Statue of Zheng He
The routes of Zheng He’s seven voyages (National Geographic Magazine)
About Zheng He
In China’s maritime story Zheng He (1371-1433) is an almost mythic figure. He was a Muslim by birth, born in Yunnan in 1371 shortly after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty.
Over the next 24 years Zheng He had a successful career as an influential eunuch, before being appointed to lead the great voyages.
Zheng He was a senior diplomat leading a large entourage of officials, scholars and soldiers on diplomatic and fact-finding missions. The maritime side of this massive expression of Chinese influence, with its many ships, sailors, boatmen, helmsmen, anchormen, blacksmiths, and caulkers was merely one part of a civilian and military expedition of enormous size and complexity.
Voyages of Unprecedented Size and Scope
The first voyage, with its 27,000 embarked personnel, mostly soldiers, returned in October 1407 after visiting today’s Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. Six voyages followed in 1407-1409, 1409-1411, 1413-1415, 1416-1419, 1421-1422 and 1430-1433, on the last of which it is thought that Zheng He died at sea.
The 4th-7th voyages ranged as far west as Jiddah in the Red Sea and Malindi in East Africa. Their squadrons visited at least 30 contemporary kingdoms
Zheng He bronze bell in the San Qing Hall,
Tian Feil Palace, Majiang, Fujian
Evidence is strong that Zheng He’s voyages compared favourably with any contemporary or previous maritime ventures. They sailed further, in more ships, with great sophistication and logistical skills.
Zheng He's voyages formalized the vast extent of Chinese geographical understanding that had been building since Song Dynasty traders first ventured on major overseas navigational practices.
Tomb of Zhenghe, at Niushoushan, Nanjing