyages influence global exploration?

I wonder what the film would be in another art form

Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
  1. If this film was a famous book, it would be "1421: The Year China Discovered the World" by Gavin Menzies for its focus on China's exploration history.
  2. If this film was a famous song, it would be "Wind of Change" by Scorpions, symbolizing China's transformation during the Ming Dynasty.
  3. If this film was a famous piece of art, it would be "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai, representing the power and unpredictability of the sea.
  4. If this film was a famous celebrity, it would be Jackie Chan, known for his daring stunts akin to Zheng He's adventurous voyages.
  5. If this film was a color, it would be navy blue, signifying the sea and exploration.
  6. If this film was a music style, it would be classical, reflecting its historical and sophisticated theme.