Admiral Zheng He

 

Timeline

1371: Born in Kunyang, Yunnan (now Jinming County)

 

1382: Left hometown and recruited into the official office of the emperor

 

1399: Fought brave battles and won meritorious acclaim in the name of the emperor.

Gained the emperors trust and favor.

 

1405: First voyage to the western seas.

 

1407: Second voyage

 

1409: Third voyage

 

1413: Fourth voyage

 

1417: Fifth voyage

 

1421: Sixth voyage

 

1431: Seventh voyage

 

1433: Died while on the seventh and last voyage of the legendary Treasure Fleet.

 

 

Background

 

-         Zheng He was born the second son of a poor Muslim family in Kunyang (central Yunnan in Southern China)

-         His father and grandfather both Haji: meaning they were both Muslims who had visited Mecca for their Muslim pilgrimage.

-         His birth name was Ma HeMa meaning horse in Chinese, and being the Chinese abbreviation for the Muslim Mohamed.

-         He was raised a Muslim, and studied the teachings of Islam.

-         Was very influenced by his fathers, Ma Hajis, strong character, great military mind, and altruistic nature.

-         In 1381, when Zheng He was 10, his father was killed in the Ming Dynastys cleansing of the remnants of the Yuan Dynesty (1279-1368)

-         Led by General Fu Youde, the Ming army swarmed Yunnan and tried to subdue the Mongols.

-         The Ming army butchered an estimated 60,000 people, and castrated the young sons of prisoners, as per custom since the first millennium.

-         Ma He was taken prisoner by Fu Youde. In 1385, at the age of 14, he was castrated and placed in the household of Prince of Yan, Zhu Di, the emperors 4th son. At the time, Zhu Di was Youdes aide-de-camp. (25years old)

-         Over the next few years, Ma He and Zhu Di would form a close friendship. He would thereafter accompany Zhu Di on all his military missions, learning the art of war from his master. He would play an integral part in the campaign against the Mongols in the north in the 1390s.

 

 

Eunuch Life

-         Living in Zhu Dis household, Ma He had his needs provided for and was well-educatedhad read works of Confucius and Mencius.

-         There, he got the nickname San Bao which means Three Jewels

-         At this time, the eunuchs were a group mistrusted by the emperor, who believed that they should not be given any responsibility and should not be entrusted with government matters.

-         But Ma He was not your typical eunuch. Unlike the stereotype of the emotionally volatile, effeminate eunuch, he was tall, and heavily built (almost seven feet tall, according to some sources). In the military, he quickly gained a reputation for being a brilliant, brave soldier, and had a large, commanding presence.

-         When Prince of Yan seized the throne, Ma He fought loyally for him, gaining Zhu Dis trust and respect.

-         In 1402, Ma He served as one of Zhu Dis commanders when the young Prince tried to conquer Nanjing, and distinguished himself in the battle.

-         In 1404, the second year of Zhu Dis reign as Emperor Yong Le, Zhu Di bestowed Ma He the name of Zheng. Thus Ma He became Zheng He.

-         Zheng He was also appointed to the position of Head Eunuch which was equivalent to an official with the fourth ranking.

 

 

The Beginnings of the Treasure Fleet

-         All throughout his reign, Zhu Di was obsessed with hunting down his predecessor, Zhu Yunwen. Rumor said that Yunwen had fled overseas.

-         So in 1403, Zhu Di issued orders to begin construction of a huge fleet of ships that could be sent abroad and used as trade ships, warships, and support vessels.

-         The emperor appointed Zheng He the commander of his fleet of ships, and promoted Zheng to rank 3, giving him the authority to act as an official envoy of the imperial court to foreign countries.

-         Thus, Zheng began the greatest voyage in world history.

-         Over the next 30 years, Zheng would prove to be an astute military man, an outstanding commander and leader, and a competent diplomat and statesman who represented the emperor in making contact with territories all over the world.

 

 

-         Zheng Hes first fleet included 27,870 men on 317 ships, including sailors, clerks, interpreters, soldiers, artisans, medical men and meteorologists.

-         The first fleet sailed along the coastline of China to modern-day Vietnam and Indonesia (Java, Sumatra). It also passed through the Strait of Malacca, and his India on the way back. It returned to China in 1407.

-         The emperor was so pleased that he would order six subsequent voyages, all to different places over the next thirty years.

 

The End

-         In 1421, emperor Yongle died shortly after Zhengs return from his sixth voyage to the African coast.

-        Now 60 years old, Zheng would visit the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and Africa on his seventh and final voyage. He died on the way back from sea in 1433, and was buried in the Indian Ocean as per Muslim custom.

-         However, he was also honored with a tomb in Nanjing.

-         Zheng Hes death capped the period of unprecedented maritime growth seen by China in the 14th and 15th centuries.