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Ancient travels offer historical treasure

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily) Updated: 2015-12-07 08:32

Ancient travels offer historical treasure

A replica of ship from the fleet of Admiral Zheng He (1371-1433) in Suzhou. Zheng undertook seven voyages around the rim of the Indian Ocean in the 1400s. The replica is on display at Zheng He Treasure Ship Heritage Park. [Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

Heritage of great admiral Zheng He illustrates history of Maritime Silk Road

Being captured, castrated and cast into servitude by soldiers who've just murdered your father makes for a rough childhood.

But they are also the hardships from which legends are made, and the story of Zheng He has not only survived six centuries, his likeness is worshipped in temples throughout Southeast Asia.

Lore has it that a general approached the 10-year-old asking if he had seen an enemy of the state. Zheng's mocking reply? "He jumped in the lake."

So the military took the boy, and his testicles, and placed him in the service of the prince of Yan, Zhu Di, who later became the Yongle emperor, thanks to a palace coup Zheng assisted as a commanding officer.

Zheng's military performance and loyalty earned him the title of Treasure Fleet Admiral once Zhu Di seized his nephew's throne.

Afterward, the ruler sent him to sea to explore and trade at ports near and far, paving the way toward the Maritime Silk Road's zenith. Zheng undertook seven voyages to Arabia, Southeast Asia and Africa between 1405 and 1433.

"We have traversed more than 100,000 li (a li is 0.5 kilometer) of immense water spaces and have beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising in the sky," he wrote.

"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 a star, traversing those savage waves."

It's partly this history that has prompted six cities in Jiangsu to jointly bid for UNESCO World Heritage recognition.

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