Thursday, February 02, 2006

Laksamana Cheng Ho Exhibition

National Museum, Kuala Lumpur - Jan 27, 2006 - GPTD China visited exhibition entitled Treasure Fleet The Adventures of Laksamana Cheng Ho at National Museum to explore more about that great Chinese Muslim admiral. Among materials that had been exhibited were from National Geographic photographer, Michael Yamashita.

Laksamana Cheng Ho or Zheng He was born in 1371 in Kunyang, a town in southwest Yunnan Province. His family, named Ma, were part of a minority group known as the Semur. They originally came from Central Asia and followed the religion of Islam. Both his grandfather and father had made the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Zheng He grew up hearing their accounts of travel through foreign lands.

Yunnan was one of the last strongholds of Mongol support, holding out long after the Ming Dynasty began. After Ming armies conquered Yunnan in 1382, Zheng He was taken captive and brought to Nanjing. The eleven year old boy was made a servant of the prince who would become the Yong Le Emperor. It was Yong Le who renamed the boy Zheng He.

Zheng He is described in Chinese historical records as tall and heavy, with "clear-cut features and long ear lobes; a stride like a tiger's and voice clear and vibrant." He was well liked and admired for his quick wit in argument. Moreover, he was a brave soldier. When his prince seized the Chinese throne from nephew, Zheng He fought well on his behalf. As a result, Zheng He became a close confidant of the new emperor and was given an important position at court.

The Yong Le emperor had ambitious plans. A vigorous man, he rebuilt the Great Wall to the condition in which it exists today. He also built his new capital at Beijing, next to the remains of the former Yuan capital. The emperor decided to go ahead with the sea voyages that had long been planned. He appointed Zheng He to lead them and gave him the title "Admiral of the Western Seas."