March 28th, 2007
70 years before Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in search of a water route to Asia, the Chinese were exploring the Indian Ocean and western Pacific with seven maritime expeditions that solidified themselves as the major power in Asia. In 2005 China celebrated the 600th anniversary of the first voyage of the navigator and explorer Zheng He.
In 2005 China celebrated the 600th anniversary of the first maritime expedition of Zheng He (1371-1435), also known as Cheng Ho. Zheng He is China’s most famous navigator, making a total of seven expeditions over 28 years to 30 countries across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and even the east coast of Africa. Some historians even argue that Zheng He’s ships traveled as far as Australia, some 300 years before Cook. He was born in the Yunnan province in 1372, about the time that Genghis Khan was defeated by the emerging Ming dynasty. His parents were Muslims who fought for the Khan, and at 10 he was captured by the Ming army and castrated. He became a servant to a Ming prince, who later rose to become Emperor. The new leader wanted Chinese to extend its reach and influence, and charged his loyal servant with the task of raising and equipping a large fleet for exploration.By the turn of the 15th century, China was already a highly advanced civilization, rich in culture, technology, weaponry, and sea navigation. The expeditions of Zheng Ho resulted in China expanding its influence over much of Asia, and spreading Chinese culture to many parts of the world. Soon after the final expedition, during which Zheng He died during a stopover in India, China became a closed culture, cut off from much of the world during subsequent reigns of emperors and dynasties. As China has begun to emerge from this 500 year period of relative isolation, the memory and legacy of Zheng He has awakened along with it.
For more information on Zheng He, his expeditions, and his legacy, here are a few links:
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