DepartmentGlobal Asia Studies
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Journal 6: Zheng He and Ma Huan
Zheng He: Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the huge fleet and armed
forces that undertook these expeditions. Wang Jinghong was appointed his second in
command. Zheng He's first voyage consisted of a fleet of 317 ships (other sources say 200
ships) holding almost 28,000 crewmen (each ship housing up to 500 men).
Zheng He's f leets visited Arabia, Brunei, East Africa, India, Malay Archipelago and Thailand (at
the time called Siam), dispensing and receiving goods along the way. Zheng He presented gifts
of gold, silver, porcelain and silk; in return, China received such novelties as ostriches, zebras,
camels, ivor y and giraffes. Zheng He generally sought to attain his goals through diplomacy, and
his large army awed most would-be enemies into submission. He ruthlessly suppressed pirates
who had long plagued Chinese and southeast Asian waters. According to medieval Chinese
sources, Zheng He commanded seven expeditions.
Ma Huan: Ma Huan accompanied Zheng He on three of his seven voyages. Proficient in Arabic,
he served as a translator. His book on his travels (The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores) was
published in about 1451, and is a rich source of observations about south and Southe ast Asia.
During his expeditions, Ma Huan Yingyai sheng-lan took notes about the geography, politics,
weather conditions, environment, economy, local customs, even method of punishment for
criminals. Retur ned home on his first expedition, he began writing a book about his expedition,
the first draft of which was ready around 1416.
1) What were the socio-economic, cultural, and political developments in Ming China that allowed
the Ming Cour t to sponsor the seven naval expeditions in t he early 15
2) What might have motivated the Ming Court to sponsor the expeditions? How do the Chinese
expeditions differ from or resemble the European expeditions like those of Chr istopher
Columbus to the America or Vasco da Gama to Asia?
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