Age of Discovery
Contemporary history classifies the mid
1400’s thru the 1700’s as the Age of Discovery ---- it should be more appropriately referred to as the Age of
European Exploration and Expansion thru Colonization. England, France, Spain, Portugal and belatedly the Dutch explored, discovered,
invaded, colonized ---- or pick your own word ---- the so-called New World. Most of the New World had already been explored
by Asians and Africans, most notably by the Chinese.
Historically obscured Zheng He (a.k.a. Cheng Ho) in seven voyages encompassing
thirty plus years was the most prolific explorer in recorded history. His exploits according to Gavin Menzies,
a former submarine commanding officer who has spent 14 years charting the movements of a Chinese expeditionary fleet between
1421 and 1423; Chinese explorers had discovered most parts of the world by the mid-15th century ---- History
books in 23 countries may need to be rewritten in the light of this evidence. Menzies, an amateur historian
expounds his theory ---- backed up by charts, ancient artifacts and anthropological research ----- that when Columbus supposedly
discovered America in 1492, he was 72 years too late. Also Zheng He, in colossal multi-mast ships stuffed
with treasure, silks and porcelain made the first circumnavigation of the world a century before the Portuguese navigator
Ferdinand Magellan. Menzies originally intended to write a book about the significance of the year 1421 around the world.
While researching it in Venice, he was shown a planisphere, dated 1459, which included southern Africa and the Cape of Good
Hope. Yet the Cape was not "discovered" as a sea route by Vasco da Gama until 1497. On the planisphere was a note
in medieval Phoenician about a voyage round the Cape to the Cape Verde Islands in 1420 - and a picture of a Chinese junk.
He (1371–1435), was a Hui-Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat and fleet admiral, who commanded voyages to Southeast
Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa, collectively referred to as the travels of "Eunuch Sanbao to the
Western Ocean" or "Zheng He to the Western Ocean", from 1405 to 1433. Zheng He also knew how to speak Arabic
He was originally named 'Ma He' and was born in 1371 the second son of a Muslim family which also had four daughters, from
Kunyang, present day Jinning, just south of Kunming near the southwest corner of Lake Dian in Yunnan.
He was the great great great grandson
of Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a Persian who served in the administration of the Mongolian Empire and was appointed governor
of Yunnan during the early Yuan Dynasty. Both his grandfather and great-grandfather carried the title of Hajji denoting having
made the pilgrimage to Mecca. His great-grandfather was named Bayan and may have been a member of a Mongol garrison in Yunnan.
In 1381, the
year his father was killed, following the defeat of the Northern Yuan, a Ming army was dispatched to Yunnan to put down the
army of the Mongol Yuan loyalist Basalawarmi during the Ming conquest of Yunnan. Ma He, then only eleven years old, was captured
by the Ming Muslim troops of Lan Yu and Fu Youde and made a eunuch. He was sent to the Imperial court, where he was called
'San Bao' meaning 'Three Jewels' ----this has to be the all time greatest misnomer. He eventually became a trusted adviser
of the Yongle Emperor (1403-1424), 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.
Zheng He was placed as the admiral in control of the fleet and armed forces
that undertook these expeditions. Wang Jinghong was appointed his second in command. Zheng He's first voyage consisted of
a fleet of 317 ships (other sources say 200 ships) holding almost 28,000 crewmen (each ship housing up to 500 men). Zheng
He's fleets visited Arabia, Brunei, East Africa, India, Malay Archipelago 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. In 1424, the Yongle Emperor died. His successor, the Hongxi
Emperor (reigned 1424–1425), decided to stop the voyages during his short reign. Zheng He made one more voyage under
the Xuande Emperor (reigned 1426–1435), but after that the voyages of the Chinese treasure ship fleets were ended as
China morphed into quasi-isolationism. 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.
The Chinese navigation legacy includes the use of a sophisticated rudder
for steering, compartmentalized bulkheads to minimize sinking if the ship was damaged, the 48 point compass and star maps
for navigation. These and other Chinese maps are in naval museums in Portugal ---- the center of navigation science where
most explorers including Columbus were educated.