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Zheng He

Zheng He (鄭和 in pinyin: zheng4 he2), or Cheng Ho in Wade-Giles, (1371-1435) was a famous Chinese mariner and explorer who made the voyages collectively referred to as the "Eunuch Sanbo to the Western Ocean" (三保太監下西洋) or "Zheng He to the Western Ocean", from 1405 to 1433.

"The Western Ocean" refers to the Asian and African places he explored, including:

The number of his voyages vary depending on method of division, but he explored at least seven times to "The Western Ocean" with his fleet. The fleet comprised 30,000 men and seventy ships at its height. He brought back to China many trophies and envoys from more than thirty kingdoms -- including King Alagonakkara[?] of Ceylon, who came to China to apologize to the Emperor.

Zheng He was a eunuch and close confidant of the Yongle Emperor of China, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. His original name was Ma Sanbo (馬 三保), born in Yunnan. The name Zheng He was given by the emperor. His missions were impressive demonstrations of organizational capability and technological might, but did not lead to significant trade, since Zheng He was an admiral and an official, not a merchant.

In 1424 the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi[?], decided to curb influence of the eunuchs at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor[?], but after that, Chinese treasure ship fleets ended.

One popular belief is that after Zheng He's voyages, China turned away from the seas and underwent a period of technological stagnation. This view of history has been used to support the notion of investment into space exploration. Although this view was popularized by historians such as John Fairbanks and Joseph Needham[?] in the 1950s, most current historians of China question its accuracy. They point out that Chinese maritime commerce did not stop after Zheng He, and that Chinese ships continued to dominate Southeast Asian commerce until the 19th centuries and that there was active Chinese trading with India and East Africa long after Zheng He. Although the Ming Dynasty did ban shipping with the Hai jin for a few decades, this ban was eventually lifted.

Some recent controversal theory (see 1421 in further reading) suggested that Zheng He circumcircled the globe and discovered America in the 1400s before Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus. This theory has found little support among historians (see also: Sung Document).

The "Qeng Ho" space-faring society in Vernor Vinge's science fiction novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky[?] are named for Zheng He.

External links

Further Reading

  • Louis Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433, Oxford University Press, 1997, trade paperback, ISBN 0195112075
  • Gavin Menzies, 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered the World, Morrow/Avon, 2003, hardcover 576 pages, ISBN 0060537639 This book, in so far as it relates to the Chinese discovery of America, is considered by knowlegeable experts to not be founded in fact Review of 1421 by a science editor at the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/02/books/review/02WILFORT?tntemail1)

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