Zheng He (1405 – 1433)

A giraffe brought back from Africa as a gift for the emperor of China

Chinese sailing ships still retain many of the features of Zheng He's ships

Chinese blue and white porcelain was often traded by Zheng's fleet and by other Chinese merchants all around the rim of the Indian Ocean

Zheng He
the Great Chinese Admiral

The second traveler of this period was Zheng He (1405 – 1433), a Muslim admiral to the Ming dynasty of China. In 1369, a rebellion of native Chinese would overthrow Mongol rule, establishing the Ming dyansty. Zheng He grew up in the same coastal Muslim communities which Ibn Batutta had visited 100 years earlier.

Chinese Fleets Tour the Indian Ocean

Zheng He led seven expeditions of massive Chinese fleets around the rim the Indian Ocean, attempting to impress the countries there of China’s superiority in culture and technology. His fleets comprised hundreds of ships and with total crews of 20,000 sailors. The ships in these fleets were enormous, some with as many as nine masts. By comparision, in 1497 Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer, rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in a single two masted caravel.

• Zheng's Trips Link Countries Along the
Ocean Route

Zheng He was also personally motivated for the journey by his devotion to Islam. He, like Ibn Batutta, was able to fulfill his Muslim duty to complete the pilgrimage to Mecca. At the same time, he explored the Muslim world and established relationships between the countries on the Indian rim and the Ming emperors, bringing the region, for a brief time, into regular trade and exchange. The traffic of the Silk Road moved onto the sea lanes, bringing the vitality of exchange of culture and technology to the coastal countries and leaving the interior to wither in isolation.

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