Cheng Ho, or Zheng He, was born in Kunyang, Yunnan province, China, in 1371. Originally named Ma Sanpao, he was captured and sent to the Chinese army under Chu Ti in 1382. There he helped Chu Ti become Emperor Yonglo of the ming Dynasty. In thanks, he was made Grand Imperial Eunuch and his name was changed to Zheng He. Yonglo chose Zheng to head a series of naval expeditions to ports all over the Indian Ocean. Zheng had diplomatic, scientific, and commercial goals, while traveling farther than any other admiral in history at the time. He visited more than 35 countries during his voyages.
Zheng took more than 100 ships and about 28,000 men in his Grand Fleet. The largest vessels were the treasure ships, each 444 ft. in length - more than all of Columbus ships put end to end. The fleet visited most of southern Asia in the first voyage and, by the seventh and last voyage, Zheng had been to east Africa, the Persian Gulf, Egypt, and Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). Almost 30 countries sent envoys back to China to give homage to the emperor, and all of the countries eagerly welcomed Zheng and traded for Chinese goods. He set up diplomatic relations in all the countries he visited and received tribute from most rulers that he met. When in Ceylon, Zheng helped restore the legitimate ruler to the throne. In Indonesia, the fleet defeated a powerful Chinese pirate who was later brought back to China for execution. Zhengs voyages not only established Chinese trade routes throughout Asia and Africa, but also established China as the dominant power in the known world. China was far more technologically advanced than any other culture on the planet, even those in Europe. It had no contact with Europe, but none of the European fleets could have successfully challenged Chinas authority.
Unfortunately, Emperor Yonglo died in 1424, ending all naval expeditions until 1431. Between two and five years after Yonglos death, Cheng Ho himself died during a trip home from India, ending the seventh and final voyage of the Grand Fleet. China again banned all naval expeditions, this time indefinitely. Future emperors practiced strict isolationism and burned all records of Cheng Hos voyages. Chinese influence on the world ceased, thus opening the door for the rise of European superpowers . By the year 1500, Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sailor, had entered the Indian Ocean and laid the groundwork for an era of Asian colonization by European naval powers.
Sites for further Information
"Cheng Ho and Suzhou : History Comes Full
"China the Beautiful"
Cheng Ho, written in Chinese:
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