History – People – Zheng He and China’s Treasure Fleet


Quick Fix History

Zheng He commanded China’s navy, advised the emperor, traded with distant lands, and explored much of the Indian Ocean. But before he was Zheng He, Explorer Extraordinaire, he was just Ma He.

Quick Fix FactsZheng He
Birth NameMa He
BornSeptember 23 1371 CE
DiedApril 1443 (71 years)
BirthplaceYunnan Province China

Ma He was born into a dangerous time. He spent his early childhood in Yunnan, China, which was controlled by the Mongols. Yunnan province was recaptured by China in 1381 or 1382 CE by the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty. At 11 years old, Ma He was taken prisoner and his name was changed to Zheng He. He was sent to serve the emperor’s son, Zhu Di and soon became one of the prince’s most trusted friends. Eventually, Zhu Di became emperor himself, and Zheng He commanded the navy!

Quick Fix FactsThe 7 Voyages of Zheng He
Time Covered1405-1433 CE
Crewup to 27,000

Zheng He was a great explorer, making 7 voyages across the Indian Ocean. Each voyage took about 2 years, and he visited many places including: Vietnam, Java, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, India, the Persian Gulf, Arabia, Bengal, Thailand, the Philippines, the Maldives, Borneo, and the Somali coast in Africa!

Quick Fix FactsTreasure Ships
Lengthpossibly 447 ft (136.25 m)
Width183 ft (55.78 m)
Masts6-9 each 195 ft (59.44 m) tall

The largest ships in Zheng He’s fleet were the monstrous Treasure Ships. They were bigger than a football field! These massive ships carried porcelain, silk, and lacquerware from China to trade for ivory, spices, precious stones, exotic lumber, and in one case, a giraffe! Chinese court officials thought it was a Qilin, a mythical “dragon horse”.

Quick Fix Words
LacquerwareThings like dishes, bowls, and boxes coated with lacquer for protection

Zheng He’s epic voyages of the early 15th century continue to astound and spark the spirit of exploration today!

Who, what, or where will we discover next?


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