|Biographical detail : ||The man who mapped the world
A Mongolian, Zheng He, became one of the most intrepid explorers in history who set out first of the seven landmark voyages reaching South-east Asia, India, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and as far as the east coast of Africa. Some say he may even have made it to America.
His journeys took him to 37 countries over 28 years as part of the mightiest fleet that ever sailed, with 300 ships and 28,000 sailors. The pride of the fleet was the flagship, Zheng He’s treasure ship, a hardwood vessel with 1,000 men on board. At 400ft, it dwarfed Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria, a minnow at 98ft. The sailors were helped by technological advances such as the compass, or “south pointing spoon”, fore and aft sails, and air-tight compartments in the hull.
Zheng He’s ship was packed full of porcelain, calligraphy scrolls, elegant musical instruments – the finest items China’s Emperor Yongle, the first ruler of the Ming dynasty, who wanted to showcase. The fleet returned packed with spices, fruits and rare and exotic fauna, such as China’s first giraffe, which the voyage picked up in Somalia.
Zheng He was not a coloniser and was more interested in trade than theft although Chinese concede the fleet was also supposed to spread the word to the peoples of southern Asia in particular that Ming dynasty of China was a mighty power.
Seven feet tall, Admiral Zheng He, was born Ma He (the name Ma is the Chinese transcription of Muhammad) to a poor parents. He earned surname “Zheng” after fighting in a battle near Beijing.
Ma He tomb, bearing the inscription “Allah is Great” stands at the southern outskirt of Niushou in Nanjing.