Oman to search for 600-year-old ship
Oman will send out its navy ships tomorrow in search of a famous Chinese vessel that is believed to have capsized and sunk off the Omani coast nearly 600 years ago, the media reported yesterday.
The Omani ships will sail from Saeed bin Sultan naval base on the country's eastern coast of Batina northwest of the capital Muscat in search of the Chinese ship that was commanded by Zheng He, a well-known Muslim sailor in the imperial Chinese Ming Dynasty that ruled during 1368-1644.
"The Sultanate will launch a search operation tomorrow for the Zheng He ship, which is believed to have been lost off the Omani shores between 1405 and 1433," the Omani Al Watan Arabic-language newspaper said.
"This search is within the joint desire by Oman and China to enhance co-operation for their common interests."
According to Chinese and other records, the Ming Armada weighed anchor in Nanjing 600 years ago, on the first of seven epic voyages as far west as the Gulf of Aden and Africa. The anniversary of those trips is being widely celebrated inside and outside China with exhibitions and articles.
Zheng He was a remarkable commander whose voyages of trade, exploration and goodwill led to the exchange of knowledge and goods as far a field as Yemen and the east coast of Africa. As the "Admiral of the Western Sea", Zheng He led China's most ambitious voyages of discovery.
Ordered by the Ming Emperor to sail to "the countries beyond the horizon" and "all the way to the end of the earth", under his command, the royal fleet of the Ming Dynasty set off for South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, heading for Gulf and East Africa.
His armada of giant junks was believed to be several times bigger than any of the fleets Columbus commanded nearly a century later.
With more than 300 ocean-going vessels and a crew of nearly 30,000 men, Zheng He helped transform China into the region's, and perhaps the world's, 15th century superpower, according to those records.
|Order||Time||Regions along the way|
|1st Voyage||1405-1407||Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Aru, Sumatra, Lambri, Ceylon, Kollam, Cochin, Calicut|
|2nd Voyage||1407-1409||Champa, Java, Siam, Cochin, Ceylon|
|3rd Voyage||1409-1411||Champa, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Quilon, Cochin, Calicut, Siam, Lambri, Kaya, Coimbatore, Puttanpur|
|4th Voyage||1413-1415||Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Cochin, Calicut, Kayal, Pahang, Kelantan, Aru, Lambri, Hormuz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Brawa, Malindi, Aden, Muscat, Dhufar|
|5th Voyage||1416-1419||Champa, Pahang, Java, Malacca, Sumatra, Lambri, Ceylon, Sharwayn, Cochin, Calicut, Hormuz, Maldives, Mogadishu, Brawa, Malindi, Aden|
|6th Voyage||1421-1422||Hormuz, East Africa, countries of the Arabian Peninsula|
|7th Voyage||1430-1433||Champa, Java, Palembang, Malacca, Sumatra, Ceylon, Calicut, Hormuz... (17 states in total)|
According to the Malaysian history, Sultan Mansur Shah (ruled 1459–1477) dispatched Tun Perpatih Putih as his envoy to China and carried a letter from the Sultan to the Ming Emperor. Tun Perpatih succeeded in impressing the Emperor of Ming with the fame and grandeur of Sultan Mansur Shah. In the year 1459, a princess Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu), was sent by the emperor of Ming to marry Malacca Sultan Mansur Shah (ruled 1459–1477). The princess came with her entourage 500 male servants and a few hundred handmaidens. They eventually settled in Bukit Cina, Malacca. The descendants of these people, from mixed marriages with the local natives, are known today as Peranakan: Baba (the male title) and Nyonya (the female title).
In Malaysia today, many people believe it was Admiral Zheng He (died 1433) who sent princess Hang Li Po to Malacca in year 1459. However there is no record of Hang Li Po (or Hang Liu) in Ming documents, she is known only from Malacca folklore. In that case, Ma Huan's observation was true, the so-called Peranakan in Malacca was in fact Tang-Ren or Hui Chinese Muslims. These Chinese Muslims together with Parameswara were refugees of the declining Srivijaya kingdom, they came from Palembang, Java and other places. Some of the Chinese Muslims were soldiers and so they served as warrior and bodyguard to protect the Sultanate of Malacca.
On his return trip from China, Parameswara was so impressed by Zheng He that he converted to Islam and adopted the name Sultan Iskandar Shah. Malacca prospered under his leadership and became the half-way house, an entrepot, for trade between India and China.
| By Frank Viviano || Photographs by Michael Yamashita |
Six centuries ago a towering eunuch named Zheng He commanded the Ming dynasty's fleet of immense trading vessels on expeditions ranging as far as Africa.
Viewed from the rocky outcropping of Dondra Head at the southernnmost tip of Sri Lanka, the first sighting of the Ming fleet is a massive shadow on the horizon. As the shadow rises, it breaks into a cloud of tautly ribbed sail, aflame in the tropical sun. With relentless determination, the cloud draws ever closer, and in its fiery embrace an enormous city appears. A floating city, like nothing the world has ever seen before. No warning could have prepared officials, soldiers, or the thunderstruck peasants who stand atop Dondra Head for the scene that unfolds below them. Stretched across miles of the Indian Ocean in terrifying majesty is the armada of Zheng He, admiral of the imperial Ming navy.
Exactly 600 years ago this month the great Ming armada weighed anchor in Nanjing, on the first of seven epic voyages as far west as Africa—almost a century before Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas and Vasco da Gama's in India. Even then the European expeditions would seem paltry by comparison: All the ships of Columbus and da Gama combined could have been stored on a single deck of a single vessel in the fleet that set sail under Zheng He.
Its commander was, without question, the most towering maritime figure in the 4,000-year annals of China, a visionary who imagined a new world and set out consciously to fashion it. He was also a profoundly unlikely candidate for admiral in anyone's navy, much less that of the Dragon Throne.
The greatest seafarer in China's history was raised in the mountainous heart of Asia, several weeks' travel from the closest port. More improbable yet, Zheng was not even Chinese—he was by origin a Central Asian Muslim. Born Ma He, the son of a rural official in the Mongol province of Yunnan, he had been taken captive as an invading Chinese army overthrew the Mongols in 1382. Ritually castrated, he was trained as an imperial eunuch and assigned to the court of Zhu Di, the bellicose Prince of Yan.
Within 20 years the boy who had writhed under Ming knives had become one of the prince's chief aides, a key strategist in the rebellion that made Zhu Di the Yongle (Eternal Happiness) emperor in 1402. Renamed Zheng after his exploits at the battle of Zhenglunba, near Beijing, he was chosen to lead one of the most powerful naval forces ever assembled.
Six centuries later I left China with photographer Michael Yamashita in search of Zheng He's legacy, a 10,000-mile (16,093-kilometer) journey that would carry us from Yunnan to Africa's Swahili coast. Along the way I came to feel that I had found the man himself.
Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.