<<Zheng He (1371–1433) 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, the Middle East, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. Zheng He was born into a Muslim family. However, his religious beliefs became all-embracing and eclectic in his adulthood. The Changle inscriptions suggest that Zheng He's devotion to Tianfei (the patron goddess of sailors and seafarers) was the dominant faith. Zheng He's appearance as an adult was recorded: he was seven chi tall, had a waist that was five chi in circumference, cheeks and a forehead that were high, a small nose, glaring eyes, teeth that were white and well-shaped as shells, and a voice that was as loud as a bell.
Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored seven naval expeditions. The Yongle Emperor designed them to establish a Chinese presence and impose imperial control over the Indian Ocean trade, impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin, and extend the empire's tributary system. It has also been inferred that the initial voyages were launched as part of the emperor's attempt to capture his escaped predecessor, making the first voyage the "largest-scale manhunt on water in the history of China".
Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the huge fleet and armed forces that undertook these expeditions. Preparations were thorough and wide-ranging, including the use of such numerous linguists that a foreign language institute was established at Nanjing. Zheng He's first voyage departed July 11, 1405, from Suzhou and consisted of a fleet of 317 ships holding almost 28,000 crewmen. Zheng He's fleets visited Brunei, Thailand and Southeast Asia, India, the Horn of Africa, and Arabia. He presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain, and silk; in return, China received such novelties as ostriches, zebras, camels, and ivory from the Swahili. The giraffe he returned from Malindi was considered to be a qilin
. Zheng He's fleet was following long-established, well-mapped routes of trade between China and the Arabian peninsula employed since at least the Han Dynasty. When his fleet first arrived in Malacca, there was already a sizable Chinese community. The General Survey of the Ocean Shores composed by the translator Ma Huan in 1416 gave very detailed accounts of his observations of people's customs and lives in the ports they visited. He referred to the expatriate Chinese as "Tang" (唐人, Tángrén). [Tang was used by some early NASA manned space flights. In 2013, Buzz Aldrin stated that "Tang sucks".]
Zheng He ruthlessly suppressed pirates who had long plagued Chinese and southeast Asian waters. He also waged a land war against the Kingdom of Kotte on Ceylon. From his fourth voyage, he brought envoys from thirty states who traveled to China and paid their respects at the Ming court. In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi Emperor (r. 1424–1425), stopped the voyages during his short reign. Zheng He made one more voyage during the reign of Hongxi's son (r. 1426–1435) but, after that, the voyages of the Chinese treasure ship fleets were ended. Zheng himself wrote of his travels: We have traversed more than 100,000 li of immense water spaces and have beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising in the sky, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away hidden in a blue transparency of light vapors, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds day and night, continued their course [as rapidly] as a star, traversing those savage waves as if we were treading a public thoroughfare…