Zheng He: Famous Chinese Explorer Who Added Wealth and Power to the Ming Dynasty

Zheng He: Famous Chinese Explorer Who Added Wealth and Power to the Ming Dynasty

Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) is one of the most famous admirals in Chinese history, and is best known for his treasure voyages. These voyages served to project the power and the wealth of the Ming Dynasty to the known world and were sponsored by the Ming emperor, Yongle, himself. Yet, due to the way that the Yongle Emperor came to power, it has been speculated that the treasure voyages were commissioned with a more sinister goal in mind. Before going into that, however, we shall first have a look at the man who led these voyages, the admiral Zheng He.

The Story of Zheng He

Zheng He was born in 1371 to a Hui Muslim family in Yunnan, southwestern China, and was originally named Ma He. In 1378, this region was conquered by the forces of the Ming Dynasty. Subsequently, the Ming army embarked on a military campaign in this area to eliminate any remaining Yuan loyalists.

In 1381, Zheng He was captured by Ming soldiers, sent to the capital, Nanjing, castrated, and entered into the imperial service as a eunuch. He was then sent to Beiping (modern day Beijing) to serve in the household of the Prince of Yan. During this time, Zheng He proved that he was a capable military commander, as he accompanied his master on various military campaigns. Moreover, thanks to his loyalty and leadership, Zheng He soon became one of the prince’s closest confidants.

A modern statue of Admiral Zheng He (Quanzhou Maritime Museum)

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Creation of the Treasure Fleet

In August 1399, the Prince of Yan led a rebellion against the Jianwen Emperor, the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, who was also his nephew. The rebellion was successful, and the Prince of Yan became the Yongle Emperor in 1402.

In the official records, it is stated that the Jianwen Emperor perished in a fire that broke out in the imperial palace. Some, however, have speculated that the Jianwen Emperor survived his uncle’s rebellion, and had fled to Southeast Asia. Thus, it has been suggested that the treasure voyages of Zheng He were sponsored by the Yongle Emperor with the intention of seeking out the deposed emperor. The more commonly accepted reason for these voyages, however, is that they were meant to showcase the Ming Dynasty’s power and wealth to the world.

General Zheng He statue in Sam Po Kong temple, Semarang, Indonesia ( CC BY SA 2.0 )

Thus, in 1403, the Yongle Emperor commanded the construction of the ‘Treasure Fleet.’ In addition to trade ships, warships and support vessels were also built for the journey across the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The largest of these ships is said to have measured at 400 feet (121.9 meters) in length and 186 feet (56.7 meters) in width. As a comparison, Columbus’ Santa Maria is estimated to have had a deck of about 58 feet (17.7 meters) in length.

In 1405, the first of the seven treasure voyages began. At the head of this voyage was Zheng He, who commanded up to 27,870 men on board 317 ships. In addition to sailors, there were also clerks, interpreters, soldiers, artisans, doctors, and meteorologists on this voyage. As for the cargo, the ships held large quantities of luxury goods, including silk, porcelain, as well as gold and silver items.

Woodblock print representing Zheng He’s ships.

Zheng He’s Voyages

The first voyage brought the Treasure Fleet to Calicut, southwestern India, where spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper were purchased. Before reaching Calicut, the fleet travelled to several areas in Southeast Asia, including Champa (southern Vietnam), Siam (Thailand), Malacca, and Java. On their return trip to China, the fleet stopped at Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

In 1407, the Treasure Fleet was back in China, laden not only with spices, but also with foreign envoys who came to pay homage and present tribute to the Ming Emperor. Between 1408 and 1433, six more treasure voyages were led by Zheng He. During these voyages, Zheng He negotiated trade pacts, fought pirates, dethroned a hostile king, and brought back more envoys and tribute to the Ming court.

The Kangnido map (1402) predates Zheng He's voyages and suggests that he had quite detailed geographical information on much of the Old World.

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Zheng He’s Fall from Favor in China

Zheng He died in 1433, either in Calicut, where he decided to stay during his 7th voyage due to failing health, or on the return journey to China. Another suggestion is that he managed to return to China, and died some years later.

Zheng He’s tomb. Nanjing, China.

Immediately after Zheng He’s death, the eunuch fell from favor, and most of the Chinese historical records about him and his voyages are said to have been destroyed. It may also be mentioned that the Yongle Emperor died in 1424, and that during the reign of his successor, the Hongxi Emperor, no voyages were undertaken. Zheng He’s final voyage was made during the reign of the Xuande Emperor, Yongle’s grandson. By contrast, in many Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, Zheng He is venerated as a folk hero.

Monument honoring admiral Zheng He. Melaka, Malaysia. ( CC BY SA 2.0 )

Featured image: Admiral Zheng He , The Kangnido map (1402) predates Zheng He's voyages .

By Ḏḥwty


Zheng He, The Eunuch Who Became A Ming Dynasty Admiral

In 1127, the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) lost control of northern China and, with it, access to the Silk Road and Persia's riches. After overthrowing the Song Dynasty and rising himself to the imperial Chinese throne in 1279, the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan had millions of trees planted and new shipyards built. Kublai Khan soon commanded a fleet of thousands of ships that he then sent out to attack Japan, Vietnam and Java. Although these naval offensives did not gain land, it gave China an opportunity to gain control of the sea lanes from Japan to Southeast Asia.

Japanese samurai boarding Mongol Yuan dynasty ships in 1281. (Public Domain)

Through Kublai Khan’s ambition, the Mongols afforded merchants new preeminence which led to a flourishing maritime trading. However, on land, the Mongols struggled to set up a stable system of government and gain the allegiance from the people they had conquered. After decades of internal revolt in China, the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty collapsed in 1368 and was succeeded by China’s Ming dynasty that went on to rule from 1368 to 1644. The Hongwu Emperor, the founding emperor of the Ming dynasty who reigned from 1368 to 1398, favored limited overseas contact with naval ambassadors charged with securing tributes from an increasingly long list of vassal states which included Brunei, Cambodia, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, thereby ensuring that lucrative profits did not fall into private hands.

Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty, commonly called the Yongle Emperor, sitting in the 'Dragon' chair. Taibei National Palace Museum (Public Domain)

The Yongle Emperor, the third Ming emperor, took the restrictive maritime policy even further by prohibiting private trade and pressing for Chinese domination of the South Seas and the Indian Ocean. The beginning of his reign saw the conquest of Vietnam and the establishment of Malacca as a new sultanate, ruling the entry point of the Indian Ocean which was an extremely strategic ruling position for China. The emperor planned to assemble a grand fleet to conquer the trading routes that unified China with Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. He selected his eunuch Zheng He to lead the voyage.

Zheng He statue in the Quanzhou Maritime Museum (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Main keywords of the article below: led, 1381, years, hold, chinese, reconquered, dynasty, yunnan, 10, generals, last, ming, old, yuan, 1368, china, explorers, mongol, forces, overthrown.

KEY TOPICS
In 1381, when he was about 10 years old, Yunnan, the last Mongol hold in China, was reconquered by Chinese forces led by generals of the Ming dynasty, which had overthrown the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in 1368. [1] The temples of this cult - called after either of his names, Cheng Hoon or Sam Po - are peculiar to overseas Chinese except for a single temple in Hongjian originally constructed by a returned Filipino Chinese in the Ming dynasty and rebuilt by another Filipino Chinese after the original was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. (The same village of Hongjian, in Fujian's Jiaomei township, is also the ancestral home of Corazon Aquino.) [2]

The Yuan dynasty and expanding Sino-Arab trade during the 14th century had gradually expanded Chinese knowledge of the world: "universal" maps previously only displaying China and its surrounding seas began to expand further and further into the southwest with much more accurate depictions of the extent of Arabia and Africa. [2]

From 1405 to 1433, large fleets commanded by Admiral Zheng He --under the auspices of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty -- traveled to the Indian Ocean seven times. [3] Although the Ming dynasty did ban shipping with the Haijin edict, this was a policy of the Hongwu Emperor that long preceded Zheng He and the ban - so obviously disregarded by the Yongle Emperor - was eventually lifted entirely. [2]


When the Han Chinese overthrew the Mongols and founded the Ming dynasty in the later 14th century, they took over the fleet and an already extensive trade network. [4] The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was a Chinese dynasty with a Chinese imperial family, as distinct from the dynasty that came before it (the Mongol, or Yuan, dynasty of Chinggis and Khubilai Khan) or the one that followed it (the Manchu, or Qing, dynasty). [5] The object of the voyages was to display the glory and might of the Chinese Ming dynasty and to collect tribute from the "barbarians from beyond the seas." [6] When the Ming Dynasty took over, Chinese soldiers captured Ma He and took him as a slave to one of the Emperor's sons, Prince Zhu Di. [7] The Ming Dynasty is often called the last of the great Chinese dynasties. [8]

Niu Jianqiang, a professor of Ming dynasty history at Henan University in central China, said an archaeological breakthrough would help to settle some major questions. [9] Prior to the Ming Dynasty, China had been ruled by the Yuan Dynasty. [8] By the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, China had reached a peak of naval technology unsurpassed in the world. [5] Ancient China for Kids: Ming Dynasty Parents and Teachers : Support Ducksters by following us on or. [8]

A biography of the Chinese explorer Zheng He who sailed for the emperor during the Ming Dynasty. [10] A Chinese explorer who lived during the Ming dynasty of the 1400s, who made 7 massive expeditions to places like India, East Africa, and the Middle East. [11]

In China, that legend belongs to the great explorer Zheng He (13711433), who lived during China's renowned Ming Dynasty. [12] Originally named Ma He, Zheng He became a highly influential explorer and representative of Ming Dynasty China. [13]

Chinese and Japanese Interaction with European Explorers By Sophia Pressler and Lana Tuong The Ming Dynasty Europeans began to explore the world's oceans Trading posts and empires were established in Asia The Qing Dynasty Europeans first arrived in Japan during the 16th century in 1543 The Portuguese were the first to arrive followed by English, Spanish, and Dutch traders Japan Europeans came to China for the first time during the Ming Dynasty. [14]


These voyages served to project the power and the wealth of the Ming Dynasty to the known world and were sponsored by the Ming emperor, Yongle, himself. [15] The Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) encouraged commercial activity and maritime trade, so the succeeding Ming Dynasty inherited large shipyards, many skilled shipyard workers, and finely tuned naval technology from the dynasty that preceded it. [5] In August 1399, the Prince of Yan led a rebellion against the Jianwen Emperor, the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, who was also his nephew. [15] The third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di or the Yongle Emperor, was particularly aggressive and personally led major campaigns against Mongolian tribes to the north and west. [5]


Zheng He (1371 - 1433) was a great Chinese explorer and fleet commander. [7] Celebrating the Legacy of a Chinese Explorer - The New York Times NYTimes.com no longer supports Internet Explorer 9 or earlier. [16]


The truncated maritime expeditions of Zheng He (between 1405 and 1433) under the Ming dynasty represented the great hiatus in Chinese overseas expansion. [17] Chinas Ming Dynasty treasure ships realized trade networks and diplomatic missions as far as Africa and the Red Sea. [18] Zheng He (1371-1433 or 1435), often spelled Cheng Ho in English, was a Hui court eunuch, mariner, explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral during China's early Ming dynasty. [19] After defeating the Mongol Empire in 1368 and establishing the Ming dynasty, the Chinese emperor attempted to reestablish the tribute relationship with neighboring states. [18] Political impacts of Zheng He's exploration was that he helped show the wealth and power of the Ming Dynasty, and influenced maritime trade and ports in Asia. [20] Zheng He's enormous ships were intended to shock and awe other Asian principalities into offering tribute to the Ming Dynasty. [11]

Zheng He Zheng He was a Muslim eunuch, mariner and explorer who served as a close confidant of the Yongle Emperor of China (reigned 1403-1424), the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. [21] Chinese Discovered Molossia CHINESE DISCOVERED MOLOSSIA The discovery a few years ago of a Ming Dynasty coin in modern Molossia raised the possibility that medieval Chinese mariners and explorers traveled to this remote location 584 years ago, during the year 1421. [21] Zheng He Timeline Timeline Description: Zheng He was a Chinese eunuch and explorer who commanded the Ming dynasty's "treasure fleet" of trading vessels on expeditions between 1405 and 1433. [22]


Zheng He, the Great Chinese Explorer is a bilingual (English and Chinese) tale of his adventures. [12] Let us know what’s wrong with this preview of Zheng He, The Great Chinese Explorer by Li Jian. [10]


A background essay on the Ming Dynasty, its powerful trade networks and diplomatic missions as far as Africa and the Red Sea, and the domestic tensions that ultimately changed the course of world history. [18] The early Ming dynasty was just as full of intellectual intrigues as it was of assassinations and treachery within the royal court. [13] He was principled and served the Ming Dynasty by doing a lot of trading with other countries. [20]

After the Mongols were overthrown in 1368, the emperor of the new Ming Dynasty wanted to assert Chinese power. [23] In 1421 the emperor Yongle (the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty) moved his capital north from Nanjing to present-day Beijing, from where, at considerable expense, China launched annual military expeditions to weaken the Mongolians. [24] In 1400, the Prince of Yen revolted against his nephew, the Jianwen (Chien-wen) Emperor (建文帝 the second Emperor of the Ming dynasty, personal name Zhu Yunwen), and took the throne in 1402 as the Yongle Emperor (永楽帝) of China (reigned 1403-1424, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty). [24] By the beginning of the Ming dynasty, shipbuilding and the art of navigation had reached new heights in China. [24]

The British submarine engineer and historian Gavin Menzies gave an astounding seminar on March 15, 2002 to the Royal Geographical Society in London, with evidence to support his theory that Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim navigator in the Ming dynasty, beat Columbus by more than 70 years in discovering America. [23] More than 90 years before the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, a Chinese Muslim eunuch born in poverty ascended the ranks of the great naval powerhouse of the Ming Dynasty. [25]

Zheng He (1371-1433 or 1435), formerly romanized as Cheng Ho, was a Hui Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and court eunuch during China's early Ming dynasty. [26] In China, that legend belongs to the great explorer Zheng He (1371?1433), who lived during China's renowned Ming Dynasty. [27]


The sunken ship is believed to have been part of a mighty armada commanded by Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He, who reached Malindi in 1418. [28] Zheng He described how the emperor of the Ming Dynasty had ordered him to sail to "the countries beyond the horizon," all the way to the end of the earth." [23] Zheng He was born in 1371 of the Hui ethnic group in Kunyang (昆阳), Jinning (晋宁), modern-day Yunnan Province (雲南), one of the last possessions of the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty before being conquered by the Ming Dynasty. [24] Although the Ming Dynasty did ban shipping with the Haijin edict, this was a policy of the Hongwu Emperor that long preceded Zheng He and the ban - so obviously disregarded by the Yongle Emperor - was eventually lifted entirely. [25] His name was Zheng He and his skills as an ambassador and navigator helped to spread the glory of the Ming Dynasty over much of the known world. [25] Zheng He had started the process that might have led the Middle Kingdom to greater glory Unfortunately the rulers of the Ming Dynasty refused to follow his lead. [23] The Jinghai (Calm Sea) Temple, located at the southwestern foot of the Lion Hill, was first built in the 9th year (1411) of the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty. [25] The Imperial Ming Dynasty unifying seas and continents, surpassing the three dynasties even goes beyond the Han and Tang dynasties. [14] Their motivations were political during much of the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), the eunuchs exercised great power in the imperial court, at the expense of the Confucian civil bureaucracy. [24] In the early years of the 1400s, the Ming Dynasty as well as Nanjing was reaching new heights of wealth and power. [25] These foreign kings were officially made part of the Ming Dynasty. [23] Yunnan was one of the last strongholds of Mongol support, holding out long after the Ming Dynasty began. [23]

Although Ming Dynasty China had ships which could cross the Pacific and sail around the entire world, the government ministers chose not to. (The Ming Emperor was 12 years old at the time, so the government mandarins would have been making the decisions, similar to the constitutional monarchies of today although there was no elected Parliament). [29] By driving just half an hour outside of Nanjing, the former Ming dynasty capital that today is a metropolis of 4.5 million, we have slipped back into a China not exactly of imperial times but one that modernity has scarcely touched. [30]

He concluded that it was originally written in the Ming Dynasty - a Chinese period that lasted from 1368 to 1644. [31] Planner and explorer Jin Feibao poses for pictures with his models of the full fleet led by Ming Dynasty eunuch explorer Cheng Ho, also known as Zheng He, in Kunming, Yunnan province, July 11, 2014. [32] Zheng He was commissioned to start his voyage by the first ruler of the Ming dynasty, Emperor Yongle. [33] The coin was issued from 1403 to 1425, and it bears the name of Emperor Yongle, leader of the Ming Dynasty who started building China's Forbidden City. [34]

He was born in 1371, during the first years of the Ming dynasty, to an Islamic family in what is now the western province of Yunnan. (His name at birth was Ma He.) [30] Pride was built into the voyage from the start, when Liu and others tracked down traditional designs, built the boat to specifications of a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) war junk, and set sail from Hong Kong this summer. [35] Fear of change is an enduring legacy of Confucianism, says Henry Tsai Shih-shan, a University of Arkansas history professor who has written several books on the Ming dynasty. [30]


Zheng He was not the first Chinese explorer to go west, but he was one of the most famous, and his voyages took place at much the same time as some early European voyages, which is notable. [29] Zheng He, the Great Chinese Explorer is a bilingual (English and Chinese) tale of his adventures.When he was a child, Zheng He dreamed of foreign lands, his imagination was inspired by the travels of his father and grandfather and the wonderful items they brought back from trading trips to the West. [27] If it proves to be authentic, the coin could show that the Chinese explorer Zheng He -- like a Christopher Columbus of the East -- came to this part of east Africa. [34]

During the late 4th and early 5th centuries, Chinese pilgrims like Faxian, Zhiyan, and Tanwujie began traveling by sea to India, bringing back Buddhist scriptures and sutras to China. [3] Chinese Marine Cartography: Sea Charts of Pre-Modern China. 40 (Imago Mundi ed.). pp.96-112. [2] Malay (but not Chinese) annals record that, in the year 1459, a princess named Hang Li Po or Hang Liu was sent from China to marry the sultan. [2]

After defeating the last of the Warring States and consolidating an empire over China proper, the Chinese navy of the Qin Dynasty period (221-207 BC) assisted the land-borne invasion of Guangzhou and northern Vietnam. (Called first Jiaozhi and then Annam, the northern half of Vietnam would not become fully independent from Chinese rule until AD 938.) [3] Zheng He's fleet was following long-established, well-mapped routes of trade between China and the Arabian peninsula employed since at least the Han dynasty. [2] After centuries of disruption, the Song dynasty restored large-scale maritime trade from China in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, reaching as far as the Arabian peninsula and East Africa. [2]

Zheng He, Wade-Giles romanization Cheng Ho, original name Ma Sanbao, later Ma He, (born c. 1371, Kunyang, near Kunming, Yunnan province, China--died 1433, Calicut, India), admiral and diplomat who helped extend the maritime and commercial influence of China throughout the regions bordering the Indian Ocean. [1] Zheng He, the great admiral of the third Ming emperor of China, led a series of expeditions into the Indian Ocean. [1] It has also been inferred from passages in the History of Ming that the initial voyages were launched as part of the emperor's attempt to capture his escaped predecessor, which would have made the first voyage the "largest-scale manhunt on water in the history of China". [2] In the People's Republic of China, 11 July is Maritime Day ( 中国航海日, Zhōngguó Hánghǎi R" ) and is devoted to the memory of Zheng He's first voyage. [2] In the 1950s, historians such as John Fairbank and Joseph Needham popularized the idea that after Zheng He's voyages China turned away from the seas due to the Haijin edict and was isolated from European technological advancements. [2] Revisionist historians such as Jack Goldstone argue that the Zheng He voyages ended for practical reasons that did not reflect the technological level of China. [2] On his return to China in 1415, Zheng He brought the envoys of more than 30 states of South and Southeast Asia to pay homage to the Chinese emperor. [1] Zheng died in Calicut in the spring of 1433, and the fleet returned to China that summer. [1] Following Zheng He's arrival, the sultan and sultana of Malacca visited China at the head of over 540 of their subjects, bearing ample tribute. [2]

Richard von Glahn, a UCLA professor of Chinese history, commented that most treatments of Zheng He present him wrongly: they "offer counterfactual arguments" and "emphasize China's missed opportunity." [2] According to medieval Chinese sources, Zheng He commanded seven expeditions. [2] Among the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, Zheng He became a figure of folk veneration. [2]

"Chinese archaeologists' African quest for sunken ship of Ming admiral". [2] …by the Muslim court eunuch Cheng Ho, was to secure diplomatic and trade advantages for the Chinese and to extend the sovereign lustre of the ambitious Yung-lo Emperor. [1] The Yongle Emperor - disregarding the Hongwu Emperor's expressed wishes - designed them to establish a Chinese presence and impose imperial control over the Indian Ocean trade, impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin, and extend the empire's tributary system. [2] Gan Ying, the emissary of General Ban Chao, perhaps traveled as far as Roman Syria in the late 1st century AD. After these initial discoveries, the focus of Chinese exploration shifted to the maritime sphere, although the Silk Road leading all the way to Europe continued to be China's most lucrative source of trade. [3] The largest ships in the fleet, the Chinese treasure ships described in Chinese chronicles, would have been several times larger than any other wooden ship ever recorded in history, surpassing l'Orient, 65 metres (213.3ft) long, which was built in the late 18th century. [2] The Han envoy Zhang Qian traveled beyond the Tarim Basin in the 2nd century BC, introducing the Chinese to the kingdoms of Central Asia, Hellenized Persia, India, and the Middle East. [3] Chinese seafaring merchants and diplomats of the medieval Tang Dynasty (618--907) and Song Dynasty (960--1279) often sailed into the Indian Ocean after visiting ports in South East Asia. [3]

Indonesian Chinese have established temples to Zheng He in Jakarta, Cirebon, Surabaya, and Semarang. [2] Beyond the initial work of Jia Dan, other Chinese writers accurately described Africa from the 9th century onwards For example, Duan Chengshi wrote in 863 of the slave trade, ivory trade, and ambergris trade of Berbera, Somalia. [3] In their wake, Chinese emigration increased, resulting in Chinese colonization in Southeast Asia and the accompanying tributary trade, which lasted until the 19th century. [1] Chinese sailors would travel to Malaya, India, Sri Lanka, into the Persian Gulf and up the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq, to the Arabian peninsula and into the Red Sea, stopping to trade goods in Ethiopia and Egypt (as Chinese porcelain was highly valued in old Fustat, Cairo ). [3] For some 300 years the Chinese had been extending their power out to sea. [1] Chinese exploration includes exploratory Chinese travels abroad, on land and by sea, from the 2nd century BC until the 15th century. [3] Chinese envoys sailed into the Indian Ocean from the late 2nd century BC, and reportedly reached Kanchipuram, known as Huangzhi (黄支) to them, or otherwise Ethiopia as asserted by Ethiopian scholars. [3]

Despite the official neglect, the adventures of the fleet captured the imagination of some Chinese and novelizations of the voyages occurred, such as the Romance of the Three-Jeweled Eunuch in 1597. [2] When his fleet first arrived in Malacca, there was already a sizable Chinese community. [2] " Chinese treasure ships " ( 宝船, Bǎo Chuán ), used by the commander of the fleet and his deputies (nine-masted, about 127 metres (417 feet) long and 52 metres (171 feet) wide), according to later writers. [2]

The Mongolians wiped out the Chinese army and captured the emperor. [2] Chinese travelers abroad, as well as Indian and Muslim visitors, widened the geographic horizon of the Chinese. [1] These Muslims allegedly followed the Hanafi school in the Chinese language. [2]

Chinese junk ships were even described by the Moroccan geographer Al-Idrisi in his Geography of 1154, along with the usual goods they traded and carried aboard their vessels. [3] By the 7th century as many as 31 recorded Chinese monks including I Ching managed to reach India the same way. [3] Modern historians point out that Chinese maritime commerce did not totally stop after Zheng He, that Chinese ships continued to participate in Southeast Asian commerce until the 19th century, and that active Chinese trading with India and East Africa continued long after the time of Zheng. [2]

He ruthlessly suppressed pirates who had long plagued Chinese and southeast Asian waters. [2] There is little attempt to provide an accurate 2-D representation instead the sailing instructions are given using a 24-point compass system with a Chinese symbol for each point, together with a sailing time or distance, which takes account of the local currents and winds. [2] Much later the Chinese polymath scientist Shen Kuo (1031--1095 AD) was the first to describe the magnetic needle- compass, along with its usefulness for accurate navigation by discovering the concept of true north. [3] The family name Ma was derived from the Chinese rendition of Muḥammad. [1] He referred to the expatriate Chinese as " Tang " people ( 唐人, Tángrén ). [2] Chinese Muslims traditionally credit the Muslim traveler Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas with introducing Islam to China in 650, during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of Tang, although modern secular scholars did not find any historical evidence for him actually travelling to China. [3] Zheng He presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain, and silk in return, China received such novelties as ostriches, zebras, camels, and ivory from the Swahili. : 206 The giraffe he brought back from Malindi was considered to be a qilin and taken as proof of the favor of heaven upon the administration. [2] In 2015 Emotion Media Factory dedicated a special multimedia show "Zheng He is coming" for amusement park Romon U-Park ( Ningbo, China). [2]

Jia Dan wrote Route between Guangzhou and the Barbarian Sea during the late 8th century that documented foreign communications, the book was lost, but the Xin Tangshu retained some of his passages about the three sea-routes linking China to East Africa. [3] A sixth voyage was launched in 1421 to take home the foreign emissaries from China. [1] From his fourth voyage, he brought envoys from thirty states who traveled to China and paid their respects at the Ming court. [2] Sultan Mansur Shah (r. 1459-1477) later dispatched Tun Perpatih Putih as his envoy to China, carrying a letter from the sultan to the Ming emperor. [2]

The Mongols caused a political crisis in China when they released the emperor after his half-brother had already ascended and declared the new Jingtai era. [2] This attempt did not lead China to global expansion, as the Confucian bureaucracy under the next emperor reversed the policy of open exploration and by 1500, it became a capital offence to build a seagoing junk with more than two masts. [3]

In China, the invention of the stern -mounted rudder appeared as early as the 1st century AD, allowing for better steering than using the power of oarsmen. [3] Starting in the early 15th century, China experienced increasing pressure from the surviving Yuan Mongols from the north. [2] His family claimed descent from an early Mongol governor of Yunnan province in southwestern China as well as from King Muḥammad of Bukhara (now in Uzbekistan ). [1]

Zheng He’s seventh and final voyage left China in the winter of 1431. [1] Familiar strangers: a history of Muslims in Northwest China. [3] Upon his return to power, China abandoned the strategy of annual land expeditions and instead embarked upon a massive and expensive expansion of the Great Wall of China. [2] At considerable expense, China launched annual military expeditions from Beijing to weaken the Mongolians. [2]

The pet giraffe of the Sultan of Bengal, brought from the Somali Ajuran Empire, and later taken to China in the thirteenth year of Yongle (1415). [2] Under the Yongle administration (1402-24), the war-devastated economy of China was soon restored. [1]

Although he has a tomb in China, it is empty: he was buried at sea. [2] It also led to Xuanzang's publication of the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, a text which introduced China to Indian cities such as the port of Calicut and recorded many details of 7th-century Bengal for posterity. [3] He played an important part in developing relations between China and Islamic countries. [2] This most likely accounts for the ease in which Neolithic travelers from mainland China could settle on the island of Taiwan in prehistoric times. [3] Seaports in China such as Guangzhou and Quanzhou - the most cosmopolitan urban centers in the medieval world - hosted thousands of foreign travelers and permanent settlers. [3] The pilgrimage of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang from Chang'an to Nalanda in India not only greatly increased the knowledge of Buddhism in China - returning more than 650 texts including the Heart and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras - and inspired the immensely influential novel Journey to the West. [3] Amid this assimilation (and loss of contact with China itself), the Hanafi Islam became absorbed by the local Shafi'i school and the presence of distinctly ethnic Chinese Muslims dwindled to almost nothing. [2]

In 1381, Ma Haji (Zheng He's father) died in the fighting between the Ming armies and Mongol forces. [2] Dreyer (2007) states that Zheng He's father died at age 39 while resisting the Ming conquest. [2]

During Zheng He’s fifth voyage (1417-19), the Ming fleet revisited the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa. [1] State-sponsored Ming naval efforts declined dramatically after Zheng's voyages. [2]

Depending on local conditions, they could reach such frequency that the court found it necessary to restrict them: the History of Ming records imperial edicts forbidding Java, Champa, and Siam from sending their envoys more often than once every three years. [2] The Hongwu Emperor purged and exterminated many of the original Ming leadership and gave his enfeoffed sons more military authority, especially those in the north like the Prince of Yan. [2] In the autumn of 1381, a Ming army invaded and conquered Yunnan, which was then ruled by the Mongol prince Basalawarmi, Prince of Liang. [2] Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored seven naval expeditions. [2]

The Ming court then sought to display its naval power to bring the maritime states of South and Southeast Asia in line. [1]

Ma Hajji, a Yuan Dynasty official in Yunnan (a descendant of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar ), and his young son Ma He, future admiral Zheng He, as imagined by a modern Kunyang sculptor. [2] Zheng He was a great-great-great-grandson of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, who served in the administration of the Mongol Empire and was the governor of Yunnan during the early Yuan dynasty. [2]

In 1975, an ancient shipyard excavated in Guangzhou was dated to the early Han Dynasty (202 BC - AD 220) and, with three platforms, was able to construct ships that were approximately 30m (98ft) in length, 8m (26ft) in width, and could hold a weight of 60 metric tons. [3] In his Pingzhou Table Talks of 1119 AD the Song Dynasty maritime author Zhu Yu described the use of separate bulkhead compartments in the hulls of Chinese ships. [3] The Brunei Times credits Zheng He with building Chinese Muslim communities in Palembang and along the shores of Java, the Malay Peninsula, and the Philippines. [2]

In 674 the private explorer Daxi Hongtong was among the first to end his journey at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, after traveling through 36 countries west of the South China Sea. [3] On the ships were navigators, explorers, sailors, doctors, workers, and soldiers along with the translator and diarist Gong Zhen. [2]

Later, during the Eastern Jin, a rebel known as Lu Xun managed to fend off an attack by the imperial army for a hundred days in 403 before sailing down into the South China Sea from a coastal commandery. [3] Encouraged by those findings, Chinese government scientists and archaeologists from Sri Lanka would launch a new round of investigations later this month, a member of the team told the South China Morning Post. [9] Many Chinese speak of him with reverence, citing him as a pioneer who temporarily established China as a sea power. [16] Some scholars and business people in Malaysia and neighboring Singapore, which have significant ethnic Chinese populations, now want to ensure that Zheng He’s name is as synonymous with Malacca as it is with China. [16]

According to the history books, the vessel (or vessels - no one knows for sure exactly how many ships might have sunk) was part of the fleet of Chinese admiral Zheng He, one of the greatest maritime adventurers of all time. [9] Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) is one of the most famous admirals in Chinese history, and is best known for his treasure voyages. [15] From 1405 until 1433, the Chinese imperial eunuch Zheng He led seven ocean expeditions for the Ming emperor that are unmatched in world history. [5] For the Chinese, the reputation of Zheng He rests on his role as a peaceful envoy of the Ming who sought to build diplomatic relations with far-flung kingdoms. [16]

The Quanzhou wreck suggests that over a century before Zheng He's fabled voyages, the Chinese were already involved in ambitious trading exploits across the Indian Ocean. [4] Use the student reading and the image of a sixteenth-century Iberian ship superimposed on one of Zheng He's treasure ships (at the top of the page) to compare the Chinese fifteenth-century treasure ships with the ships used in Portuguese and Spanish maritime voyages. [5] Certainly the civilizations that Zheng He visited were amazed at the power and strength of the Chinese Empire when this fleet arrived. [7] By contrast, in many Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, Zheng He is venerated as a folk hero. [15] A Chinese historian, Zheng Yijun, at the Institute of Oceanology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that Zheng He brought the lifestyle of the Chinese to the area. [16] Write journal entries or letters to the Yongle emperor to be sent with Zheng He about your impressions of the Chinese and the problems and possibilities of more contact with them. [5] "The tribal chief was recognized by the Yongle Emperor as the ruler of his kingdom," said Mr. Zheng, the Chinese historian. [16]

Upon the orders of the emperor Yongle and his successor, Xuande, Zheng He commanded seven expeditions, the first in the year 1405 and the last in 1430, which sailed from China to the west, reaching as far as the Cape of Good Hope. [6] Zheng He returned to China after less than a year, having sent his fleet onward to pursue several separate itineraries, with some ships going perhaps as far south as Sofala in present day Mozambique. [5] Third voyage (1409-1411) - Zheng He and the fleet sailed from China toward the Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, passing Champa (southern Vietnam) and Sumatra. [36] Zheng He died in 1433, either in Calicut, where he decided to stay during his 7th voyage due to failing health, or on the return journey to China. [15]

Nearly forgotten in China until recently, he was immortalized among Chinese communities abroad, particularly in Southeast Asia where to this day he is celebrated and revered as a god. [5] These missions were astonishing as much for their distance as for their size: during the first ones, Zheng He traveled all the way from China to Southeast Asia and then on to India, all the way to major trading sites on India's southwest coast. [5] More important, Zheng He and the Yongle Emperor, the ruler of China at the time, helped the native people of Malacca stand up to the kingdom of Thailand. [16] Zheng He was born in 1371 to a Hui Muslim family in Yunnan, southwestern China, and was originally named Ma He. [15] Zheng He was born into a prominent Muslim family in southwest China and was made into a eunuch after being captured at age 13 by an invading army of the Ming court. [16] They had made their way to China after Zheng He's visits to their homelands in order to present their tribute at the Ming Court. [5]

Make a map of the trade and tribute routes of Ming China, with a key that indicates all the products that were exchanged at its borders: northeast, north, northwest, west, south, southeast, and east. [5]

To navigate throughout the Indian Ocean, Zheng He would have made use of the magnetic compass, invented in China during the Song dynasty. [4] By the eighth century, ships 200 feet long capable of carrying 500 men were being built in China (the size of Columbus' ships eight centuries later!) By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), these stout and stable ships with their private cabins for travelers and fresh water for drinking and bathing were the ships of choice for Arab and Persian traders in the Indian Ocean. [5]

The first Chinese oceangoing trade ships were built far back in the Song dynasty (c. 960-1270). [4] The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty in Chinese history. [15] The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty in the history of China. [15] The Yuan Dynasty was set up by the Mongols who had conquered China about 100 years earlier. [8]

It was on the return trip in 1433 that Zheng He died and was buried at sea, although his official grave still stands in Nanjing, China. [5] A bell, presented by Zheng He to a temple in Fujian Province of China in 1431, before his final trip to Africa, was a supplication for a safe journey. [16] Zheng He, also known by the names Ma He and Ma Sanbao, was born around 1371 in Yunnan province in China. [36]

While using many technologies of Chinese invention, Chinese shipbuilders also combined technologies they borrowed and adapted from seafarers of the South China seas and the Indian Ocean. [5] The Chinese were not the only peoples to go on ocean voyages in the fifteenth century. [5] Crucial to navigation was another Chinese invention of the first century, the sternpost rudder, fastened to the outside rear of a ship which could be raised and lowered according to the depth of the water, and used to navigate close to shore, in crowded harbors and narrow channels. [5] From the ninth century on, the Chinese had taken their magnetic compasses aboard ships to use for navigating (two centuries before Europe). [5] "Chinese maritime history and nautical archaeology: Where have all the ships gone?" Bulletin of the Australian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, Volume 18, Number 2, p7. [4] Bypassing the need for banks of rowers, by the third and fourth centuries the Chinese were building three- and four-masted ships (1000 years before Europe) of wind-efficient design. [5]

As requested by his emperor, he established Chinese trading relationships with regions of Southeast Asia, India, Arabia and Africa. [36] The Chinese persuaded their hosts to part with the giraffe as a gift to the emperor and to procure another like it from Africa. [4] The Chinese expeditions started out closer to home, but a voyage that began in 1417 made it to Africa. [6] Immediately after Zheng He’s death, the eunuch fell from favor, and most of the Chinese historical records about him and his voyages are said to have been destroyed. [15] The museum’s appeal and reputation extend to Zheng He’s motherland: Last year, Jia Qinglin, a top Chinese Communist Party official, visited. [16] He set out at the command of Emperor Chengzu and visited many lands with the Chinese navy. [8] Loaded with Chinese silk, porcelain, and lacquerware, the junks visited ports around the Indian Ocean. [4] To satisfy growing Chinese demand for special spices, medicinal herbs, and raw materials, Chinese merchants cooperated with Moslem and Indian traders to develop a rich network of trade that reached beyond island southeast Asia to the fringes of the Indian Ocean. [5] During an epic naval battle between Chinese and local forces off the coast of Sri Lanka more than 600 years ago, a massive treasure ship laden with gold, precious gems and religious artefacts was scuppered and sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. [9] Since 2015, a team of scientists and archaeologists funded by the Chinese government and using advanced military-grade sensing equipment, has conducted multiple surveys of the sea floor along the Sri Lankan coastline in the hope of locating the sunken treasure ship. [9] Make a model or diagram of one of the Treasure Ships, carefully making to scale the important features of fifteenth century Chinese naval technology. [5]

He also wanted those in other countries to be aware of China's power, and to perceive it as the strong country he believed it had been in earlier Chinese dynasties, such as the Han and the Song he thus revived the traditional tribute system. [5] The Yongle Emperor wanted to show the rest of the world the glory and power of the Chinese Empire. [7] His mission, according to the pillar, was to flaunt the might of Chinese power and collect tribute from the "barbarians from beyond the seas." [4]

While stories of his exploits abound in Chinese texts, no hard evidence has ever been found to prove the existence of his ships. [9] According to Chinese historical records, the massive ships measured up to 127 metres in length and had nine giant masts. [9]

This was a big change for the Chinese empire before 1403, China’s isolationist policies had forbidden foreign travel and trade. [36] This was a bloody time in Chinese history and continuous warfare meant countless casualties. [15] "Around that time, people started wearing Chinese style clothing. [16]

Between 1405 and 1433, he led seven expeditions, spreading Chinese influence across half the globe, from Southeast Asia to east Africa. [9] These seven great expeditions brought a vast web of trading links--from Taiwan to the Persian Gulf--under Chinese imperial control. [4] Arab and African merchants exchanged the spices, ivory, medicines, rare woods, and pearls so eagerly sought by the Chinese imperial court. [4]

With unrivaled nautical technology and countless other inventions to their credit, the Chinese were now poised to expand their influence beyond India and Africa. [4] Acknowledgment: Dr. Sue Gronewald, a specialist in Chinese history, was the author of this unit. [5] Many Chinese did not like the Mongols and considered them the enemy. [8] The two cultures merged and the Chinese became part of the local society." [16]

Less than a century later, all overseas trade was banned, and it became a capital offense to set sail from China in a multi-masted ship. [4] In the 15th century, this was the midway point on the maritime crossing between China and the lands along the western rim of the Indian Ocean. [16] As sociologist Janet Abu-Lughod notes, "The impressive show of force that paraded around the Indian Ocean during the first three decades of the 15th century was intended to signal the 'barbarian nations' that China had reassumed her rightful place in the firmament of nations--had once again become the 'Middle Kingdom' of the world." [4]

In the traditional tributary arrangement, countries on China's borders agreed to recognize China as their superior and its emperor as lord of "all under Heaven." [5] Such vessels traditionally set sail laden with gold, silver, porcelain and silk as gifts to foreign leaders from the emperor, and returned to China with precious stones, ivory and other exotic valuables given in return. [9]

For ocean expeditions to the south and west, however, he decided that this time China should make use of its extremely advanced technology and all the riches the state had to offer. [5] "The Europeans started a storm of blood with their long voyages, robbing and pillaging along the way," said Zhuang Guotu, a history professor at Xiamen University in southeast China. [16] Historians are split on whether he died in Calicut or on the return voyage to China, where he would have been buried at sea. [36] China had been extending its power out to sea for 300 years. [5] The coin provides one of the few tangible links between Africa and China at that time.As for Manda, where the coin was discovered, that island was home to an advanced civilization for around 1,200 years, but it was abandoned in 1430 AD, never to be inhabited again. [6] In the West, his legacy has been the subject of debate, largely fueled by a best-selling book by Gavin Menzies, "1421: The Year China Discovered the World." [16] Both these inventions were commonplace in China 1,000 years before their introduction to Europe. [5] Another suggestion is that he managed to return to China, and died some years later. [15]

He was born into a peasant family but rose to become the emperor of China. [15] Although he had extended the wealth and power of China over a vast realm and is even today revered as a god in remote parts of Indonesia, the tide was already turning against foreign ventures. [4] For centuries, China was the preeminent maritime power in the region, with advances in navigation, naval architecture, and propulsion. [5]

He did a lot of good things to strengthen China like re-building the Grand Canal and establishing trade and diplomacy with other countries. [8] On their return trip to China, the fleet stopped at Ceylon (Sri Lanka). [15] In 1407, the Treasure Fleet was back in China, laden not only with spices, but also with foreign envoys who came to pay homage and present tribute to the Ming Emperor. [15]

Because the Yongle emperor wanted to impress Ming power upon the world and show off China's resources and importance, he gave orders to build even larger ships than were necessary for the voyages. [5] The Ming account of the voyages that followed strains credulity: "The ships which sail the Southern Sea are like houses. [4]

In 1381, Zheng He was captured by Ming soldiers, sent to the capital, Nanjing, castrated, and entered into the imperial service as a eunuch. [15] During these voyages, Zheng He negotiated trade pacts, fought pirates, dethroned a hostile king, and brought back more envoys and tribute to the Ming court. [15] The Ming court was divided into many factions, most sharply into the pro-expansionist voices led by the powerful eunuch factions that had been responsible for the policies supporting Zheng Ho's voyages, and more traditional conservative Confucian court advisers who argued for frugality. [5]

Other scholars have argued that Zheng He’s voyages were military expeditions carried out by soldiers representing an expansionist Ming Empire. [16] To demonstrate Ming power, the first emperors initiated campaigns to decisively defeat any domestic or foreign threat. [5] Lavish expeditions should be mounted in order to overwhelm foreign peoples and convince them beyond any doubt about Ming power. [5] The more commonly accepted reason for these voyages, however, is that they were meant to showcase the Ming Dynasty’s power and wealth to the world. [15]

"To enable these great fleets to maintain the Pax Ming in the immediate region and sail through the Indian Ocean to Africa, it was necessary to create staging posts in what is today Southeast Asia," he wrote. [16] You might hold several of these discussions for different periods in Ming history, for example, one at the beginning of Yongle's reign, another after the Forbidden City was built, a third after the Mongol threat was renewed. [5] "Without the support of the Ming, Malacca’s history would have been rewritten." [16]

Describe the many projects of the Yongle emperor to proclaim Ming power. [5] Ming vases made of blue and white porcelain were prized at the time throughout the world. [8] In 1962, the rudderpost of a treasure ship was excavated in the ruins of one of the Ming boatyards in Nanjing. [4] The enterprising spirit of the Ming era reached a climax following the rebellion of the warrior prince Zhu Di, who usurped the throne in 1402. [4]

As Yang wrote, Zheng returned to Beijing with the "disobedient" King Alakeshvara and his family and presented them to Ming emperor Yong Le. [9]

Zheng He commanded several treasure fleets Chinese ships that explored and traded across Asia and Africa. [36] In 1403, the new emperor, Zhu Di, ordered the construction of the Treasure Fleet - a fleet of trading ships, warships and support vessels that would travel across the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. [36] In addition to trade ships, warships and support vessels were also built for the journey across the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. [15] This expedition had more than one hundred large ships and over 27,000 men, and it visited all the important ports in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean as well as Aden and Hormuz. [5]

RANKED SELECTED SOURCES(39 source documents arranged by frequency of occurrence in the above report)


Related

The Culture of Freshwater Pearls

The Sacrificial Ceremony

Ice Mummies of the Inca

Columbus's ships Santa Maria (foreground) and Nina would have appeared pint-sized next to Zheng He's largest vessels.

With unrivaled nautical technology and countless other inventions to their credit, the Chinese were now poised to expand their influence beyond India and Africa. Here was one of history's great turning points. Had the Chinese emperors continued their huge investments in the treasure fleets, there is little reason why they, rather than the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British, should not have colonized the world. Yet less than a century later, all overseas trade was banned, and it became a capital offense to set sail from China in a multi-masted ship. What explains this astonishing reversal of policy?

Roots of Chinese seapower

The first Chinese oceangoing trade ships were built far back in the Song dynasty (c. 960-1270). But it was the subsequent Mongol emperors (the Yuan dynasty of c. 1271-1368) who commissioned the first imperial treasure fleets and founded trading posts in Sumatra, Ceylon, and southern India. When Marco Polo made his famous journey to the Mongol court, he described four-masted junks with 60 individual cabins for merchants, watertight bulkheads, and crews of up to 300.

Despite the strength and prosperity that marked their empire, Ming emperors deliberately chose not to try to colonize lands beyond the Middle Kingdom. Why?

When the Han Chinese overthrew the Mongols and founded the Ming dynasty in the later 14th century, they took over the fleet and an already extensive trade network. The enterprising spirit of the Ming era reached a climax following the rebellion of the warrior prince Zhu Di, who usurped the throne in 1402. Disapproved of by the Confucian "establishment," Zhu Di put his trust in the worldly eunuchs who had always sought their fortunes in commerce. During his revolt, Zhu Di's right-hand man had been the Muslim eunuch Zheng He, whom he now appointed to command the treasure fleet.

At the start of the first of Zheng He's epic voyages in 1403, it is said that 317 ships gathered in the port of Nanjing. As sociologist Janet Abu-Lughod notes, "The impressive show of force that paraded around the Indian Ocean during the first three decades of the 15th century was intended to signal the ➺rbarian nations' that China had reassumed her rightful place in the firmament of nations—had once again become the 'Middle Kingdom' of the world."

Treasure junks: fact or fiction?

The Ming account of the voyages that followed strains credulity: "The ships which sail the Southern Sea are like houses. When their sails are spread they are like great clouds in the sky." Were the reported dimensions of the biggest galleons—over 400 feet long by 150 wide—gross exaggerations? If accurate, these dimensions would signal the biggest wooden ships ever built. Only the mightiest wooden warships of the Victorian age approached these lengths, and several of these vessels suffered from structural problems that required extensive internal iron supports to hold the hull together. No such structures are reported in the Chinese sources.

Zheng He's ships, as depicted in a Chinese woodblock print thought to date to the early 17th century

However, in 1962, the rudderpost of a treasure ship was excavated in the ruins of one of the Ming boatyards in Nanjing. This timber was no less than 36 feet long. Reverse engineering using the proportions typical of a traditional junk indicated a hull length of around 500 feet.

Unfortunately, other archeological traces of this "golden age" of Chinese seafaring remain elusive. One of the most intensively studied wrecks, found at Quanzhou in 1973, dates from the earlier Song period this substantial double-masted ship probably sank sometime in the 1270s. Its V-shaped hull is framed around a pine keel over 100 feet long and covered with a double layer of intricately fitted cedar planking, thus clearly indicating its oceangoing character. Inside, 13 compartments held the residue of an exotic cargo of spices, shells, and fragrant woods, much of it originating in east Africa (see Asia's Undersea Archeology).

The Quanzhou wreck suggests that over a century before Zheng He's fabled voyages, the Chinese were already involved in ambitious trading exploits across the Indian Ocean. Even back then, their sturdy ships equaled the largest known European vessels of the period. By inventing watertight compartments and efficient "lugsails" that enabled them to steer close to the wind, Chinese shipbuilders remained ahead of the West in the following centuries.

Zheng He (1371-1433), the great Ming navigator

Exploits of the eunuch admiral

Zheng He commemorated his adventures on a stone pillar discovered in Fujian province in the 1930s. His mission, according to the pillar, was to flaunt the might of Chinese power and collect tribute from the "barbarians from beyond the seas." On his first trip, leading more than 60 massive galleons, Zheng He visited what would later become Vietnam and reached the port of Calicut, India. On his return, he battled pirates and established massive warehouses in the Straits of Malacca for sorting all the goods accumulated on this and subsequent voyages.

While voyaging to India, the ships encountered a ferocious hurricane. Zheng He prayed to the Taoist Goddess known as the Celestial Spouse. In response, a "divine light" shone at the tips of the mast, and the storm subsided. This heavenly sign—perhaps the static electrical phenomenon known as St. Elmo's fire—led Zheng He to believe that his missions were under special divine protection.

The emperor launched Zheng He's fourth and most ambitious voyage in January 1414. Its destination was Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, where artisans strung together exquisite pearls and merchants dealt in precious stones and metals. While Zheng He lingered in the city to amass treasure for the emperor, another branch of the fleet sailed to the kingdom of Bengal in present-day Bangladesh.

To navigate throughout the Indian Ocean, Zheng He would have made use of the magnetic compass, invented in China during the Song dynasty.

Here the travelers saw a giraffe that the east African potentate of Malindi had presented to the Bengal ruler. The Chinese persuaded their hosts to part with the giraffe as a gift to the emperor and to procure another like it from Africa. When the giraffe arrived at the court in Nanjing in 1415, the emperor's philosophers identified it, despite its pair of horns, as the fabled chi'i-lin or unicorn, an animal associated with an age of exceptional peace and prosperity. As the fleet's merchants laid treasures from Arabia and India at the feet of the emperor, this omen must surely have seemed fitting.

The initial diplomatic contact with Malindi now encouraged Zheng He to plan a direct trading voyage to eastern Africa. Landing at Somalia on the coast, he found himself offered such exotic items as "dragon saliva, incense, and golden amber." But even these substances paled before the extraordinary beasts that were loaded on board his ships. Lions, leopards, "camel-birds" (ostriches), "celestial horses" (zebras), and a "celestial stag" (oryx) were shipped back to the imperial court. Here officials showered congratulations on Zheng He and bowed low in awe before the divine creatures that accompanied him.

End of an era

Toward the end of his seventh voyage in 1433, the 62-year-old Zheng He died and was said to have been buried at sea. Although he had extended the wealth and power of China over a vast realm and is even today revered as a god in remote parts of Indonesia, the tide was already turning against foreign ventures.

Impressive as they are, Chinese junks today are but pale shadows of medieval Chinese ships.

The conservative Confucian faction now had the upper hand. In its worldview, it was improper to go abroad while one's parents were still alive. "Barbarian" nations were seen as offering little of value to add to the prosperity already present in the Middle Kingdom.

The renovation of the massive Grand Canal in 1411 offered a quicker and safer route for transporting grain than along the coast, so the demand for oceangoing vessels plummeted.

In addition, the threat of a new Mongol invasion drew military investment away from the expensive maintenance of the treasure fleets. By 1503 the navy had shrunk to one-tenth of its size in the early Ming. The final blow came in 1525 with the order to destroy all the larger classes of ships. China was now set on its centuries-long course of xenophobic isolation.

Historians can only speculate on how differently world history might have turned out had the Ming emperors pursued a vigorous colonial policy. As it is, porcelain shards washed up on the beaches of east Africa and old men's folktales of shipwreck are among the few tangible relics of China's epic voyages of adventure.


Zheng He: Famous Chinese Explorer Who Added Wealth and Power to the Ming Dynasty - History

Exploits of the eunuch admiral
Zheng He commemorated his adventures on a stone pillar discovered in Fujian province in the 1930s. His mission, according to the pillar, was to flaunt the might of Chinese power and collect tribute from the "barbarians from beyond the seas." On his first trip, leading more than 60 massive galleons, Zheng He visited what would later become Vietnam and reached the port of Calicut, India. On his return, he battled pirates and established massive warehouses in the Straits of Malacca for sorting all the goods accumulated on this and subsequent voyages.

While voyaging to India, the ships encountered a ferocious hurricane. Zheng He prayed to the Taoist Goddess known as the Celestial Spouse. In response, a "divine light" shone at the tips of the mast, and the storm subsided. This heavenly sign—perhaps the static electrical phenomenon known as St. Elmo's fire—led Zheng He to believe that his missions were under special divine protection.

The emperor launched Zheng He's fourth and most ambitious voyage in January 1414. Its destination was Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, where artisans strung together exquisite pearls and merchants dealt in precious stones and metals. While Zheng He lingered in the city to amass treasure for the emperor, another branch of the fleet sailed to the kingdom of Bengal in present-day Bangladesh.

Here the travelers saw a giraffe that the east African potentate of Malindi had presented to the Bengal ruler. The Chinese persuaded their hosts to part with the giraffe as a gift to the emperor and to procure another like it from Africa. When the giraffe arrived at the court in Nanjing in 1415, the emperor's philosophers identified it, despite its pair of horns, as the fabled chi'i-lin or unicorn, an animal associated with an age of exceptional peace and prosperity. As the fleet's merchants laid treasures from Arabia and India at the feet of the emperor, this omen must surely have seemed fitting.

To navigate throughout the Indian Ocean, Zheng He would have made use of the magnetic compass, invented in China during the Song dynasty.
The initial diplomatic contact with Malindi now encouraged Zheng He to plan a direct trading voyage to eastern Africa. Landing at Somalia on the coast, he found himself offered such exotic items as "dragon saliva, incense, and golden amber." But even these substances paled before the extraordinary beasts that were loaded on board his ships. Lions, leopards, "camel-birds" (ostriches), "celestial horses" (zebras), and a "celestial stag" (oryx), were shipped back to the imperial court. Here officials showered congratulations on Zheng He and bowed low in awe before the divine creatures that accompanied him.

End of an era
Toward the end of his seventh voyage in 1433, the 62-year-old Zheng He died and was said to have been buried at sea. Although he had extended the wealth and power of China over a vast realm and is even today revered as a god in remote parts of Indonesia, the tide was already turning against foreign ventures.

The conservative Confucian faction now had the upper hand. In its worldview, it was improper to go abroad while one's parents were still alive. 'Barbarian' nations were seen as offering little of value to add to the prosperity already present in the Middle Kingdom.

The renovation of the massive Grand Canal in 1411 offered a quicker and safer route for transporting grain than along the coast, so the demand for oceangoing vessels plummeted.

In addition, the threat of a new Mongol invasion drew military investment away from the expensive maintenance of the treasure fleets. By 1503 the navy had shrunk to one tenth of its size in the early Ming. The final blow came in 1525 with the order to destroy all the larger classes of ships. China was now set on its centuries-long course of xenophobic isolation.


Impressive as they are, Chinese junks today are but pale shadows of medieval Chinese ships.
Historians can only speculate on how differently world history might have turned out had the Ming emperors pursued a vigorous colonial policy. As it is, porcelain shards washed up on the beaches of east Africa and old men's folktales of shipwreck are among the few tangible relics of China's epic voyages of adventure.


Evan Hadingham is NOVA's Senior Science Editor.


Further Reading
When China Ruled the Seas. By Louise Levathes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Archaeology and the Social History of Ships. By Richard A. Gould. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

"The Rise and Fall of 15th Century Seapower." By Michael L. Bosworth. See www.cronab.demon.co.uk/china.htm.

"1492: The Prequel." By Nicholas D. Kristof. The New York Times, June 6, 1999.


The Seventh Voyage

On June 29, 1429, the Xuande Emperor ordered preparations for a final voyage of the Treasure Fleet. He appointed Zheng He to command the fleet, even though the great eunuch admiral was 59 years old and in poor health.

This last great voyage took three years and visited at least 17 different ports between Champa and Kenya. On the way back to China, likely in what are now Indonesian waters, Admiral Zheng He died. He was buried at sea, and his men brought a braid of his hair and a pair of his shoes back to be buried in Nanjing.


Contents

Chinese Edit

According to the Guoque [zh] (1658), the first voyage consisted of 63 treasure ships crewed by 27,870 men. [17]

The History of Ming (1739) credits the first voyage with 62 treasure ships crewed by 27,800 men. [17] A Zheng He era inscription in the Jinghai Temple in Nanjing gave the size of Zheng He ships in 1405 as 2,000 liao (500 tons), but did not give the number of ships. [18]

Alongside the treasures were also another 255 ships according to the Shuyu Zhouzilu [zh] (1520), giving the combined fleet of the first voyage a total of 317 ships. However, the addition of 255 ships is a case of double accounting according to Edward L. Dreyer, who notes that the Taizong Shilu does not distinguish the order of 250 ships from the treasure ships. As such the first fleet would have been around 250 ships including the treasure ships. [17]

The second voyage consisted of 249 ships. [19] The Jinghai Temple inscription gave the ship dimensions in 1409 as 1500 liao (375 tons). [17]

According to the Xingcha Shenglan (1436), the third voyage consisted of 48 treasure ships, not including other ships. [17]

The Xingcha Shenglan states that the fourth voyage consisted of 63 treasure ships crewed by 27,670 men. [20]

There are no sources for number of ships or men for the fifth and sixth voyages. [20]

According to the Liujiagang and Changle Inscriptions, the seventh voyage had "more than a hundred large ships". [20]

Yemen Edit

The most contemporary non-Chinese record of the expeditions is an untitled and anonymous annalistic account of the then-ruling Rasūlid dynasty of Yemen, compiled in the years 1439-1440. It reports the arrival of Chinese ships in 1419, 1423, and 1432, which approximately correspond to Zheng He's fifth, sixth, and seventh voyages. The 1419 arrival is described thus:

Arrival of Dragon-ships [marākib al-zank] in the protected harbour city [of Aden] and with them the messengers of the ruler of China with brilliant gifts for his Majesty, the Sultan al-Malik al-Nāsir in the month of l’Hijja in the year 821 [January 1419]. His Majesty, the Sultan al-Malik al-Nāsiṛ’s in the Protected Dār al-Jund send the victorious al-Mahaṭṭa to accept the brilliant gifts of the ruler of China. It was a splendid present consisting of all manner of rarities [tuhaf], splendid Chinese silk cloth woven with gold [al-thiyāb al-kamkhāt al-mudhahhabah], top quality musk, storax [al-ʾūd al-ratḅ] and many kinds of chinaware vessels, the present being valued at twenty thousand Chinese mithqāl [93.6 kg gold]. It was accompanied by the Qādi Wajīh al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Rahman b. Jumay. And this was on 26 Muharram in the year 822 [March 19, 1419]. His majesty, the Sultan al-Malik al-Nāsir ordered that the Envoy of the ruler of China [rusul sāhib al-Sị̄n] returned with gifts of his own, including many rare, with frankincense wrapped coral trees, wild animals such as Oryx, wild ass, thousands of wild lion and tamed cheetahs. And they travelled in the company of Qādi Wajīh al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Rahman b. Jumay out of the sheltered harbour of Aden in the month of Safar of the year 822 [March 1419]. [21]

The later Yemeni historian, Ibn al-Daybaʿ (1461-1537), writes:

[The Chinese arrived at Aden in 1420 on] great vessels containing precious gifts, the value of which was twenty lacs [sic lakhs] of gold. [Zheng He] had an audience with al-Malik al-Nāsir without kissing the ground in front of him, and said:

"Your Master the Lord of China [sāhib al-Sị̄n] greets you and counsels you to act justly to your subjects.”

And he [al-Malik al-Nāsir] said to him: "Welcome, and how nice of you to come!”

And he entertained him and settled him in the guesthouse. Al-Nāsir wrote a letter to the Lord of China:

"Yours it is to command and [my] country is your country."

He dispatched to him wild animals and splendid sultanic robes, an abundant quality, and ordered him to be escorted to the city of Aden. [21]

Mamluks Edit

Shawwāl 22 [21 June A.D. 1432]. A report came from Mecca the Honored that a number of junks had come from China to the seaports of India, and two of them had anchored in the port of Aden, but their goods, chinaware, silk, musk, and the like, were not disposed of there because of the disorder of the state of Yemen. The captains of these two junks wrote to the Sharīf Barakāt ibn Hasan ibn ʿAjlān, emir of Mecca, and to Saʾd al-Dīn Ibrāhīm ibn al-Marra, controller of Judda [Jeddah], asking permission to come to Judda. The two wrote to the Sultan about this, and made him eager for the large amount [of money] that would result if they came. The Sultan wrote to them to let them come to Judda, and to show them honor. [22]

Niccolò de' Conti Edit

They doe make bigger Shippes than wee do, that is to say, of 2000 tons, with five sayles, and so many mastes'. [24]

  • Other translations of the passage give the size as a 2000 butts, [25] which would be around a 1000 tons, a butt being half a ton. [note 1] Christopher Wake noted that the transcription of the unit is actually vegetes, that is Venetian butt, and estimated a burthen of 1300 tons. [26] The ship of Conti may have been a Burmese or Indonesian jong. [27]

Although active prior to the treasure voyages, both Marco Polo (1254–1325) and Ibn Battuta (1304–1369) attest to large multi-masted ships carrying 500 to 1000 passengers in Chinese waters. [28] The large ships (up to 5,000 liao or 1520-1860 tons burden) would carry 500-600 men, and the second class (1,000-2,000 liao) would carry 200-300 men. [29] Unlike Ming treasure ships, Song and Yuan great junks are propelled by oars, and have with them smaller junks, probably for maneuvering aids. [30] The largest junks (5,000 liao) may have a hull length twice that of Quanzhou ship (1,000 liao), [31] that is 68 m. [32]

Marco Polo Edit

I tell you that they are mostly built of the wood which is called fir or pine.

They have one floor, which with us is called a deck, one for each, and on this deck there are commonly in all the greater number quite 60 little rooms or cabins, and in some, more, and in some, fewer, according as the ships are larger and smaller, where, in each, a merchant can stay comfortably.

They have one good sweep or helm, which in the vulgar tongue is called a rudder.

And four masts and four sails, and they often add to them two masts more, which are raised and put away every time they wish, with two sails, according to the state of the weather.

Some ships, namely those which are larger, have besides quite 13 holds, that is, divisions, on the inside, made with strong planks fitted together, so that if by accident that the ship is staved in any place, namely that either it strikes on a rock, or a whale-fish striking against it in search of food staves it in. And then the water entering through the hole runs to the bilge, which never remains occupied with any things. And then the sailors find out where the ship is staved, and then the hold which answers to the break is emptied into others, for the water cannot pass from one hold to another, so strongly are they shut in and then they repair the ship there, and put back there the goods which had been taken out.

They are indeed nailed in such a way for they are all lined, that is, that they have two boards above the other.

And the boards of the ship, inside and outside, are thus fitted together, that is, they are, in the common speech of our sailors, caulked both outside and inside, and they are well nailed inside and outside with iron pins. They are not pitched with pitch, because they have none of it in those regions, but they oil them in such a way as I shall tell you, because they have another thing which seems to them to be better than pitch. For I tell you that they take lime, and hemp chopped small, and they pound it all together, mixed with an oil from a tree. And after they have pounded them well, these three things together, I tell you that it becomes sticky and holds like birdlime. And with this thing they smear their ships, and this is worth quite as much as pitch.

Moreover I tell you that these ships want some 300 sailors, some 200, some 150, some more, some fewer, according as the ships are larger and smaller.

They also carry a much greater burden than ours. [33]

Ibn Battuta Edit

People sail on the China seas only in Chinese ships, so let us mention the order observed upon them.

There are three kinds: the greatest is called 'jonouq', or, in the singular, 'jonq' (certainly chuan) the middling sized is a 'zaw' (probably sao) and the least a 'kakam'.

A single one of the greater ships carries 12 sails, and the smaller ones only three. The sails of these vessels are made of strips of bamboo, woven into the form of matting. The sailors never lower them (while sailing, but simply) change the direction of them according to whether the wind is blowing from one side or the other. When the ships cast anchor, the sails are left standing in the wind.

These vessels are nowhere made except in the city of Zaytong (Quanzhou) in China, or at Sin-Kilan, which is the same as Sin al-Sin (Guangdong).

This is the manner after which they are made two (parallel) walls of very thick wooden (planking) are raised, and across the space between them are placed very thick planks (the bulkheads) secured longitudinally and transversely by means of large nails, each three ells in length. When these walls have thus been built, the lower deck is fitted in, and the ship is launched before the upper works are finished.

The pieces of wood, and those parts of the hull, near the water (-line) serve for the crew to wash and to accomplish their natural necessities.

On the sides of these pieces of wood also the oars are found they are as big as masts, and are worked by 10 to 15 men (each), who row standing up.
The vessels have four decks, upon which there are cabins and saloons for merchants. Several of these 'misriya' contain cupboards and other conveniences they have doors which can be locked, and keys for their occupiers. (The merchants) take with them their wives and concubines. It often happens that a man can be in his cabin without others on board realising it, and they do not see him until the vessel has arrived in some port.

The sailors also have their children in such cabins and (in some parts of the ship) they sow garden herbs, vegetables, and ginger in wooden tubs.

The Commander of such a vessel is a great Emir when he lands, the archers and the Ethiops march before him bearing javelins and swords, with drums beating and trumpets blowing. When he arrives at the guesthouse where he is to stay, they set up their lances on each side of the gate, and mount guard throughout his visit.

Among the inhabitants of China there are those who own numerous ships, on which they send their agents to foreign places. For nowhere in the world are there to be found people richer than the Chinese. [34]

Taizong Shilu Edit

The most contemporary accounts of the treasure ships come from the Taizong Shilu, which contains 24 notices from 1403 to 1419 for the construction of ships at several locations. [35]

On 4 September 1403, 200 "seagoing transport ships" were ordered from the Capital Guards in Nanjing. [36]

On 1 March 1404, 50 "seagoing ships" were ordered from the Capital Guards. [36]

In 1407, 249 vessels were ordered "to be prepared for embassies to the several countries of the Western Ocean". [35]

On 14 February 1408, 48 treasure ships were ordered from the Ministry of Works in Nanjing. This is the only contemporary account containing references to both treasure ships and a specific place of construction. Coincidentally, the only physical evidence of treasure ships comes from Nanjing. [37]

On 2 October 1419, 41 treasure ships were ordered without disclosing the specific builders involved. [35]

Longjiang Chuanchang Zhi Edit

Li Zhaoxiang [zh] 's Longjiang Chuanchang Zhi (1553), also known as the Record of the Dragon River Shipyard, notes that the plans for the treasure ships had vanished from the ship yard in which they were built. [38]

Sanbao Taijian Xia Xiyang Ji Tongsu Yanyi Edit

According to Luo Maodeng [zh] 's novel Sanbao Taijian Xia Xiyang Ji Tongsu Yanyi (1597), the treasure fleet consisted of several distinct classes of ships: [35]

  • "Treasure ships" ( 宝船 , Bǎo Chuán) nine-masted, 44.4 by 18 zhang, about 127 metres (417 feet) long and 52 metres (171 feet) wide.
  • Equine ships ( 馬船 , Mǎ Chuán), carrying horses and tribute goods and repair material for the fleet, eight-masted, 37 by 15 zhang, about 103 m (338 ft) long and 42 m (138 ft) wide.
  • Supply ships ( 粮船 , Liáng Chuán), containing staple for the crew, seven-masted, 18 by 12 zhang, about 78 m (256 ft) long and 35 m (115 ft) wide.
  • Troop transports ( 兵船 , Bīng Chuán), six-masted, 24 by 9.4 zhang, about 67 m (220 ft) long and 25 m (82 ft) wide.
  • Fuchuan warships ( 福船 , Fú Chuán), five-masted, 18 by 6.8 zhang, about 50 m (160 ft) long.
  • Patrol boats ( 坐船 , Zuò Chuán), eight-oared, about 37 m (121 ft) long.
  • Water tankers ( 水船 , Shuǐ Chuán), with 1 month's supply of fresh water.

Edward L. Dreyer claims that Luo Maodeng's novel is unsuitable as historical evidence. [35] The novel contains a number of fantasy element for example the ships were "constructed with divine help by the immortal Lu Ban". [39]

History of Ming Edit

According to the History of Ming (Ming shi - 明史), completed in 1739, the treasure ships were 44 zhang, 4 chi, i.e. 444 chi in length, and had a beam of 18 zhang. The dimensions of ships are no coincidence. The number "4" has numerological significance as a symbol of the 4 cardinal directions, 4 seasons, and 4 virtues. The number 4 was an auspicious association for treasure ships. [40] These dimensions first appeared in a novel published in 1597, more than a century and a half after Zheng He's voyages. The 3 contemporary accounts of Zheng He's voyages do not have the ship dimensions. [41]

The zhang was fixed at 141 inches in the 19th century, making the chi 14.1 inches. However the common Ming value for chi was 12.2 inches and the value fluctuated depending on region. The Ministry of Works used a chi of 12.1 inches while the Jiangsu builders used a chi of 13.3 inches. Some of the ships in the treasure fleet, but not the treasure ships, were built in Fujian, where the chi was 10.4 to 11 inches. Assuming a range of 10.5 to 12 inches for each chi, the dimensions of the treasure ships as recorded by the History of Ming would have been between 385 by 157.5 feet and 440 by 180 feet (117.5 by 48 metres, and 134 by 55 metres). [42] Louise Levathes estimating that it had a maximum size of 110–124 m (390–408 feet) long and 49–51 m (160–166 feet) wide instead, taking 1 chi as 10.53-11.037 inches. [40]

Contemporary descriptions Edit

The contemporary inscription of Zheng He's ships in the Jinghai temple 靜海寺 inscription in Nanjing gives sizes of 2,000 liao (500 tons) and 1,500 liao (275 tons), [18] which are far too low than would be implied by a ship of 444 chi (450 ft). In addition, in the contemporary account of Zheng He's 7th voyage by Gong Zhen, he said it took 200 to 300 men to handle Zheng He's ships. Ming minister Song Li indicated a ratio of 1 man per 2.5 tons of cargo, which would imply Zheng He's ships were 500 to 750 tons. [43]

The inscription on the tomb of Hong Bao, an official in Zheng He's fleet, mentions the construction of a 5,000 liao displacement ship, [44] and taking the liao to be 500 lbs, [45] that would be 1,250 tons displacement or around 750 tons burden. Dionisius A. Agius (2008) estimated a size of 200-250 ft (60.96 m - 76.2 m) and maximum weight of 700 tons. [46]

Modern estimates Edit

Modern scholars have argued on engineering grounds that it is highly unlikely that Zheng He's ship was 140 metres (460 ft) in length, Guan Jincheng (1947) proposed a much more modest size of 20 zhang long by 2.4 zhang wide (204 ft by 25.5 ft or 62.2 m by 7.8 m) [47] while Xin Yuan'ou (2002) put them as 61–76 m (200–250 feet) in length. [48] [4]

One explanation for the colossal size of the 44 largest Zhang treasure ships, if in fact built, was that they were only for a display of imperial power by the emperor and imperial bureaucrats on the Yangtze River when on court business, including when reviewing Zheng He's actual expedition fleet. The Yangtze River, with its calmer waters, may have been navigable for such large but unseaworthy ships. Zheng He would not have had the privilege in rank to command the largest of these ships. The largest ships of Zheng He's fleet were the 6 masted 2000-liao ships. This would give burthen of 500 tons and a displacement tonnage of about 800 tons. [4] [45]

Hsu Yun-Ts'iao does not agree with Xin Yuan'ou: Estimating the size of 2,000 liao ship with Record of Lung Chiang Shipyard at Nanking, the size is as follows: LOA 166 ft (50.60 m), bottom's hull length 102.6 ft (31.27 m), overhanging "tail" length 23.4 ft (7.13 m), front depth 6.9 ft (2.10 m), front width 19.5 ft (5.94 m), midhull depth 8.1 ft (2.47 m), midhull width 24.3 ft (7.41 m), tail depth 12 ft (3.66 m), tail width 21.6 ft (6.58 m), and the length to width ratio is 7:1. [49]

Sleeswyk extrapolated the size of liao by deducing the data from mid-16th century Chinese river junks. He suggested that the 2,000 liao ships were bao chuan (treasure ship), while the 1,500 liao ships were ma chuan (horse ship). In his calculations, the treasure ships would have a length of 52.5 m, width of 9.89 m, and height of 4.71 m. The horse ships would have a length of 46.63 m, width of 8.8 m, and height of 4.19 m. [50]

In June 2010, a new inscription has been found in Hong Bao's tomb, confirming the existence of Ming dynasty's 5,000 liao ship. [51] [44] According to Zheng Ming, the 5,000 liao ship would have a dimension of 70.75 m long, 15.24 m wide, and 6.16 m draught. The 2,000 liao ship would have a dimension of 52.62 m long, 11.32 m wide, and 4.6 m draught, while the 1,500 liao ship would have a dimension of 47.71 m long, 10.26 m wide, and 4.17 m draught. [5] Wake argued that the 5,000 liao ships were not used until after the 3rd voyage, when the voyages were extended beyond India. [10]

Xin Yuan'ou, professor of the history of science at Shanghai Jiaotong University, argued that Zheng He’s ships could not have been as large as recorded in the History of Ming. [16] Xin’s main reasons for concluding that the ships could not have been this size are:

  1. Ships of the dimensions given in the Ming shi would have been 15,000-20,000 tons according to his calculations, exceeding a natural limit to the size of a wooden ocean-going ship of about 7,000 tons displacement. [52]
  2. With the benefit of modern technology it would be difficult to manufacture a wooden ship of 10,000 tons, let alone one that was 1.5-2 times that size. It was only when ships began to be built of iron in the 1860s that they could exceed 10,000 tons. [52]
  3. Watertight compartments characteristic of traditional Chinese ships tended to make the vessels transversely strong but longitudinally weak. [52][53]
  4. A ship of these dimensions would need masts that were 100 metres tall. Several timbers would have to be joined together vertically. As a single tree trunk would not be large enough in diameter to support such mast, multiple timbers would need to be combined at the base as well. No evidence that China had the type of joining materials necessary to accomplish these tasks. [53][52]
  5. A ship with 9 masts would be unable to resist the combined strength and force of such huge sails, she would not be able to cope with strong wind and would break. [54]
  6. It took four centuries (from the Renaissance era to the early premodern era) for Western ships to increase in size from 1500 to 5000 tons displacement. For Chinese ships to have reached three or four times this size in just two years (from Emperor Yongle’s accession in 1403 to the launch of the first expedition in 1405) was unlikely. [52]
  7. 200-300 sailor as mentioned by Gong Zhen could not have managed a 20,000 tons ship. [55] According to Xin, a ship of such size would have a complement of 8,000 men. [56]

From the comments of modern scholars on Medieval Chinese accounts and reports, it is apparent that a ship had a natural limit to her size, going beyond, would have made her structurally unsafe as well as causing a considerable loss of manoeuvrability, something the Spanish Armada ships famously experienced. [57] Beyond a certain size (about 300 feet or 91.44 m in length) a wooden ship is structurally unsafe. [58]

The keel consisted of wooden beams bound together with iron hoops. In stormy weather, holes in the prow would partially fill with water when the ship pitched forward, thus lessening the violent turbulence caused by waves. Treasure ships also used floating anchors cast off the sides of the ship in order to increase stability. The stern had two 2.5 m (8 foot) iron anchors weighing over a thousand pounds each, used for mooring offshore. Like many Chinese anchors, these had four flukes set at a sharp angle against the main shaft. Watertight compartments were also used to add strength to the treasure ships. The ships also had a balanced rudder which could be raised and lowered, creating additional stability like an extra keel. The balanced rudder placed as much of the rudder forward of the stern post as behind it, making such large ships easier to steer. Unlike a typical fuchuan warship, the treasure ships had nine staggered masts and twelve square sails, increasing its speed. Treasure ships also had 24 cast-bronze cannons with a maximum range of 240 to 275 m (800–900 feet). However, treasure ships were considered luxury ships rather than warships. As such, they lacked the fuchuan's raised platforms or extended planks used for battle. [59]

Non-gunpowder weapons on Zheng He's vessels seems to be bows. For gunpowder weapons, they carried bombards (albeit shorter than Portuguese bombards) and various kind of hand cannons, such as can be found on early 15th century Bakau shipwreck. [60] [61] Comparing with Penglai wrecks, the fleet may have carried cannons with bowl-shaped muzzle (which dates back to late Yuan dynasty), and iron cannons with several rings on their muzzle (in the wrecks they are 76 and 73 cm long, weighing 110 and 74 kg), which according to Tang Zhiba, a typical of early Ming iron cannon. They may also carry incendiary bombs (quicklime bottles). [62] Girolamo Sernigi (1499) gives an account of the armament of what possibly the Chinese vessels:

It is now about 80 years since there arrived in this city of Chalicut certain vessels of white Christians, who wore their hair long like Germans, and had no beards except around the mouth, such as are worn at Constantinople by cavaliers and courtiers. They landed, wearing a cuirass, helmet, and visor, and carrying a certain weapon [sword] attached to a spear. Their vessels are armed with bombards, shorter than those in use with us. Once every two years they return with 20 or 25 vessels. They are unable to tell what people they are, nor what merchandise they bring to this city, save that it includes very fine linen-cloth and brass-ware. They load spices. Their vessels have four masts like those of Spain. If they were Germans it seems to me that we should have had some notice about them possibly they may be Russians if they have a port there. On the arrival of the captain we may learn who these people are, for the Italian-speaking pilot, who was given him by the Moorish king, and whom he took away contrary to his inclinations, is with him, and may be able to tell.
- Girolamo Sernigi (1499) about the then-unknown Chinese visitors [63]

Some of the drydocks at Longjiang Shipyard at Nanjing—known informally as the Treasure Ship Yard—were 27 to 36 m (90 to 120 feet) wide. But two such drydocks measured 64 m (210 feet) wide, considered large enough to build a ship 50 m (166-foot) wide.

In 1962, a large rudderpost indicating a rudder area of 452 square feet was unearthed at the Longjiang Shipyard. It has been widely said dimensions of this rudderpost corresponds with a ship of between 538 and 600 feet in length, [35] lending credence to the notion that ships of these dimensions were indeed built. However, such use of this piece of archeological evidence rests upon supposing proportions between the rudder and the length of the ship, which have also been the object of intense contestation: That length was estimated using steel, engine-driven ship as the reference. By comparing the rudder post to the Quanzhou ship, Church estimated that the ship was 150 ft (45.72 m) long. [64]

The treasure ships were different in size, but not in speed. Under favorable conditions, such as sailing with the winter monsoon from Fujian to Southeast Asia, Zheng He's fleet developed an average speed of about 2.5 knots (4.6 km/h) on many other segments of his route, a significantly lower average speed was recorded, of the order of 1.4-1.8 knots (2.6-3.3 km/h). [65]

As historians note, these speeds were relatively low by the standards of later European sailing fleets, even in comparison with ship of the line, which were built with an emphasis on armament rather than speed. For example, in 1809, Admiral Nelson's squadron, consisting of 10 ships of the line, crossed the Atlantic Ocean at an average speed of 4.9 knots (9.1 km/h). [66]

A 71.1-metre (233.3 ft) copy of a treasure ship was announced in 2006 to be completed in time for the 2008 Olympic Games. [67] However, the copy was still under construction in Nanjing in 2010. [68] A new date of completion was set for 2013 [69] when this dateline failed to be met in 2014, the project was put on hold indefinitely. [70]


Leif Eriksson Day commemorates the Norse explorer believed to have led the first European expedition to North America. Nearly 500 years before the birth of Christopher Columbus, a band of European sailors left their homeland behind in search of a new world.

Australia was known as the new world . The term old and new was defined on what western civilisation new existed through trading and trade routes . The likes of the Americas , Australia , New Zealand and Antarctica are classed as new world as their discovery was only established in around the 16th century or later .


Zheng He - A Great Explorer in China

"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" is how the children's nursery rhyme begins. However, more than 90 years before the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, a Chinese Muslim eunuch born in poverty ascended the ranks of the great naval powerhouse of the Ming Dynasty. His name was Zheng He and his skills as an ambassador and navigator helped to spread the glory of the Ming Dynasty over much of the known world.

The Jinghai (Calm Sea) Temple, located at the southwestern foot of the Lion Hill, was first built in the 9th year (1411) of the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty.

Zheng He was born in the southwestern province of Yunnan but is forever associated with the great capital of Nanjing. It was the third Ming Emperor Zhu Di who found favor with Zheng and recognized his intelligence and diplomatic skills. This respect from the imperial throne solidified Zheng a place in Chinese history and contributed to one of the greatest periods of exploration.

Trade was important to China and the goods that China was known for -silk, porcelain, and art - were highly sought: out by the West. The Silk Road, the overland journey that originated in Europe, through the Arab world and into China via the Gobi desert was at the time of the early Ming becoming more and more dangerous. All parties involved were seeking new routes to trading ports in India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This was the time of the early Renaissance and the beginning of the age of exploration in Europe. However, modern history is only beginning to recognize the Chinese treasure fleets helmed by Zheng as the earliest winners in the race.

In the early years of the 1400s, the Ming Dynasty as well as Nanjing was reaching new heights of wealth and power. Emperor Zhu Di, in order to show the finer aspects of Chinese culture to the world adopted an aggressive policy of exploration. His goal was to reach out to across the known world and dazzle all who were encountered with the glory of the Chinese and to receive tribute from these countries. This resulted in seven voyages that stretched far and wide spreading diplomacy, establishing trade routes and returning with riches and artifacts never before seen in China.

The first two voyages made travels to what are now Indonesia, Singapore and India. Here Zheng and his fleet concluded contracts for the ever-growing and all important spice trade that added to the wealth of the emperor. Additionally Zheng won favor with local leaders who in turn traveled to Nanjing to pay tribute to the imperial court. One such example was that the king of Boni (what is now modern day Brunei) visited China and upon his passing away was even buried in Nanjing with full imperial pomp usually reserved for an emperor. China was opening up to the world.

The later voyages of Zheng extended to Africa and the Arab world. For the first time Chinese explorers could see other great nation-states of the world. On the African coast the treasure fleet was welcomed by large cities built with stone, not barbaric peoples as once thought. The coffers were filled not only with the standard treasures and, artifacts but a menagerie of wild African animals including ostriches and giraffes to be sent back to the emperor.

The relationships made on Arab land gave the Chinese doctors and pharmacologists who accompanied Zheng access to new medicinal herbs and creations. Also, specifically for the Muslim Zheng these trips gave him and his court the ability to visit not only mosques but also other religious sites of Buddhism along the way. These voyages helped to spread not only tangible but also the spiritual and philosophical components of Chinese culture.

To accomplish all of this required a large amount of men from all facets of life. Zheng's voyages consisted of over 200 vessels manned by over 25,000 crew members. This is not including the artists, translators, diplomats, scientists and doctors. The armadas that Zheng piloted were more like floating cities than the small handful of tiny ships used later by the great Western explorers. This lofty and complicated undertaking required both a great leader and. a great fleet of ships.

The great flotilla was truly a city with different ships ser ing in different roles. There were of course the main treasure ships that carried both the precious cargo for trade and acquired wealth. There were supply storage ships and ships that carried supplies of fresh water. There were also ships carrying a large number of troops and separate ships for cavalry horses and smaller patrol and warships that protected the fleet. So massive was the sight of the armada with its multiple sails and intimidating posture that many of the nations visited were awestruck. Some accounts even discuss how the massive navy even quashed rebel and pirate uprising along the way.

The massive commission to build the necessary 200 ships required an even greater feat of Chinese engineering. Today in modern Nanjing you can still visit what remains of the few remaining dry docks that made up the 4,000-acre shipyard. Here close t0 30,000 men worked round the clock to build the giants that sailed out of Nanjing. Fortunately today you can even climb aboard a recently built and full-scale example of one of the great ships to catch a glimpse of just how massive these ships really were.

Other sites in Nanjing also stand in recognition of the great admiral. Commissioned by Emperor Zhu Di sit Jinghai Temple and Tianfei Palace. Both sites are dedicated to Zheng He's voyages and served as place of worship and sacrifice to the goddess of the sea where many sailors, including Zheng, would visit time and time again. Beautifully they sit intertwined with nature at the bottom of the Lion Hill. Zheng's own burial site was personally chosen for its oneness with nature. The tomb is nestled in a bucolic scene of quiet stillness among the trees of a small forest in the south of the city.

Volumes have been written about the exploits and fantastical voyages of Zheng. Some modern day scholars and adventure enthusiasts have even speculated that ships from these journeys made it as far as South America and the Caribbean, giving the Chinese the title of discovering America. Whether this is true or not only fuels the growing fire sparked by the great nautical exploits of Zheng.

Among the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, Zheng He became the object of cult veneration.Even some of his crew members who happened to stay in this or that port sometimes did as well, such as "Poontaokong" on Sulu. The temples of this cult – called after either of his names, Cheng Hoon or Sam Po – are peculiar to overseas Chinese except for a single temple in Hongjian originally constructed by a returned Filipino Chinese in the Ming dynasty and rebuilt by another Filipino Chinese after the original was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. (The same village of Hongjian, in Fujian's Jiaomei township, is also the ancestral home of Corazon Aquino.)

The oldest and most important Chinese temple in Malacca is the 17th-century Cheng Hoon Teng, dedicated to Guanyin. During Dutch colonial rule, the head of the Cheng Hoon Temple was appointed chief over the community's Chinese inhabitants.

Following Zheng He's arrival, the sultan and sultana of Malacca visited China at the head of over 540 of their subjects, bearing ample tribute. Sultan Mansur Shah (r. 1459–1477) later dispatched Tun Perpatih Putih as his envoy to China, carrying a letter from the sultan to the Ming emperor. The letter requested the hand of an imperial daughter in marriage. Malay (but not Chinese) annals record that, in the year 1459, a princess named Hang Li Po or Hang Liu was sent from China to marry the sultan. The princess came with 500 high-ranking young men and a few hundred handmaidens as her entourage. They eventually settled in Bukit Cina. It is believed that a significant number of them married into the local populace, creating the descendants now known as the Peranakan. Owing to this supposed lineage, the Peranakan still use special honorifics: Baba for the men and Nyonya for the women.

In 1961, the Indonesian Islamic leader and scholar Hamka credited Zheng He with an important role in the development of Islam in Indonesia.The Brunei Times credits Zheng He with building Chinese Muslim communities in Palembang and along the shores of Java, the Malay Peninsula, and the Philippines. These Muslims allegedly followed the Hanafi school in the Chinese language.[91] This Chinese Muslim community was led by Hajji Yan Ying Yu, who urged his followers to assimilate and take local names. The Chinese trader Sun Long even supposedly adopted the son of the king of Majapahit and his Chinese wife, a son who went on to become Raden Patah.[92] Amid this assimilation (and loss of contact with China itself), the Hanafi Islam became absorbed by the local Shafi'i school and the presence of distinctly ethnic Chinese Muslims dwindled to almost nothing.[93] The Malay Annals also record a number of Hanafi mosques – in Semarang and Ancol, for instance – were converted directly into temples of the Zheng He cult during the 1460s and '70s.

In the 1950s, historians such as John Fairbank and Joseph Needham popularized the idea that after Zheng He's voyages China turned away from the seas due to the Haijin edict and was isolated from European technological advancements. Modern historians point out that Chinese maritime commerce did not totally stop after Zheng He, that Chinese ships continued to participate in Southeast Asian commerce until the 19th century, and that active Chinese trading with India and East Africa continued long after the time of Zheng. Moreover revisionist historians such as Jack Goldstone argue that the Zheng He voyages ended for practical reasons that did not reflect the technological level of China. Although the Ming Dynasty did ban shipping with the Haijin edict, this was a policy of the Hongwu Emperor that long preceded Zheng He and the ban – so obviously disregarded by the Yongle Emperor – was eventually lifted entirely. However, the ban on maritime shipping did force countless numbers of people into smuggling and piracy. Neglect of the imperial navy and Nanjing dockyards after Zheng He's voyages left the coast highly vulnerable both to Japanese and "Japanese" Wokou during the 16th century.[citation needed]

Richard von Glahn, a UCLA professor of Chinese history, commented that most treatments of Zheng He present him wrongly: they "offer counterfactual arguments" and "emphasize China's missed opportunity." This "narrative emphasizes the failure" instead of the accomplishments, despite his assertion that "Zheng He reshaped Asia." Glahn argues maritime history in the 15th century was essentially the Zheng He story and the effects of his voyages.


Zheng He: Famous Chinese Explorer Who Added Wealth and Power to the Ming Dynasty - History

Zheng He was an ethnically Muslim Chinese figure of the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China for 276 years between the 1368 and 1644. Zheng He might be called the “Christopher Columbus” of China because of his spectacular journeys to far-off lands, such as East Africa, the Middle East, and Sri Lanka. But he was also much more. He was a great military and naval commander, diplomat, adviser, emissary and political insider.

Rediscovering Zheng He

Zheng He was all but forgotten to Chinese history until his story was rediscovered and documented in a popular 1909 book by the Chinese scholar, Liang Qihao. Shortly after this incredible biography became widespread knowledge, a monument to the explorer placed in Sri Lanka was also rediscovered. It is known as the Trilingual Stele because written on the stone are homages to the Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu religions in three different languages.

Zheng He’s Background

Zheng He belonged to a Muslim subgroup of Chinese culture known as the Hui people. He was born in 1371, the second son in a large family. His birth name was Ma He, and his father was Ma Hajji. Even though he was born into a Muslim family, his own religious convictions are uncertain.

It is likely that Zheng was a broad-minded intellectual whose contact with many cultures and belief systems gave him and expanded worldly view and perspective. He was honored and admired by Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu alike.

Zheng He was born in a time of turmoil. When he was 10 years old, Ming forces had invaded Yunnan, the land of Zheng’s birth and family. Yunnan was controlled by the Mongols at the time. His father was killed fighting against the Ming army, although historical records differ on the actual circumstances and allegiance of Ma Hajji. He may have simply been killed in the complicated, chaotic violence of war between opposing forces.

Captured and Castrated

At this time, young Zheng He was captured by Muslim forces allied with the Ming. He was subsequently castrated so that he could be placed in servitude to the Prince of Yan, who would become the future emperor, the Yongle Emperor. He eventually became a soldier in the Ming wars against the Mongols.

He distinguished himself as a soldier and rose steadily through the ranks of the military hierarchy. This path led him to gain the personal confidence of the Prince of Yan. When the Prince rose to the supreme position of Emperor, Zheng also gained a position of considerable power.

In 1404, the Emperor appointed Zheng “Grand Director” of Palace Servants. It was a reward for his considerable achievements as a military leader in battles fought not only against enemies of the Ming Dynasty, but against the many internal feuding factions which characterized those complicated times.

Zheng He’s Sea Campaigns

Zheng He’s role in the Ming Dynasty evolved from that of soldier to a commander of ships. In 1424, he sailed to Palembang to confer an official seal upon and appoint an important official as a commissioner. Shortly after, the Yongle Emperor died and was succeeded by his son, the Hongxi Emperor. His new master wanted Zheng to serve as commander of the important city of Nanjing, and so his naval career was suspended for a time.

In 1430, the next ruler, the Xuande Emperor, ordered Zheng to lead an expedition to the “Western Ocean.” This was a time when China was moving aggressively to expand its trade and imperial power throughout the southeastern nations of Asia. The Ming Dynasty was also interested in expanding trade to distant locations in the West, which meant far-reaching efforts to establish links, trade, and power in Africa and the Middle East.

Legacy and Death of Zheng He

Similar to the way Europe began looking westward after the discovery of the New World by Columbus in 1492, the years of 1404 through the 1430s were a major age of seafaring expansion for China. The gigantic role Zheng He played in these expeditions cannot be overestimated.

His mind, skills, bravery, military instincts and superior diplomatic talents made Zheng He a natural to make significant gains for his country and to earn his place as one of the greatest explorers of all time. His accomplishments at sea included considerable military actions that expanded Chinese interests throughout Southeast Asia and among nations of the Indian Ocean.

Zheng He died at sea in 1433. His tomb remains today in the city of Nanjing. Numerous monuments to his memory can be found throughout the Asian world today.


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