The Ming–Kotte War was a military conflict between the expeditionary forces of the Chinese Ming empire with the Sinhalese Kotte kingdom, located in the southern territories of present-day Sri Lanka. This conflict happened when Ming China's treasure fleet returned to Ceylon in 1410 or 1411. It resulted in the overthrow of the Sinhalese ruling house.
In Ceylon, the Kotte kingdom was waging a war against the Jaffna kingdom. Alakeshvara had gained military prestige in the war. Eventually, he came to power and ruled Kotte under a puppet king from the previous royal dynasty. However, he eventually usurped the royal throne of the kingdom. During the treasure voyages, Admiral Zheng He and his fleet arrived in local waters nearby to establish Chinese control and stability along the maritime routes in the waters of Ceylon and southern India. However, Alakeshvara posed a threat to Chinese trade by committing piracy and hostilities in the local waters.
Alakeshvara was hostile to the Chinese presence in Ceylon during the first treasure voyage, and Admiral Zheng He decided to leave Ceylon and traveled to other destinations. During the third treasure voyage, the treasure fleet would return to the Kotte kingdom. However, this time they came to depose Alakeshvara by military force. Dreyer (2007) states that the confrontation in Ceylon against Alakeshvara most-likely happened during the outward journey in 1410 rather than the homeward journey in 1411. However, he also notes that most authorities think that the confrontation happened during the homeward journey in 1411.
On the return to Ceylon, the Chinese were overbearing and contemptuous of the Sinhalese, whom they considered rude, disrespectful, and hostile. They also resented that the Sinhalese were committing hostilities towards neighboring countries who had diplomatic relations with Ming China. Admiral Zheng He and a few of his troops traveled overland into Kotte, because Alakeshvara had lured them into his territory. Alakeshvara cut off Admiral Zheng He and his 2000 accompanying troops from the treasure fleet, anchored at Colombo. Alakeshvara planned to launch a surprise attack on the fleet. In response, Admiral Zheng He and his troops invaded Kotte, conquering its capital. They took captive Alakeshvara, his family, and principal officials. The Sinhalese army hastily returned and surrounded the capital, but they were repeatedly defeated in battle against the invading Chinese troops.
After the third treasure voyage, Admiral Zheng He returned to Nanjing on 6 July 1411 and presented the Sinhalese captives to the Yongle Emperor. Eventually, the Yongle Emperor decided to free Alakeshvara and return him to Ceylon. He also requested that the Ministry of Rites recommend someone to serve as the new king. However, the previous Sinhalese dynasty had already re-established themselves in Kotte by the time the Chinese embassy arrived. From then on, the treasure fleet would experience no hostilities during visits to Ceylon on subsequent treasure voyages.
- Dreyer, Edward L. (2007). Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405–1433. New York, NY: Pearson Longman. ISBN 9780321084439.
- Levathes, Louise (1996). When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405–1433. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195112078.
- Mills, J.V.G. (1970). Ying-yai Sheng-lan: 'The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores' . Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-01032-2.