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Zheng He's Great Voyages

In the early days of the Ming Dynasty, that is, early in the 15th century, China was an advanced country in the world, with a booming economy and prosperous culture. in order to strength the relations with countries lying to the west of China as well as to flaunt the national power of the IGreat Ming Empire, Emperor Ming Chengzu launched a series of marine activities.

Between 1405 and 1433, Zheng He was ordered seven times to act as an envoy to these countries, known as "Zheng He 's voyages to the west Seas", as the main activities were carried out in the west sea area of today's Kalimantan Island, known as west seas in ancient times.

in 1405, a huge fleet of more than 300 ships manned by over 27, 800 men, including sailors, clerks, interpreters, officers and soldiers , artisans, medical men and meteorologists, set sailfrom Liujia Harbour near Suzhou on a distant voyage under the leadership of Zheng He. on board the ships were large quantities of cargo that could be broken down into over 40 different categories, including silk goods, porcelain, gold and silver ware, copper utensils, iron implements, cotton goods, mercury, umbrella s, and straw mats, etc. The fleet sailed along China's coast to Champa close to Vietnam and, after crossing the South China Sea, visited Java, Sumatra and reached Sri Lanka by passing through the Strait of Malacca.

on the way back it sailed along the west coast of india and returned home in 1407. Envoys from Calicut in india and several countries in Asia and the Middle East also boarded the ships to pay visits to China. Zheng He's second and third voyages taken shortly after, followed roughly the same route.

Each time he had under his command a big fleet and a staff of more than 20,000 men. His fleets had sailed in the South China Sea and the indian Ocean. They had gone further south to Java in today's indonesia. Sailing then in a northwest direction, they had visited Yemen, Iran and the Holy City of Islam Mecca and further west to today's Somalia in East Africa. in all, he had made calls at more than 30 countries and territories. All this had taken place about half a century before the famous European sailor Columbus's voyage to America. For this reason, Zhen He's expeditions could rightfully be called "an unprecedented feat in mankind's history of navigation. "

on each voyage Zheng He was acting as the envoy and commercial representative of the Ming court. No matter what country he visited, he called on the ruler of the land, presenting to him valuable gifts in token of China's sincere desire to develop friendly relations and inviting the host sovereign to send emissaries to China. Wherever he was, he made a careful study of the customs and habits of local residents. Showing them due respect, he bartered or dealt with them through consultation and negotiation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. in this way, he obtained large quantities of pearls and precious stones, coral, ivory and dyestuffs for the Chinese emperor. He also brought back several kinds of rare and precious animals such as giraffe, lion, ostrich and leopard .

in ancient india, Chinese sailors made a good impression on the local people by observing local trading customs and practices such as clapping hands to clinch a deal in full view of others and never going back on it. When he visited Sri Lanka on his third voyage, Zheng He offered a quantity of gold and silver Buddhist ceremonial vessels and silk-knit religious pennants to local temples on whose ground steles were set up to mark the occasion of his visit. Wherever he went, he was warmly received. At Zhancheng , the king of the land, in full royal regalia, came in person on elephantback with 500 cavalrymen to meet him at the wharf and then take him back to the palace. on the way they were greeted by local inhabitants who blew trumpets made of coconut shells and performed national dances at a solemn and joyous ceremony. Even today, people in Somalia and Tanzania look upon Ming China unearthed today as a symbol of the traditional friendship between their own country and China.

The countries Zheng He had visited later sent their emissaries and trade representatives to China from time to time. in 1419 when Zheng He was sailing back on his fifth voyage, 17 countries sent their envoys to China, including Philippines and Malaysia. While in China, these foreign emissaries were shown great hospitality by Emperor Chengzu of Ming. The voyages by Zheng He strengthened the friendly relations between China and other countries in Asia and Africa and gave an impetus to cultural and economic exchange between them.

Zheng He's voyages contributed a lot to the economic and cultural exchanges between China and other nations, and he opened up sea routes for East-West trade just as Zhang Qian and Xuan Zang had opened up land routes.

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