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SOUTH-EAST ASIAN EXPLORATION - Ming China's brief flirtation with overseas expansion provides unequivocal evidence of the remarkable competence of Chinese shipwrights, navigators and sailors. Chinese mariners had long traded in the same waters without official sanction, but seafarers ranked low in the Confucian social heirarchy and received little attention from court historians and chroniclers. The inset shows an early sixteenth-century Portuguese nao silhouetted against a nine-masted Ming treasure ship.