Burning your future.
The life of a eunuch in 15th century China was seldom one that attracted distinction or renown. By definition, eunuchs were castrated male slaves and were often put to work conducting lower domestic functions for members of royalty—making beds, attending to bathing duties, and acting as messengers.
However, this was not to be the destiny of Zheng He.
Born to a Muslim family during the Ming Dynasty in 1371, he was given the name Ma He at birth. After experiencing his father's death at the hands of the Ming army, he was captured at age ten by a Ming general. He was soon castrated, enslaved, and indentured into servitude to Zhu Di, the Prince of the state of Yan.
Eventually, the young eunuch would become a trusted advisor to the prince, and according to some accounts, even a friend. By the time the prince had ascended to take on the mantle of Yongle Emperor, he had bestowed the new name “Zheng” onto He, as well as elevated him into a position of authority as a distinguished military commander, and eventually, an admiral in the empire’s navy.
As a naval commander, Zheng He led no less than seven expeditions for his Emperor into the Indian Ocean. He controlled a vast fleet of massive treasure ships; the largest junks ever built in history were over a hundred and twenty metres in length, capable of supporting a staggering nine masts each. At its peak, the fleet was comprised of over three hundred vessels manned by an astonishing thirty thousand total crew members, with no fleet of comparable size ever before sailing our planet’s waters.
Zheng He’s expeditions were extremely profitable for the empire. Voyaging as far away as the Horn of Africa, the treasure ships returned to China laden with silver, gold, ivory, porcelain, and silk, as well as eccentric gifts that once included a giraffe—an animal the empire believed was a mythical beast called a qilin.
But while incredibly prosperous, Zheng He’s voyages were not to last.
Members of the Emperor’s court grew increasingly jealous of the exploits of a mere eunuch, as well as the favour that was lavished upon him. Many in the court also believed that the merchant class growing rich from international trade was a threat to the government’s centralised power, and sought to stifle this growth. But it wasn’t until the Yongle Emperor’s death, and the ascension of his son to the throne in 1424, that they were able to take action against Zheng He and his exploits.
After convincing the new ruler that Zheng He’s voyages were folly and not a wise investment, the Hongxi Emperor took drastic action. He first ordered that the building of any new junk of more than two masts be an offence punishable by death, before setting Zheng He’s entire 300-ship expeditionary fleet ablaze. Envy and ignorance saw a swift end to decades of progress, with the new wealth of an empire vanishing in thick pillars of destructive fire and smoke.
Long term, this would only do damage to China’s supremacy. Its dominance over the seas diminished, and its wealth dwindled as it became increasingly more insular.
Incredibly stupid decisions made by a few, would go on to damage the financial well-being of the many. In other words, the same thing that’s still happening in our world today.
Just last year, the nation of Sri Lanka was praised for taking a massive stand for our climate. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was hailed as a visionary for his decision to ban all forms of synthetic fertilisers, forcing the nation’s estimated 2.1 million farming households to go organic basically overnight. You could almost hear ecological activists cheering, as Sri Lanka was given an almost-perfect ESG score of 98.1.
But this wasn’t good news for the farming community, the literal lifeblood of Sri Lanka. An immediate drop in crop yields meant farmers had less produce to sell, less food to distribute throughout the community, and could afford to employ fewer people. In short, kicking off a catastrophic landslide of poverty and food shortages that spread like malignant cancer throughout the nation.
Fast forward six months to early 2022, and Sri Lanka was spending almost half a billion dollars to import rice for its population to eat that it once produced entirely on its own land. And today, a man-made food shortage has caused mass hunger in Sri Lanka, led to a total economic collapse, resultinmg in the president being overthrown and temporarily exiled from his own country.
Personally, I would love to live in a world where all our farming is organic. But it doesn’t take a member of Mensa to see that transitioning an entire country of more than twenty million people to this type of farming overnight would be a recipe for disaster.
But not all short-sighted decisions threaten to collapse an entire nation. Some just stifle economic progress, or the ability of people to start or grow a business.
Very recently, a Swedish friend of mine who works in the event space told me of the Swedish government’s mandated insurance for events and travel companies. It requires coverage of 110% of an operator’s estimated revenue each year, in case the event goes bust. And as insurers almost never cover new companies, any new Swedish event would have to hold an equivalent amount of cash in its accounts as insurance: for example, if it estimates SEK 1 million in revenue, it needs to have 1.1 million krona just sitting in a bank account that can’t be touched in case anything goes wrong.
Obviously, this makes starting a new event in Sweden almost impossible, unless you’re the trust fund kid of a billionaire.
Or have you ever thought about starting even a food truck to earn an income in a place like Europe, or Australia? Maybe don’t. The sheer number of certificates, health and safety regulations, permits, and hoops you have to jump through to satisfy your nation’s overlords to get this kind of business off the ground is almost pure insanity.
In short, our governments tell us they want us to prosper, and contribute to our economies. But their actions make this an impossible reality for most people at the bottom—resulting in the weakening overall economic prosperity of a nation, and the majority of economic wealth concentrating at the very top.
Something that many argue has been the plan all along.
But remember: if your nation’s ecosystem makes it impossible for you to play fairly within it, our world is structured so that you can go and do business somewhere else.
Sure, you might not be able to operate a food truck business in New York City if you live in Bangladesh. And maybe you won’t be able to launch an event in Sweden that’s legally licensed in Hong Kong. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tweak your business or idea so it works on a more global stage.
For example, over the past two years an Australian company selling creative marshmallows has completely eschewed a traditional brick-and-mortar store with high overheads and oppressive government licenses and regulations, for a business that now sells globally through social media. A change that’s seen its revenues explode, while its bureaucratic headaches have dropped.
And remember, setting up your business in this global way also opens up the possibility that you could incorporate in a place like Mongolia, Hungary, or Georgia where your tax liability might be 10% or under, instead of dealing with your home country’s rate of probably many times more.
Just like Zheng He, we suffer from leaders who seem hell-bent on destroying economic prosperity for the masses. But try as they might, they thankfully don’t yet have the ability to completely burn our opportunity into ashes.
Fairer seas are out there. And you usually don’t have to search hard to find them.