Zheng He’s Ships
Zheng He’s Fleet
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For the Three Kingdoms general, see Zhang He.
A model of a Zheng He treasure ship
Zheng He (traditional Chinese: 鄭和; simplified Chinese: 郑和; pinyin: Zhèng Hé; Wade-Giles: Cheng Ho; Birth name: 馬三寶 / 马三宝; pinyin: Mǎ Sānbǎo; Arabic/Persian name: حجّي محمود شمس Hajji Mahmud Shams) (1371–1433), was a Hui Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, who made the voyages collectively referred to as the travels of “Eunuch Sanbao to the Western Ocean” (Chinese: 三保太監下西洋) or “Zheng He to the Western Ocean”, from 1405 to 1433.
Zheng He was born in 1371 in modern-day Yunnan Province, which was at that time the last stronghold of the Yuan Dynasty in its struggle with the victorious Ming Dynasty. Like most Hui people, Zheng He was a Muslim.
According to the History of Ming, he was originally named Mǎ Sānbǎo (馬三保) and his home was Kunyang (昆阳), present day Jinning (晋宁). He belonged to the Semu social caste. He was a sixth-generation descendant of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a famous Khwarezmian Yuan governor of Yunnan Province, originally from Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan. The family name “Ma” came from Shams al-Din’s fifth son Masuh (Mansour). Both his father, Mir Tekin, and grandfather, Charameddin, had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and their travels contributed to the young boy’s education.
In 1381, following the defeat of the Northern Yuan, a Ming army was dispatched to Yunnan to put down the Mongol rebel Basalawarmi. Ma Sanbao, then only eleven years old, was captured and made a eunuch. He was sent to the Imperial court, where he eventually became a trusted adviser of the Yongle Emperor, assisting him in deposing his predecessor, the Jianwen Emperor. In return for meritorious service, the eunuch received the name Zheng He from the Yongle Emperor. He studied at Nanjing Taixue (the Imperial Central College) and travelled to Mecca.
Although his precise religious views were not recorded, Zheng He has been portrayed by subsequent generations as either an orthodox Muslim who helped spread his faith into southeast Asia, or as a possible syncretist. The Galle Trilingual Inscription set up by Zheng He around 1410 in Sri Lanka records offerings he made at a Buddhist mountain temple. In around 1431, he set up a commemorative pillar at the temple of the Taoist goddess Tian Fei, the Celestial Spouse, in Fujian province, to whom he and his sailors prayed for safety at sea. This pillar records his veneration for the goddess and his belief in her divine protection, as well as a few details about his voyages. Visitors to the Jinghaisi (静海寺） in Nanjing are reminded of the donations Zheng He made to this non-Muslim area. Although he had been buried at sea, a monument was built to him on land, and this monument was later renovated in an Islamic style. In the modern world Zheng He has been used as a symbol of religious tolerance. The government of the People’s Republic of China uses him as a model to integrate the Muslim minority into the Chinese republic.
Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming government sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions. Emperor Yongle designed them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin. He also might have wanted to extend the tributary system, by which Chinese dynasties traditionally recognized foreign peoples.
Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the huge fleet and armed forces that undertook these expeditions. Zheng He’s first voyage consisted of a fleet of around 300 ships (other sources say 200) holding almost 28,000 crewmen. These were probably mainly large six-masted ships – it is now thought that the large and flat nine-masted “treasure ships” were probably river ships used by the Emperor.
One of a set of maps of Zheng He’s missions (郑和航海图), also known as the Mao Kun maps, 1628.
Zheng He’s fleets visited Arabia, East Africa, India, Indonesia and Thailand (at the time called Siam), dispensing and receiving goods along the way. Zheng He presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain and silk;in return, China received such novelties as ostriches, zebras, camels, ivory and giraffes.
Zheng He generally sought to attain his goals through diplomacy, and his large army awed most would-be enemies into submission. But a contemporary reported that Zheng He “walked like a tiger” and did not shrink from violence when he considered it necessary to impress foreign peoples with China’s military might. He ruthlessly suppressed pirates who had long plagued Chinese and southeast Asian waters. He also intervened in a civil disturbance in order to establish his authority in Ceylon, and he made displays of military force when local officials threatened his fleet in Arabia and East Africa. 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 (reigned 1424–1425), decided to curb the influence at court. Zheng He made one more voyage under the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426–1435), but after that Chinese treasure ship fleets ended. Zheng He died during the treasure fleet’s last voyage. Although he has a tomb in China, it is empty: he was, like many great admirals, buried at sea.
Zheng He, on his seven voyages, successfully relocated large numbers of Chinese Muslims to Malacca, Palembang, Surabaya and other places and Malacca became the center of Islamic learning and also a large international Islamic trade center of the southern seas.
His missions showed impressive demonstrations of organizational capability and technological might, but did not lead to significant trade, since Zheng He was an admiral and an official, not a merchant. Chinese merchants continued to trade in Japan and southeast Asia, but Imperial officials gave up any plans to maintain a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and even destroyed most of the nautical charts that Zheng He had carefully prepared. The decommissioned treasure ships sat in harbors until they rotted away, and Chinese craftsmen forgot the technology of building such large vessels.
The Kangnido map (1402) predates Zheng’s voyages and suggests that he had quite detailed geographical information on much of the Old World.
Order Time Regions along the way
1st Voyage 1405-1407 Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Aru, Sumatra, Lambri, Ceylon, Kollam, Cochin, Calicut
2nd Voyage 1407-1409 Champa, Java, Siam, Cochin, Ceylon
3rd Voyage 1409-1411 Champa, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Quilon, Cochin, Calicut, Siam, Lambri, Kaya, Coimbatore, Puttanpur
4th Voyage 1413-1415 Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Cochin, Calicut, Kayal, Pahang, Kelantan, Aru, Lambri, Hormuz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Brawa, Malindi, Aden, Muscat, Dhufar
5th Voyage 1416-1419 Champa, Pahang, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Lambri, Ceylon, Sharwayn, Cochin, Calicut, Hormuz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Brawa, Malindi, Aden
6th Voyage 1421-1422 Hormuz, East Africa, countries of the Arabian Peninsula
7th Voyage 1430-1433 Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Calicut, Hormuz… (17 politics in total)
Zheng He led seven expeditions to what the Chinese called “the Western Ocean” (Indian Ocean). He brought back to China many trophies and envoys from more than thirty kingdoms — including King Alagonakkara of Ceylon, who came to China to apologize to the Emperor.
The records of Zheng’s last two voyages, which are believed to be his farthest, were unfortunately destroyed by the Ming emperor. Therefore it is never certain where Zheng has sailed in these two expeditions. The traditional view is that he went as far as to Iran.
Detail of the Fra Mauro map relating the travels of a junk into the Atlantic Ocean in 1420. The ship also is illustrated above the text.
There are speculations that some of Zheng’s ships may have traveled beyond the Cape of Good Hope. In particular, the Venetian monk and cartographer Fra Mauro describes in his 1459 Fra Mauro map the travels of a huge “junk from India” 2,000 miles into the Atlantic Ocean in 1420. What Fra Mauro meant by ‘India’ is not known and some scholars believe he meant an Arab ship. Interestingly, Professor Su Ming-Yang thinks “the ship is European, as it is fitted with a crow’s nest, or lookout post, at the masthead, and has sails fitted to the yards, unlike the batten sails of Chinese ships.
Zheng himself wrote of his travels:
We have traversed more than 100,000 li (50,000 kilometers) 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… — Tablet erected by Zheng He, Changle, Fujian, 1432. Louise Levathes
Author and former submarine Lieutenant Commander Gavin Menzies in his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World claims that several parts of Zheng’s fleet explored virtually the entire globe, discovering West Africa, North and South America, Greenland, Iceland, Antarctica and Australia. Menzies also claimed that Zheng’s wooden fleet passed the Arctic Ocean. Despite these claims, none of the citations in 1421 are from primary (Chinese) sources. Professional scholars do not accept Menzies’ assertions, finding his statements controversial and unsupported by the currently available historical evidence.
Part of the chart showing India at top, Ceylon upper right and Africa along the bottom
Zheng He’s sailing charts were published in a book entitled Wu Bei Zhi (Treatise on Armament Technology) written in 1621 and published in 1628 but traced back to Zheng He’s and earlier voyages. It was originally a strip map 20.5cm by 560cm that could be rolled up, but was divided into 40 pages which vary in scale from 7 miles/inch in the Nanjing area to 215 miles/inch in parts of the African coast.
There is little attempt to provide an accurate 2-D representation; instead the sailing instructions are given using a 24 point compass system with a Chinese symbol for each point, together with a sailing time/distance, which takes account of the local currents and winds. Sometimes depth soundings are also provided. It also shows bays, estuaries, capes and islands, ports and mountains along the coast, important landmarks (pagodas, temples) and shoal rocks. Of 300 named places outside China, more than 80% can be confidently located. There are also fifty observations of stellar altitude.
Size of the ships
A display at the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai purports to compare the size of ships used by Zheng He and by Christopher Columbus.
Traditional and popular accounts of Zheng He’s voyages have described a great fleet of gigantic ships, far larger than any other wooden ships in history. Most modern scholars consider these descriptions to be exaggerated.
Number of Ships Number of Crew
Zheng He(1405) 48 to 317 28,000
Columbus(1492) 3 90
Da Gama(1498) 4 ca.160
Magellan(1521) 5 265
Treasure ship is the name of a type of vessel that the Chinese admiral Zheng He sailed in. His fleet included 62 treasure ships, sometimes called junks, with some said to have reached 600 feet (146 m) long. The fleet was manned by over 27,000 crew members, including navigators, explorers, sailors, doctors, workers, and soldiers.
Chinese records assert that Zheng He’s fleet sailed as far as East Africa. However, the amateur historian Gavin Menzies has controversially argued that the fleet went on to reach the New World, landing on islands off the Florida coast more than half a century before Christopher Columbus.
According to ancient Chinese sources, Zheng He commanded seven expeditions. The 1405 expedition consisted of 27,800 men and a fleet of 62 treasure ships supported by approximately 190 smaller ships.] The fleet included:
* Treasure ships, used by the commander of the fleet and his deputies (nine-masted, about 126.73 metres (416 ft) long and 51.84 metres (170 ft) wide), according to later writers. Such dimension is more or less the shape of a football field. The treasure ships purportedly can carry as much as 1,500 tons. 1 By way of comparison, a modern ship of about 1,200 tons is 60 meters (200 ft) long , and the ships Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492 were about 70-100 tons and 17 meter (55 ft) long.
* Equine ships, carrying horses and tribute goods and repair material for the fleet (eight-masted, about 103 m (339 ft) long and 42 m (138 ft) wide).
* Supply ships, containing staple for the crew (seven-masted, about 78 m (257 ft) long and 35 m (115 ft) wide).
* Troop transports, six-masted, about 67 m (220 ft) long and 25 m (83 ft) wide.
* Fuchuan warships, five-masted, about 50 m (165 ft) long.
* Patrol boats, eight-oared, about 37 m (120 ft) long.
* Water tankers, with 1 month supply of fresh water.
Six more expeditions took place, from 1407 to 1433, with fleets of comparable size.
If the accounts can be taken as factual, Zheng He’s treasure ships were mammoth ships with nine masts, four decks, and were capable of accommodating more than 500 passengers, as well as a massive amount of cargo. Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta both described multi-masted ships carrying 500 to 1000 passengers in their translated accounts.. Niccolò Da Conti, a contemporary of Zheng He, was also an eyewitness of ships in Southeast Asia, claiming to have seen 5 masted junks weighing about 2000 tons Zheng He’s fleet included 300 ships, including 62 treasure ships, with some which were said to have been 137 m (450 ft) long and 55 m (180 ft) wide. There are even some sources that claim some of the treasure ships might have been as long as 600 feet. On the ships, there were over 28,000 people, including navigators, explorers, sailors, doctors, workers, and soldiers.
Modern study of ship dimensions
According to recent research by professor of marine engineering Xin Yuanou, the length of many of the ships has been estimated at 59 m, which has been accepted by modern scholarship as more realistic.
The largest ships in the fleet, the treasure ships described in Chinese chronicles, would have been several times larger than any wooden ship ever recorded since, including the largest, l’Orient (65 m long) in the late 18th century. The first ships to attain 126 m long were 19th century steamers with iron hulls. Some scholars argues that it is highly unlikely that Zheng He’s ship was 450 feet in length, some estimating that they were 390-408 feet long and 160-166 feet wide instead] while others put them as 200-250 feet in length.
One explanation for the seemingly inefficient size of these colossal ships was that the largest 44 Zhang Treasure Ships were merely used by the Emperor and imperial bureaucrats to travel along the Yangtze for court business, including reviewing Zheng He’s expedition fleet. The Yangtze river, with its calmer waters, may have been navigable by these Treasure Ships. Zheng He, a court eunuch, would not have had the privilege in rank to command the largest of these ships, seaworthy or not. The main ships of Zheng He’s fleet were instead 6 masted 2000-liao ships.
“ A replica (4 feet long, 1 foot and 8 inches wide, and 3 feet tall) of Zheng He’s largest treasure boat will be on display at the lecture session. According to the maker of the replica, Quanzhou Maritime Museum and China Ancient Ship Modeling Center, the original treasure boat was 125 meters long and 51 meters wide, with a maximum loading capacity of 7,000 tons and total water displacement of 14,800 tons.Guy Alitto to speak on famed Chinese Navigator.www-news.uchicago.edu ”
Early 17th century Chinese woodblock print, thought to represent Zheng He’s ships.
Accounts of medieval travelers
…We stopped in the port of Calicut, in which there were at the time thirteen Chinese vessels, and disembarked. China Sea traveling is done in Chinese ships only, so we shall describe their arrangements. The Chinese vessels are of three kinds; large ships called chunks (junks), middle sized ones called zaws (dhows) and the small ones kakams. The large ships have anything from twelve down to three sails, which are made of bamboo rods plaited into mats. They are never lowered, but turned according to the direction of the wind; at anchor they are left floating in the wind. Three smaller ones, the “half”, the “third” and the “quarter”, accompany each large vessel. These vessels are built in the towns of Zaytun and Sin-Kalan. The vessel has four decks and contains rooms, cabins, and saloons for merchants; a cabin has chambers and a lavatory, and can be locked by its occupants. This is the manner after which they are made; two (parallel) walls of very thick wooden (planking) are raised and across the space between them are placed very thick planks (the bulkheads) secured longitudinally and transversely by means of large nails, each three ells in length. When these walls have thus been built the lower deck is fitted in and the ship is launched before the upper works are finished.” (Ibn Battuta).
Zheng He and Islam in Southeast Asia
Dungan revolt • Panthay Rebellion
Indonesian religious leader and Islamic scholar Hamka (1908–1981) wrote in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaya is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.” In Malacca he built granaries, warehouses and a stockade, and most probably he left behind many of his Muslim crews. Much of the information on Zheng He’s voyages was compiled by Ma Huan, also Muslim, who accompanied Zheng He on several of his inspection tours and served as his chronicler / interpreter. In his book ‘The Overall Survey of the Ocean Shores’ (Chinese: 瀛涯勝覽) written in 1416, Ma Huan gave very detailed accounts of his observations of the peoples’ customs and lives in ports they visited. Zheng He had many Muslim Eunuchs as his companions. At the time when his fleet first arrived in Malacca, there were already Chinese of the ‘Muslim’ faith living there. Ma Huan talks about them as tángrén (Chinese: 唐人) who were Muslim. At places they went, they frequented mosques, actively propagated the Islamic faith, established Chinese Muslim communities and built mosques.
Indonesian scholar Slamet Muljana writes: “Zheng He built Chinese Muslim communities first in Palembang, then in San Fa (West Kalimantan), subsequently he founded similar communities along the shores of Java, the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines. They propagated the Islamic faith according to the Hanafi school of thought and in Chinese language.”
Li Tong Cai, in his book ‘Indonesia – Legends and Facts’, writes: “in 1430, Zheng He had already successfully established the foundations of the Hui religion Islam. After his death in 1434, Hajji Yan Ying Yu became the force behind the Chinese Muslim community, and he delegated a few local Chinese as leaders, such as trader Sun Long from Semarang, Peng Rui He and Hajji Peng De Qin. Sun Long and Peng Rui He actively urged the Chinese community to ‘Javanise’. They encouraged the younger Chinese generation to assimilate with the Javanese society, to take on Javanese names and their way of life. Sun Long’s adopted son Chen Wen, also named Radin Pada is the son of King Majapahit and his Chinese wife.”
After Zheng He’s death, Chinese naval expeditions were suspended. The Hanafi Islam that Zheng He and his people propagated lost almost all contact with Islam in China, and gradually was totally absorbed by the local Shafi’i school of thought. When Melaka was successively colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and later the British, Chinese were discouraged from converting to Islam. Many of the Chinese Muslim mosques became San Bao Chinese temples commemorating Zheng He. After a lapse of 600 years, the influence of Chinese Muslims in Malacca declined to almost nil. In many ways, Zheng He can be considered a major founder of the present community of Chinese Indonesians.
According to the Malaysian history, Sultan Mansur Shah (ruled 1459–1477) dispatched Tun Perpatih Putih as his envoy to China and carried a letter from the Sultan to the Ming Emperor. Tun Perpatih succeeded in impressing the Emperor of Ming with the fame and grandeur of Sultan Mansur Shah. In the year 1459, a princess Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu), was sent by the emperor of Ming to marry Malacca Sultan Mansur Shah (ruled 1459–1477). The princess came with her entourage 500 male servants and a few hundred handmaidens. They eventually settled in Bukit Cina, Malacca. The descendants of these people, from mixed marriages with the local natives, are known today as Peranakan: Baba (the male title) and Nyonya (the female title).
In Malaysia today, many people believe it was Admiral Zheng He (died 1433) who sent princess Hang Li Po to Malacca in year 1459. However there is no record of Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu) in Ming documents, she is known only from Malacca folklore. In that case, Ma Huan’s observation was true, the so-called Peranakan in Malacca was in fact Tang-Ren or Hui Chinese Muslims. These Chinese Muslims together with Parameswara were refugees of the declining Srivijaya kingdom, they came from Palembang, Java and other places. Some of the Chinese Muslims were soldiers and so they served as warrior and bodyguard to protect the Sultanate of Malacca.
On his return trip from China, Parameswara was so impressed by Zheng He that he converted to Islam and adopted the name Sultan Iskandar Shah. Malacca prospered under his leadership and became the half-way house, an entrepot, for trade between India and China.
It is interesting to note that Thai Muslims of the Chinese Hui extraction are called Chin Ho in the Thai Language. Whereas the name Chin Ho can be explained to be a combination of “Chin” (China) and “Ho” (Hui), it also bears a striking similarity in pronunciation to the name of Zheng He, one of the first great Imperial Chinese diplomats to have visited Thailand in its early Siamese history, who was also of the Chinese Hui extraction. The Chin Ho people, thus, can be seen as “The People of Zheng He”—traders and emigres who carried with them Hui Muslim traditions from China.
Connection to the history of Late Imperial China
A giraffe brought from Somalia in the twelfth year of Yongle (AD 1415).
Zheng He’s initial objective was to enroll far flung states into the Ming tributary system, but it was later decided that the voyages were not cost efficient. After Zheng’s voyages, China turned away from the seas due to the Hai jin order, and was isolated from European technological advancements. Although historians such as John Fairbank and Joseph Needham popularized this view in the 1950s, Han Chinese historians in modern times point out that Chinese maritime commerce did not totally stop after Zheng He, that Chinese ships continued to dominate Southeast Asian commerce until the 19th century and that active Chinese trading with India and East Africa continued long after the time of Zheng. The travels of the Chinese Junk Keying to the United States and England between 1846 and 1848 testify to the power of Chinese shipping until the 19th century. Moreover revisionist historians such as Jack Goldstone argue that the Zheng He voyages ended for practical reasons that did not reflect the technological level of China
Although the Ming Dynasty did ban shipping with the Hai jin edict, they eventually lifted this ban. The alternative view cites the fact that by banning oceangoing shipping, the Ming (and later Qing) dynasties forced countless numbers of people into black market smuggling. This reduced government tax revenue and increased piracy. The lack of an oceangoing navy then left China highly vulnerable to the Wokou pirates that ravaged China in the 16th century.
Richard von Glahn (UCLA Professor of History, and a specialist in Chinese history) commented that majority of school history texts present Zheng He wrongly, they ‘offer counterfactual arguments’, and ‘emphasize China’s missed opportunity.’ The “narrative emphasizes the failure” instead of Zheng He’s accomplishments.
Professor von Glahn claimed that “Zheng He reshaped Asia.” Maritime history in the fifteenth century is essentially the Zheng He story and the effects of Zheng He’s voyages.
Professor again emphasizes:
(1)Zheng He’s influence lasted beyond his age. Zheng He,Von Glahn emphasized that Zheng He’s influence lasted beyond his age.
(2)may be seen as the tip of an iceberg,
(3)there is much, much more to story of maritime trade and other relationships in Asia in the fifteenth century and beyond.
State-sponsored Ming naval efforts declined dramatically after Zheng’s voyages. Starting in the early 15th century, China experienced increasing pressure from resurgent Mongolian tribes from the north. In recognition of this threat and possibly to move closer to his family’s historical geographic power base, in 1421 the emperor Yongle moved the capital north from Nanjing to present-day Beijing. From the new capital he could apply greater imperial supervision to the effort to defend the northern borders. At considerable expense, China launched annual military expeditions from Beijing to weaken the Mongolians. The expenditures necessary for these land campaigns directly competed with the funds necessary to continue naval expeditions.
In 1449 Mongolian cavalry ambushed a land expedition personally led by the emperor Zhengtong less than a day’s march from the walls of the capital. In the Battle of Tumu Fortress the Mongolians wiped out the Chinese army and captured the emperor. This battle had two salient effects. First, it demonstrated the clear threat posed by the northern nomads. Second, the Mongols caused a political crisis in China when they released Zhengtong after his half-brother had proclaimed himself the new Jingtai emperor. Not until 1457 did political stability return when Zhengtong recovered the throne. Upon his return to power China abandoned the strategy of annual land expeditions and instead embarked upon a massive and expensive expansion of the Great Wall of China. In this environment, funding for naval expeditions simply did not happen.
More fundamentally, unlike the later naval expeditions conducted by European nations, the Chinese treasure ships appear to have been doomed in the long run because the voyages lacked any economic motive. They were primarily conducted to increase the prestige of the emperor and the costs of the expeditions and of the return gifts provided to foreign royalty and ambassadors more than outstripped the benefits of any tribute collected. Thus when China’s governmental finances came under pressure (which like all governments’ finances they eventually did), funding for the naval expeditions melted away. In contrast, by the 16th century, most European missions of exploration made enough profit from the resulting trade to become self-financing, allowing them to continue regardless of the condition of the state’s finances.
Zheng He’s tomb in Nanjing
Museum in honour of Zheng He, Nanjing
Zheng He’s tomb and museum
Zheng He’s tomb in Nanjing has been repaired and a small museum has been built next to it, although his body is missing as he was buried at sea off the Malabar coast near Calicut in Western India. However, his sword and other personal possessions were interred in the typical Muslim tomb inscribed with Arabic characters.
Zheng He map
So-called Zheng He Map, 1763; Collection of Lui Gang
In January 2006, BBC News and The Economist both published news regarding the exhibition of a Chinese sailing map with detailed descriptions of both Native Americans and Native Australians. The map (at right) was dated 1763, and was supposedly a copy of an earlier map made in 1418. Supporters of Gavin Menzies’ theory claim the map as proof that Zheng He sailed to the Americas and Australia. Critics point out that the map, if authentic, is more likely to be based on an eighteenth-century European map.
Detail, so-called Zheng He Map, phonetic transcription of “America”
According to the map’s owner, Liu Gang, a Chinese lawyer and collector, he purchased the map in 2001 for $500 USD from a Shanghai dealer. A number of authorities on Chinese history have questioned the authenticity of the map. Some point to the use of the Mercator-style projection, its accurate reckoning of longitude and its North-based orientation. None of these features was used in the best maps made in either Asia or Europe during this period (for example see the Kangnido map (1410) and the Fra Mauro map (1459)). Also mentioned is the depiction of the erroneous Island of California, a mistake commonly repeated in European maps from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. On the map the American continent is labelled phonetically “A-me-ri-ca” (今名北亞墨利加, literally: “Now Name Northern A-me-ri-ca,” see detail at right). This translation was unknown in Ming Dynasty, and is a clear borrowing from the West, (Amerigo Vespucci).
Geoff Wade of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore has strongly disputed the authenticity of the map and has suggested that it is either an 18th or 21st-century fake. He has pointed out a number of anachronisms that appear in the map and its text annotations. For example, in the text next to Eastern Europe, which has been translated as “People here mostly believe in God and their religion is called ‘Jing’ (景, referring to Nestorianism)”, Wade notes that the Chinese word for the Christian God is given as “Shang-di” (上帝), which is a usage that was first borrowed from Chinese ancient text by Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci in the 16th century.
In May 2006 the Dominion Post reported that Fiona Petchey, head of the testing unit at Waikato University, which had carbon dated the map, had asked Gavin Menzies to remove claims from his website that the dating proved the map was genuine. The carbon dating indicated with an 80% probability a date for the paper of the map between either 1640–1690 or 1730–1810. However as the ink was not tested, it was impossible to know when it was drawn. Ms Petchey said, “we asked him to remove those, not because we were not happy with the dates, but because we were not overly happy with being associated with his interpretations of those dates.
In the People’s Republic of China, 11 July is Maritime Day (中国航海日) and is devoted to the memory of Zheng He’s first voyage.