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Zheng He's Voyages  
   CCTV.COM   2002-12-24 16:12:01   
    During the reign of the emperor Zhu Di the Ming Empire became stronger and the its economy flourished. To make China's strength known to the world and to spread Chinese culture, Zhu Di sent Zheng He with his ship team on oversea voyages. Zheng He was a eunuch from a family of Hui nationality. From 1405 to 1433 Zheng made seven voyages and performed miracles in the history of ocean-going navigation.

    Zheng He's ocean-going team had a hundred vessels and a crew of 30,000. It was the largest one in the world at that time.

    The Ming Dynasty was a golden age of ship building. China then had large shipyards.

    The large vessel Zheng He used was 120 metres long and 45 metres wide. The twelve sails on the ship could be adjusted in accordance with the wind directions. The ship had separate water-tight cabinets to keep the ship afloat. Because the cabinets were separated and water-tight, even if the ship stroke a reef at some cabinet, the whole ship would not sink. In the 18th century, this structure arrested the Westerners' attention and was gradually adopted by them.

    Zheng He's team used the compass, the most advanced navigation instrument of the world of his day. They detected directions by the compass and located geographical positions by observing the altitude of stars. The combined application of nautical astronomy and compass navigation greatly increased the accurateness of their position fixing during the voyages. This technical advancement offered Zheng's ship team greater freedom.

    The Route Chart of Zheng He's Voyages included 30 Asian and African countries and regions, 530 places, and topographical features like mountains, islands, reefs and so on. Directions in the compass and the depth of water were signed at important points on the navigation lines. This is the first ocean-going voyage chart in China, and one of the earliest in the world.

    Zheng's ship team made seven voyages through untold hardships. It went through the South China Sea, the Java Sea, the Strait of Malacca, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and reached the eastern coast of Africa. It visited 30 Asian and African countries including Vietnam and Indonesia. The route totaled to 500,000 kilometres. This was unprecedented in the history of ocean navigation.

    Zheng reached India 90 years earlier than Vasco da Gama's arrival there by way of Good Hope Cape, and 80 years earlier than Christopher Columbus' arrival at America, the so-called New Continent.

    Wherever Zheng He went, he brought gifts and granted titles from the Ming emperor to the local rulers, meaning to establish a broad tribute-paying circle. At the same time, Chinese calendar and ritual system were introduced to those countries.

    Zheng's ship team also did trade and exchanged goods with other countries. The ship team was equipped with strong arms, which however was seldom used. Zheng was more like a good will ambassador than a war ship commander or a boss of a merchant group.

    Zheng's voyages enriched the humankind's knowledge about navigation. They opened up the traffic route on the Asian and African seas, and promoted economic and cultural interchange. They created the brilliant record in Chinese people's adventures in conquering the seas.

Editor: Inner Wu

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