Zheng He 郑和 zhèng hé was a famous
Chinese seafarer of the 15th Century. He was born in Kunyang, a town in
the Chinese province of Yunnan. As a child, he was inspired to travel
and go on expeditions.
In 1368 CE, the Han Chinese who desperately wanted China
back from the Mongols finally wrestled power back from the Northern and
Central Asian invaders. Thus, began the Ming Dynasty,
after the fall of the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty
which had reigned for almost a hundred years. The remaining Mongols
turned rebels and some moved westward. Some of the rebels hid out in the
south-western province of Yunnan.
in 1381 CE, General Fu Youde and General Lan Yushuahi with hordes of
Ming soldiers were dispatched by the first Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang to
wipe out the remnant Mongol rebels in Yunnan. The military engagements
were, however, multi-pronged; as they included capturing boys and young
men to beef up the human resource of the Ming Palace.
These male captives became members of the Palace Eunuchs. (During the
and other Chinese
Dynasties as well, eunuchs were important
personnel of the Palace as they often entrusted with many government
positions. The positions included, but were not limited to, guardians of
harems, court officials and servants. Some eunuchs were even made
advisers to the Emperor. Eunuchs were favored because they could not
have families of their own. Castrated, they were unable to father
Ten years after he was born in Kunyang, Ma He (later to be known as
Zheng He) was captured by an army of Ming soldiers who were bent on
getting rid of Mongol rebels in the area. Whisked to the Grand Palace in
Beiping (later to be known as Beijing) some 2000 kilometers away, Ma He
was assigned to work for the Prince of Yan, Zhu Di. Like many other male
captives, Ma He was castrated. However, he did not yield to the forced
deformity that was bestowed upon him.
Instead, he worked diligently and intelligently. Ma He was determined to
succeed. He had the courage, strength and looks. He was even reputed to
be almost seven feet tall! Soon, he gained the favor of Zhu Di and rose
above all eunuchs.
Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang passed away and was succeeded by Emperor Jianwen.
In 1399 CE, civil war erupted with the Battle of Jingnan. Zhu Di fought
against the second Ming Emperor Jianwen to gain control of Nanjing, the
capital of the Ming Dynasty.
Ma He fought well for Zhu Di. He was fearless and gallant. In 1402, Zhu
Di's army with Ma He's strategic leadership captured Nanjing.
Zhu Di became the third Ming Emperor. As a reward, he bestowed Ma He the
title "Zheng"; hence the name we used today to refer to this great
voyager: Zheng He.
Zheng He continued to be invaluable service to Emperor Zhu Di. Zheng He
was so revered that he was also given the name "Sanbao" (meaning: The
Three Treasures of The Three Jewels).
In 1405 CE, Zheng He was honored with the responsibility to lead 27,800
crew members in 62 seafaring vessels to voyage from Nanjing to the South
China Sea and the Indian Ocean. That was to be the first of seven of
Zheng He's renowned voyages.
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