For 28 years, from 1405 to
1433, Cheng Ho (Cheng He, Zheng He) a Moslem eunuch, guided the
Treasure Fleet of the Chinese Emperors Zhu Di and Zhu Zhanji. There
were 317 ships in the fleet.
Treasure Fleet made seven expeditions from Nanjing to Cochin and
Calicut on the west coast of India, through the Strait of Hormuz, into
the Red Sea as far as Jidda, down the east coast of Africa into the
Mozambique Channel. It also visited the Maldive Islands, Java and
Sumatra, as well as Borneo and the Philippines.
When China Ruled the Seas:
The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne
Louise Levathes, 1994
The map below shows the routes traveled by the Treasure Fleet, while
the ship represents the large ships of the Fleet, some of them as much
as eight times larger than the Santa Maria.
I originally attributed the map on the stamp below to Cheng Ho's twenty-one foot long sailing map
from the fifteenth
century, known as the Wu bei zhi chart. However, Walter
Klinefelter's attribution is correct. It is "an example of mapmaking
after the Chinese method. It is in manuscript form dating from the year
1819, and is owned by the University of Hong Kong.
We have traversed more than one
hundred thousand li of immense waterspaces and have beheld in the
ocean huge waves like mountains rising sky high, 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 Cheng Ho, 1432
The souvenir sheet from Madagascar shows Zheng He standing in front of
a map of the Indian Ocean. In the margins are pictures of his fleet.
These ships are up to ten times larger than European ships of the