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China's Great Armada
JULY 2005
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China's Great Armada Map
 
Voyages of Zheng He
1405-1433
The ships of Zheng's armada were as astonishing as its reach. Some accounts claim that the great baochuan, or treasure ships, had nine masts on 400-foot-long (122-meter-long) decks. The largest wooden ships ever built, they dwarfed those of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Hundreds of smaller cargo, war, and supply ships bore tens of thousands of men who brought China to a wider world.
1
1405-1407
317 ships
27,870 men
In July the fleet left Nanjing with silks, porcelain, and spices for trade. This well-armed floating city defeated pirates in the Strait of Malacca and reached Sumatra, Ceylon, and India.

2
1407-1409
The fleet returned foreign ambassadors from Sumatra, India, and elsewhere who had traveled to China on the first voyage. The expeditions firmly established the Ming dynasty's Indian Ocean trade links.

3
1409-1411
Although notable for the imperial fleet's only major foreign land battle, the voyage was also marked by Muslim Zheng's offering of gifts to a Buddhist temple, one of many examples of his ecumenism.
4
1413-1415
In this voyage's wake, the first to travel beyond India and cross the Arabian Sea, an estimated 18 states sent tribute and envoys to China, underscoring the Ming emperor's influence overseas.
5
1417-1419
Zheng's Treasure Fleet visited the Arabian Peninsula and, for the first time, Africa. In Aden the sultan presented exotic gifts such as zebras, lions, and ostriches.
6
1421-1422
Zheng He's fleet continued the emperor's version of shuttle diplomacy, returning ambassadors to their native countries after stays of several years, while bringing other foreign dignitaries back to China.
7
1431-1433
The last voyage, to Africa's Swahili coast, with a side trip to Mecca, marked the end of China's golden age of exploration and of Zheng He's life. He presumably died en route home and was buried at sea.


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