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Zheng He

Born: 1371

Died: 1435

Nationality: China

Zheng He, was a Hui court eunuch, mariner, explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral during China's early Ming dynasty. Zheng commanded expeditionary voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433.

Roughly 600 years ago, Zheng He weighed anchor in Nanjing, on the first of seven epic voyages as far west as Africa—almost a century before Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas and Vasco da Gama's in India. Even then the European expeditions would seem paltry by comparison: All the ships of Columbus and da Gama combined could have been stored on a single deck of a single vessel in the fleet that set sail under Zheng He. The ships of Zheng's armada were as astonishing as its reach. Some accounts claim that the great treasure ships had nine masts on 122-meter-long decks. The largest wooden ships ever built, they dwarfed those of Portuguese explorer. Hundreds of smaller cargo, war, and supply ships bore tens of thousands of men who brought China to a wider world.

Zheng He did sail throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, and on to the Persian gulf and Africa, creating new navigational maps, spreading Chinese culture and bringing home discoveries, treasures and tribute ranging from eye-glasses to giraffes. Porcelain wares, were often presented as trade goods during the expeditions.

As Zheng He believed Muslim, it is also said that he contributed a lot to spread of Islam in some East Asia countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia. On his travels, Zheng He built mosques while also spreading the worship of Mazu. He apparently never found time for a pilgrimage to Mecca but did send sailors there on his last voyage. He played an important part in developing relations between China and Islamic countries.

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