The history of a Chinese Moslem who has a long-lasting impact on China's commercial activities in the Indian Ocean

The history of a Chinese Moslem who has a long-lasting impact on China's commercial activities in the Indian Ocean
Andrew Barker/ Pixabay

Wade-Giles romanization of his name is Zheng He. Cheng Ho, originally Ma Sanbao, subsequently Ma He, admiral and diplomat (born c. 1371, Kunyang, near Kunming, Yunnan province, China—died 1433, Calicut [now Kozhikode], India), helped spread China's nautical and commercial power throughout the Indian Ocean region. Nearly a century before the Portuguese reached India by sailing around the southern tip of Africa, he led seven naval journeys.

Zheng He was a Hui (Chinese Muslim) from a Hui (Chinese Muslim) household. His father was a hajji, a Muslim who had traveled to Mecca for the hajj (pilgrimage). His family claimed lineage from King Muammad of Bukhara and an early Mongol governor of Yunnan province in southwestern China (now in Uzbekistan). The surname Ma is derived from the Chinese spelling of Muammad.

Zheng He was the Yongle Emperor's most well-known diplomatic agent. Although some historians consider the naval voyages as nothing more than a vanity project for the emperor, they did have the effect of expanding China's political clout throughout maritime Asia for half a century.

They did not, however, lead to the development of trading empires, as previous expeditions by European merchant-adventurers did. However, Chinese emigration grew as a result, resulting in Chinese colonization of Southeast Asia and the tributary trade that lasted until the nineteenth century.

Yunnan, the final Mongol stronghold in China, was reconquered by Chinese forces led by generals of the Ming dynasty, which had defeated the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty in 1368, when he was approximately ten years old. Ma Sanbao (later Ma He), as he was known at the time, was one of the youths who had been kidnapped, castrated, and sent into the army as orderlies.

Keterangan Gambar (© Pemilik Gambar)

1. Ma He had distinguished himself as a junior officer, competent in battle and diplomacy, by the time those men were placed under the leadership of the Prince of Yan in 1390. Ma had also acquired powerful allies at court.

2. The prince of Yan revolted against his nephew, the Jianwen emperor, in 1400, and became the Yongle emperor in 1402. The war-devastated economy of China was quickly recovered during the Yongle era (1402–24). The Ming court then attempted to demonstrate its naval might in order to unite the maritime states of South and Southeast Asia.

Ma He swiftly rose to prominence in the Yongle court as a powerful eunuch. The emperor gave Ma the surname Zheng shortly after he gained the throne, and he was known as Zheng He from then on.

3. The emperor then chose Zheng to be the commander in chief of a series of missions to the "Western Oceans." In 1405, he set out for the first time, commanding 62 ships and 27,800 soldiers. The fleet stopped in Champa (today in southern Vietnam), Siam (Thailand), Malacca (Melaka), and Java before sailing across the Indian Ocean to Calicut (Kozhikode) on India's Malabar Coast and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In 1407, Zheng He returned to China.

4. In 1408–09, Zheng embarked on his second voyage. He returned to Calicut, stopping in Chochin (Kochi) along the coast to the south, but was betrayed by Ceylon's King Alagonakkara. Zheng defeated Alagonakkara's soldiers and imprisoned the king in Nanjing. Zheng He embarked on his third journey in October 1409. He sailed to Hormuz on the Persian Gulf this time, beyond India's seaports. In 1411, when he returned, he touched at.

5. In 1413, Zheng He embarked on his fourth journey. He traveled westward from India to Hormuz, touching at the major ports of Asia along the way. A portion of the fleet traveled down the Arabian coast, stopping in Dhofar (Oman) and Aden (Yemen).

A Chinese delegation paid a visit to Mecca before continuing on to Egypt. The fleet stopped in places along Africa's east coast, including what is now Somalia and Kenya, and came dangerously close to reaching the Mozambique Channel. Zheng He gathered the envoys of more than 30 South and Southeast Asian states to pay tribute to the Chinese emperor when he returned to China in 1415.

6. The Ming navy returned to the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa during Zheng He's fifth trip (1417–19). In 1421, a sixth journey was launched to return the foreign emissaries from China. He traveled to Southeast Asia, India, Arabia, and Africa once more.

The Yongle Emperor died in 1424. In a policy shift, his successor, the Hongxi Emperor, halted foreign naval operations. Zheng He was given the responsibility of disbanding his forces as garrison commander in Nanjing.

7. Zheng In the winter of 1431, he embarked on his seventh and final voyage. He traveled across Southeast Asia, India's coast, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and Africa's east coast. In the spring of 1433, Zheng died in Calicut, and the fleet returned to China that summer.


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