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FLEET TO THE WEST
During the [Ming] Dynasty (1368-1644) the Chinese became master boat builders and seamen. Between 1405 and 1435, the emperor [Ming Chengzhu] (Zhu Di) commissioned Admiral Cheng Ho to conduct seven naval missions. He reached South East Asia, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, the Persian Gulf, the Arab states and the Red Sea.
His armada of 317 ships and a sea crew of some 27,870 included not only sailors but also craftsmen, navigators and medical personnel. The largest ships in Zheng's fleet were more than 100 meters long and carried crews of 500 people, well beyond the capacities of Europe. The Caravels of Columbus were 38 metres and had complements of 55 people. These expeditions were not sent to colonise territories, but rather on diplomatic, trade and scientific missions. Zheng’s missions are largely unknown in the West; they are however deeply etched in the Chinese psyche, a powerful reminder of their “rule of the waves” long before the Europeans. It is also a reminder of their technology and scientific advancement in earlier times.
Gavin Menzies (2003) in his book entitled “1421: The Year China Discovered the World, documents Admiral [Zheng He]’s voyages and writes of one controversial voyage in which Zheng’s fleet circumnavigated the world and discovered America.
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