Biography 06-17-2005 10:10

Early 17th century Chinese woodblock print, thought to represent Zheng He's ships.Zheng He was a Muslim eunuch who served as a close confidant of the Yongle Emperor of China (reigned 1403鈥1424), the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Originally named Ma Sanbao, he came from Yunnan province. He belonged to the Semur minority, who are originally from Central Asia, and practice Islam. He was the sixth generation descendant of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a famous Yuan governor of the Yunnan Province from Bukhara in modern day Uzbekstan. His family name "Ma" came from Shams al-Din's fifth son Masuh. Both his father and grandfather had travelled on pilgrimage to Mecca, and no doubt he heard them recounting tales of travels to far away lands. After the Ming army conquered Yunnan, he was taken captive, and castrated, thus becoming a eunuch. The name Zheng He was given by the emperor. He studied at Nanjing Taixue (The Imperial Central College). His missions showed impressive demonstrations of organizational capability and technological might, but did not lead to significant trade, since Zheng He was an admiral and an official, not a merchant. There were also rumors that he was at least seven feet tall.

Zheng He sailed to Malacca in the 15th century. By the mid-15th century, a princess of China, Princess Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu) was sent by the Emperor of China to marry the King of Malacca (Sultan Mansur Shah). The princess came with her entourage (500 sons of ministers and a few hundred handmaidens). They eventually settled in Bukit Cina in Malacca. The descendants of these people (from mixed marriages with the local natives) are known today as Baba (the male title) and Nyonya (the female title). (MP)

In 1424 the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (reigned 1424鈥1425), decided to curb the influence of the eunuchs at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426鈥1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended.

Editor:Hu Hang

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