Ming–Kotte War

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Ming–Kotte War
Part of the Ming treasure voyages
Date1410 or 1411

Ming victory

Ming China Kotte
Commanders and leaders
Admiral Zheng He King Alakeshvara

The Chinese fleet comprised a crew of over 27,000 [1]

Including 2,000 troops at Kotte [2]
50,000 [3]

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 Ceylon. This conflict happened when Ming China's treasure fleet returned to Ceylon in 1410 or 1411. It resulted in the overthrow of the then Sinhalese ruling house for the former royal family.


In Ceylon, the Kotte kingdom had waged a war against the Jaffna kingdom.[3] In this war, Alakeshvara gained military prestige.[3] He soon came to power and ruled Kotte with a puppet king from the previous royal dynasty, eventually usurping the throne of the kingdom.[3] During the Ming treasure voyages, a large Chinese fleet led by Admiral Zheng He arrived in local waters to establish Chinese control and stability of the maritime routes in the waters around Ceylon and southern India.[3] Alakeshvara posed a threat to Chinese trade by committing piracy and hostilities in the local waters.[3]

Alakeshvara was hostile to the Chinese presence in Ceylon during the first Ming treasure voyage, so Admiral Zheng He decided to leave Ceylon for other destinations.[4] During the third Ming treasure voyage, the Chinese fleet returned to the Kotte kingdom.[3] This time the Chinese came with the intention to depose Alakeshvara by military force.[3] Dreyer (2007) states that the confrontation against Alakeshvara in Ceylon most-likely happened during the outward journey of the Chinese fleet in 1410 rather than the homeward journey in 1411,[5] but he also notes that most authorities think that the confrontation happened during the homeward journey in 1411.[3]


Straight-away, their dens and hideouts we ravaged,
And made captive that entire country,
Bringing back to our august capital,
Their women, children, families and retainers, leaving not one,
Cleaning out in a single sweep those noxious pests, as if winnowing chaff from grain...
These insignificant worms, deserving to die ten thousand times over, trembling in fear...
Did not even merit the punishment of Heaven.
Thus the august emperor spared their lives,
And they humbly kowtowed, making crude sounds and
Praising the sage-like virtue of the imperial Ming ruler.

Yang Rong (1515) about the confrontation in Ceylon [6]

On the return to Ceylon, the Chinese were overbearing and contemptuous of the Sinhalese, whom they considered rude, disrespectful, and hostile.[2] They also resented that the Sinhalese were committing hostilities towards neighboring countries who had diplomatic relations with Ming China.[2] Admiral Zheng He and 2000 Chinese troops traveled overland into Kotte, because Alakeshvara had lured them into his territory.[2] Alakeshvara soon cut off Admiral Zheng He and his 2000 troops from the Chinese treasure fleet anchored at Colombo.[7] Alakeshvara planned to launch a surprise attack on the fleet.[3] In response, Admiral Zheng He and his troops invaded Kotte and conquered its capital.[3] They took captive Alakeshvara, his family, and principal officials.[7][8] The Sinhalese army hastily returned and surrounded the capital, but they were repeatedly defeated in battle against the invading Chinese troops.[2]


After the third Ming treasure voyage, Admiral Zheng He returned to Nanjing on 6 July 1411 and presented the Sinhalese captives to the Yongle Emperor.[8] The Yongle Emperor eventually decided to free Alakeshvara and return him to Ceylon.[3][8]

The Chinese were allied with Parakramabahu VI and dethroned Alakeshvara in favor of him.[9][10] The Yongle Emperor had requested from the Ministry of Rites to recommend someone to serve as the new king of Kotte.[3] As documented in Chinese records, Parakramabahu VI was elected by the Sinhalese present at the Ming court, nominated by the Ming emperor, and installed by Admiral Zheng He with the backing of his fleet.[10] By the time the Chinese embassy arrived, the previous Sinhalese dynasty had re-established themselves in Kotte.[3] With Parakramavahu VI as the ruler in Ceylon, both economic and diplomatic relations between China and Ceylon was improved.[9] From then on, the Chinese treasure fleet would experience no hostilities during visits to Ceylon on subsequent voyages.[3]

On 13 September 1411, the emperor granted both rewards and promotions for those who participated in Sinhalese confrontation after the joint recommendation of the Ministry of War and the Ministry of Rites.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dreyer 2007, 125.
  2. ^ a b c d e Dreyer 2007, 67–68.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Dreyer 2007, 70–73.
  4. ^ Dreyer 2007, 53–54 & 67.
  5. ^ Dreyer 2007, 66 & 73.
  6. ^ Yang Rong, Yang Wenmin gong ji (The collected works of Yang Rong) Jianan, Yang shi chong kan ben [1515], chapter 1. Translation in Levathes 1996, 115.
  7. ^ a b Dreyer 2007, 67–68 & 70–73.
  8. ^ a b c Mills 1970, 11–12.
  9. ^ a b Ray 1987, 74–75.
  10. ^ a b Holt 1991, 109–110.
  11. ^ Dreyer (2007), 129–134.


  • Dreyer, Edward L. (2007). Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405–1433. New York, NY: Pearson Longman. ISBN 9780321084439.
  • Holt, John Clifford (1991). Buddha in the Crown: Avalokiteśvara in the Buddhist Traditions of Sri Lanka. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506418-6.
  • 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' [1433]. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-01032-2.
  • Ray, Haraprasad (1987). "An Analysis of the Chinese Maritime Voyages into the Indian Ocean during Early Ming Dynasty and their Raison d'Etre". China Report. 23 (1). doi:10.1177/000944558702300107.