Briton charts Zheng He's course across globe
In 1992, when Gavin Menzies, a retired British Royal Navy officer, looked at
a chart dated 1424, he was amazed.
The chart, made by a Venetian cartographer called Zuane Pizzigano 68 years
before Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) sailed to the Caribbean islands, showed
several islands in the area which were today's Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe.
Columbus was known to be the discoverer of the islands. So, "who were these
master mariners who had discovered and charted these new lands and oceans
without leaving any trace of having done so, other than these enigmatic maps?"
He concluded, after considerable research, that the great mariners were from
China. They were part of a great fleet led by Zheng
These days, Zheng He has become the talk of the town across China as
exhibitions open, books roll off the presses and forums convene to mark the
600th anniversary of his first voyage into the then unchartered Indian ocean,
the first by such a major fleet in human history.
Zheng He, a court eunuch of then Emperor Zhu
Di (1360-1424), was able to sail the seas with the support and sponsorship
of the emperor. The goals of Zheng He's trip were to parade the glory of the Ming
Dynasty, find the emperor's enemy, his lost nephew, who was said to have
fled overseas, and explore overseas trade, although the latter was a minor
Zheng He's first trip, between 1405 and 1407, had sailed in 62 treasure ships
a name given by historians with 27,800 sailors, soldiers, merchants, cooks and
According to ancient Chinese records, Zheng He's flagship was a staggering
150 yards or so long and 61 yards wide.
The scale of his fleet and the size of his ships was much bigger than those
of Vasco da Gama (1469-1525), Columbus and Ferdiand Magellan (1480-1521).