Zheng He, the Admiral and commander of these expeditions was entrusted by the Imperial court of China and the emperor to undertake these missions that were to serve mainly diplomatic purposes. He would surpass the court’s expectations upon return from each voyage with valuable trinkets and exotic, expensive goods from trade. In this article, the whole process and technical aspects of the Zheng He voyages during the Ming dynasty will be analyzed. This article will introduce Zheng He as an individual, his background and ascension to the position of Admiral. Furthermore, the article will lay emphasis on the impact of these voyages to the state of China and to some degree the countries or territories visited. Key areas that will be examined for this are Chinese culture, politics, history, business and trade. In addition, the effects of the voyages on countries toured will also be discussed. Attention will be diverted towards the reasons for the start of the voyages and ultimately those for their demise as a conclusion.
Zeng He was born in 1371in Jinning, China and named Ma He (Chinaculture.org, 2005). Scholars indicate that his ancestors were of Arabian descent who immigrated into China during the Song and Tang dynasties between 7th and 13th Century AD. Research indicates that the great grandfather of Zeng He was appointed governor of Yunnan Province and is believed to have been a member of the Mongol Garrison in that province. During his childhood, Zheng’s home province of Yunnan fell under siege by the emperor of China and the ruler of the Ming dynasty at the time. He was taken to imperial court to serve as a eunuch. A eunuch is a person, who is castrated and forced to work for the government against his will (Chinaculture.org, 2005). Through service to Zhu Yuanzhang, he became prominent through aiding in the defeat of the Yuan Dynasty. He was rewarded with a promotion to an official government post. Zhu Di, Zhu’s fourth son initiated a coup in which Zeng played an integral role in Zhu Di’s acquisition of the throne. He was rewarded with the command of the Chinese navy. With this position, he wielded great influence and power at the court. An alternative reflection of historical texts is that upon ascension to the throne in 1402, Emperor Cheng appointed Zheng to command a large fleet of ships to the area known as Western Sea (Church, 2005). Zeng He’s voyages in the Ming Dynasty constitute this fleet of ships to distant lands. The ships travelled to nations in Southeast Asia and Africa (Levathes, 1997). The ships carried large quantities of products including food stuffs, silks, ornaments, soldiers and sailors. The voyages are considered a feat in navigation in that era. Though unexpected at the time, in Chinese history, they contributed considerably to trade and exchanges in culture. Historians believe that between the years 1405 and 1433, Zheng led his fleet of ships in seven voyages. The number of ships in each voyage ranged from between forty to sixty three. The total number of people on each voyage was estimated to be approximately twenty seven thousand. The ships navigated a vast area of seas and oceans from Ryuku Islands, Philippines, Mozambique all the way to South Africa. Mutual trade between China and the native lands the ships docked was developed. Cultures and technologies were also exchanged in addition to promotion of social economic development and enhancement of maritime traffic practices. The large fleets conducted voyages on the Indian Ocean astonishing the proficient Arab navigators of the time and Venetian merchants. These led to adoption of naval enlightenment to states in Europe (Church, 2005). Zeng He’s first expedition was in July 1405. Church (2005) observes that, “