This is the year 1400 CE. I am a prince in my early teens, belonging to the Zapotec civilization, Mexico. I always get recurring dream that in less than 4 generations, hostile people from far away lands in the North East will attack, and I should try to get support from far away lands in the West.

Just like in OTL, I have no idea of anything about Eastern hemisphere.

Can I do the following (with the then available technology)?

  1. Fund an exploration to West (Asia), in "Kon-Tiki voyage" style.
  2. Capture some pirates from SE Asia, and get advanced weapons technology from them.
  3. Start trade relations with SE Asia. Use the profit to fund further voyages. Get rich through trade (arbitrage from Columbian exchange).
  4. Get knowledge about steel, windmill, paddle wheel ships, mathematics, phonetic Pallava script, movable types...
  5. Contact Yongle emperor.
  6. Develop Matchlock technology
  7. Conquer Aztec territory

Can I get a protectorate status from the Yongle emperor, just like Kochi as Chinese protectorate? I will need an equivalent of Sino-Malay alliance to keep the Spaniards away.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ You may have noticed that being a protectorate of China did not help Cochin when China decided that after all they were not interested in overseas trade. Sadly, the interest of China died just in time to leave Cochin hanging in the wind and positively seeking to be taken over by the Portuguese when they came calling. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty much what with AlexP has said. You could contact China. Piquing its interest, however, it's another thing. China was historically self-absorved in its own frontiers. And if it developed any kind of interest in Mesoamerica, conquest rather than trade would be a more probable consequence. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft Why would conquest be a more probably consequence than trade? How could they even hold on to any conquered land across the Pacific Ocean, or even launch that invasion? I find trade much more likely than conquest. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ @KeizerHarm Like Spaniards did? I mean, I'm not arguing about if the Chinese had the technology and expertise to do that, only that, from an economical point of view, in those times there was practically no middle ground between insufficient economical gains to justify trade and huge gains if conquered. If there's a lot of gold, you have a reason to invade. If not, there's nothing valuable mesoamericans could trade that China was interested in. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 16:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That was a great edit, Jayadevan. Thank you! Happy to +1. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


Make China aware of you

The Mesoamericans stand no chance of developing reliable seafaring technology within a century. Crossing an ocean as big as the Pacific is no easy task, and you cannot just learn that without some long-term economic motivator, something lacking in the West.

But you can send a message. Manned expeditions will never make it, but if you craft dinghies, hundreds or thousands of them, and set them loose before your coast in a variety of weathers, every season of the year, then you have a good chance that at least some of them will be caught on the North Pacific Gyre, by way of the Equitorial Countercurrent.

gyres map

Release enough of them, and a bunch will cross the Pacific on their own, and with some luck they will land in China itself, or one of China's protectorates. Then you need to draw China's interest. Filling the boats with gifts would make sense, but textile (the Mesoamerican currency) would not survive the multi-month journey, and you are going to run out of precious metals before you get a response. Try to instead carve the boats with elaborate patterns, stories of your people.

wood carving

News of these boats will eventually reach the Forbidden City. They will learn of an artistic culture across the Great Ocean, and they may send an expedition to reach these peoples. Then you need a great amount of luck for them to land at your port in Mesoamerica, rather than the less developed California or some of the states in West Mexico like the Tarascan. If they find you, then you can present your gifts and you will leave with the blessing of the Yongle Emperor, or whoever is serving because this plan will probably take more than one generation.

Of course this protectorateship would be rather worthless against the Spanish given the fact that they are closer and more technologically advanced than China, but hey, mission accomplished!

  • $\begingroup$ A small team was able to do the Kon-Tiki voyage. So, why not a large team of people travel straight to Indonesia? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ @JayadevanVijayan Thor Heyerdahl knew where Indonesia was, knew how to navigate, knew how much food he needed to bring, etc. etc. How much information did the vision give your prince exactly? $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ No information, other than in less than 4 human generations, hostile people will arrive and do atrocities. All further information is from either trial and error explorations, and possibly later by collaborating with Polynesian navigators. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JayadevanVijayan Then no, they cannot learn all those things in a century of trial and error. Your prince won't live that long anyway, and won't stay in power for long enough to keep motivating sailors to go on suicide missions on experimental boats. At least with unmanned dinghies, he could conjure up a number of reasons to keep crafting them and setting them loose, and no loss of human life would occur in the process. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 15:01

This would be almost impossible for a few reasons. But hey, impossible makes for an interesting story, so let's work through it with a few creative stretches here and there.

The Chinese were interested in tribute. It's essentially a racket. You give us horses, gold, and other wealth, as well as whatever other curiosities you have laying around, and we don't kill you. Their focus politically was also on the maintenance of their own empire and the management of the millions of people under their sway. One of the reasons China never had a large maritime empire like England did is because there was no need: they had a huge land area and population in China to control and rule, and they had access to lucrative trade routes, as well as tribute from nearby countries to bolster their wealth. England is a fairly resource poor island with a low population, so they had to go around the world conquering other nations and stealing their resources. China didn't.

So for this young Aztec prince to get what he wants he's going to have to find a way to:

  1. Cross the Pacific ocean.
  2. Enter into tributary status with the Ming dynasty
  3. Absorb enough of their technology and culture.
  4. Bring it back to Mexico and spread this new found thought to your people.

With the technology of the Aztec at the time, crossing the Pacific ocean would be an incredible feat. I know Polynesians were able, over many centuries, to colonize the Pacific Ocean, but that took a long time, probably a ton of people died, and people were just landing and settling where they could with no real plan. However, this wouldn't make for an interesting story, so give the Prince a vision of a massive boat. After all, it's prophecy, right?

So, now we have our Aztecs and a boat large enough to house 100 of them decently with food stores. To meet the Ming emperor you need gifts. Yes, it is hard to buy gifts for the emperor who has everything. Luckily, we're talking about the YongLe emperor, so he should be sated with some Aztec gold craftsmanship as well as other unique gifts the Aztecs could fashion. It'd also be good to bring seeds of certain crops to offer the Chinese fruits and vegetables they would not have had at the time. The Chinese have pretty much all they need, so anything unique the Aztecs could muster would be much appreciated. Also, and this is big, bring documentation from the king, maybe a seal, to show that the envoy is not a bunch of nobodies, but rather, important people who can speak for the Aztec king. I forgot his name, but there was some Japanese dude who wanted to enter into a tributary relationship with China for silver, and he wasn't high enough of a title, so the Chinese rebuffed him until he was the proper title. It took 40 years.

Now, let's say by some miracle the Aztec sailors make it across the Pacific and they land somewhere in Indonesia or the Phillipines. They trade with locals to get food and fresh water, and by figuring out the local languages, they are guided to Ming China by way of Vietnam. Literally no one in this part of the world would know who the Aztecs were, and why they should give them the time of day, so the sailors are going to have to play up the Aztec empire as if it is somehow analogous to the Chinese empire, just in a different direction. Maps would help, artwork showing great Aztec armies marching would help, and a couple good storytellers with a linguist to help communicate. It's going to be a hard sell to convince the locals you're not a bunch of crazy people off of a boat, and that there really is a mystical kingdom far to the east where there are half jaguar-half human warriors who feast on the remains of their fallen enemies in battle (or whatever story you want to make up that would fit).

By pure luck, you run into Zheng He who is going off on one of his expeditions to show the world just how much bling China has (spoiler alert: it's a lot). He gives your envoy a tally that gives them the right to journey to the capital. Now, the Aztec envoy is going to have to survive the journey all the way to Beijing (YongLe moved shop from Nanjing), kowtow to the emperor, show off your great Aztec treasures, and enter into a tributary relationship with him.

The next problem is that the Yong Le emperor is mostly busy dealing with a China that's just come from a rebellion. The dude is going to be slightly paranoid because there should be hundreds of people plotting and scheming to install themselves into power. He might not have time to consider entering into a tributary relationship with a civilization that's over 13,000 km away. On the other hand, it's no skin off his nose if he accepts the gifts, lets his scholars learn about Aztec culture, and let's you stay in Beijing long enough to grow corn, yams, potatoes, tomatoes, and avocados. The Chinese may not like the avocado so much, but the rest of the vegetables will be put to good use.

What would be beneficial from the Aztec perspective is for the linguistically inclined person in the group to learn Chinese and get his hands on some ship building manuals, self defense manuals for martial arts, and any texts that deal with mathematics. The Chinese would probably push the Confucian stuff as well, but that is largely useless philosophy. The Ming dynasty would focus on it too much and then stagnate. The Aztecs are interested in the gun powder and the city planning, not on the correct rites.

Now, the hard part, getting back. If you got on the emperor's good side then you can ask for him to send Zheng He to Mexico. Zheng He had convinced the emperor to send out ships to far away lands, so if Mexico doesn't count I don't know what does. Zheng He is new found friend, and after a few years, the Chinese build some awesome ships that can take on the Pacific. Whoever is alive of the Aztec envoy boards the boat filled with Chinese knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, ship building, city planning, warfare, agriculture, and science, ready to take it back to the Aztecs.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, but the prince is stated to be Zapotec, not Aztec. Aztecs weren't really a thing in the year 1400 just yet :D $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer. Anyway, won't a long term trade link (rather than a one-time adventure) be more plausible? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 6:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JayadevanVijayan Probably not. The Chinese merchant fleet was already hard at work in Indonesia and India, but the Chinese just waited for you to bring your goods back to them. After all, they were a huge market. $\endgroup$
    – yithril
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 12:05

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