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Zheng He (1371-1433) was a fleet admiral of Ming Dynasty and the greatest voyager in China's history. Zheng He, originally named by his parents Ma Sanbao, was born in 1371 of the Hui ethnic group, a Muslim faith nationality, in modern-day Yunnan Province that was the last possesion of the Yuan Dynasty before being conquered by the Ming Dynasty. He was then castrated and served as royal eunuch of the third emperor of Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di.
Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions. The Emperor Yongle, Zhu Di, designed them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign nations in the Indian Ocean basin. He might also have wanted to extend the tributary system, by which Chinese dynasties traditionally recognized foreign nationalities.
Zheng He was placed as the royal admiral in control of the huge fleet and armed forces that undertook these expeditions. Zheng He's first voyage consisted of a fleet of 317 ships holding almost 28,000 armed troops, sailed from his base, the modern-day Taicang of Jiangsu Province. Many of these ships were mammoth nine-masted "treasure ships" which were by far the largest marine craft the world had ever seen. It is believed that Zheng He's fleets included several foreigners like Tamil Muslims of South India.
Zheng He' naval explorations included totally seven times in a duration of 28 years.
By the newly published book in 2002, "1421: The year China discovered the world", Gavin Menzies, a retired British Royal Navy submarine commander, made a remarkable thesis: Zheng He might be the first explorer who discovered the America and Australia before Columbus. Even it is still in controversy, the book tells a story of a remarkable journey of discovery that may rewrite our understanding of history.
The memorial hall is situated within Taicang Tianfei Palace(Mazu Temple), which presents Goddess of the Sea in Chinese tradition and she blesses voyagers a safe return. Zheng He worshiped the goddess in the temple and prayed a safe return for his fleet and crew every time before his voyage.
The memorial hall conserves numerous important evidences and information for Zheng He's explorations, including two gravestones from Zhou Wen' family grave yard, one of Zheng He's service personal in the voyage explorations, which were carved with details of each voyage.
Appendix for Gavin Menzies' book: 1421: The year China discovered the world
Who first discovered the America and Australia, Zheng He or Columbus?
1421: The Year China Discovered the World is a controversial book written by retired submarine commander Gavin Menzies positing that the Chinese explored the world before Europeans . It was first published in 2002 in Great Britain and was published in the United States under the title 1421: The Year China Discovered America. It has been translated into several languages other than English.
On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base, the modern-day Taicang, Jiangsu Province. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di's loyal eunuch admirals. Their mission was "to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas" and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. Their journey would last more than two years and circle the globe.
When they returned in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships, now considered frivolous, were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in China's long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan. Also concealed were how the Chinese colonized America before the Europeans and transplanted to America, Australia, New Zealand and South America the principal economic crops that have fed and clothed the world.
Now, in a landmark historical journey, Gavin Menzies, who spent fifteen years tracing the astonishing voyages of the Chinese fleet, shares the remarkable account of his discoveries and the incontrovertible evidence to support them. His compelling narrative pulls together ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and the later European navigators to prove that the Chinese had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude three hundred years ahead of the Europeans. 1421 describes the artifacts and inscribed stones left behind by the emperor's fleet, the evidence of wrecked junks along its route -- discovered in locations ranging from the middle of the Mississippi River to tributaries of the Amazon -- and the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, in honor of Shao Lin, Goddess of the sea.
1421: The Year China Discovered America is the story of a remarkable journey of discovery that rewrites our understanding of history. Our knowledge of world exploration as it has been commonly accepted for centuries must now be reconceived due to this classic work of historical detection.
The best place to know the history about Zheng He's seven voyages, and to see evidences which support Gavin Menzies' thesis. Recommended.
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