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The Man Sailing Before Columbus
2005-7-20 17:41:00     
Listen to the adventures of Zheng He, an overshadowed but great Chinese navigator 600 years ago.

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Click HERE to Know More about Zheng He and His Voyages

Anchor: We dedicate this edition to one of the greatest travelers the world has ever seen, Zheng He. When we think of the greatest navigators in history, the names of Christopher Columbus or Vasco da Gama flash through a Western mind. Little known are the remarkable feats that a Chinese Muslim Zheng He had accomplished decades before the two European adventurers. This year marks the 600th anniversary of Zheng He's voyages, which took him to 37 countries as far away as Africa and Arabia.  Now, let's follow Yunfeng to learn of Zheng He's Routes and some of the sites in China, where you can still find  traces of one of China's foremost adventurer.  

Yunfeng: In 1405, Zheng He was chosen to lead the biggest naval expedition in history up to that time.  Over the next 28 years from 1405 to 1433, he commanded seven fleets that visited 37 countries, through Southeast Asia to faraway Africa and Arabia. In those years, China had by far the biggest ships of the time.

Ma He, as Zheng He was originally known, was born in 1371 to a poor ethnic Hui, or Chinese Muslims family in Yunnan Province, Southwest China. The boy's grandfather and father once made an overland pilgrimage to Mekka, the holy place for Muslims.  Their travels contributed much to young Ma He's education.  He grew up speaking Arabic and Chinese, learning much about the world to the west and its geography and customs.

Recruited as a promising servant for the Imperial household at the age of ten, Ma He was assigned two years later to the retinue of the then Duke Yan, who would later usurp the throne as the emperor Yong Le().  Ma accompanied the Duke on a series of successful military campaigns and played a crucial role in the capture of Nanjing, then the capital. Ma was thus awarded the supreme command of the Imperial Household Agency and was given the surname Zheng. 

Emperor Yong Le tried to boost his damaged prestige as a usurper by a display of China's might abroad, sending spectacular fleets on great voyages and by bringing foreign ambassadors to his court. He also put foreign trade under a strict Imperial monopoly by taking control from overseas Chinese merchants. Command of the fleet was given to his favorite Zheng He, an impressive figure said to be over eight feet tall.

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