Zheng He, the great Chinese voyager

By Ma Tongchun, a local resident and senior English-speaking tour guide with over 30 years of professional experience. In this article, Mr Ma shares his knowledge about the great Chinese navigator.


Early morning, we started our new discovery tour to Kunyang Town to find the historic relics of Zheng He (1371-1433), the great ocean navigator of the Early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).


We drove out of the Green Lake Hotel and along a new road the Gaohai Expressway. After passing by Gaoyao Village and Longmen Village at the foot of the West Mt, we drove by Xiahua Market village, and Guanyinshan Hill Buddhist Monastery. In Haikou Bridge, we had a short stop to watch the Lake, seagulls and Haikou Town which was the important industrial district of Kunming City. 

Zheng He Park, Jinning County, Kunming

Another 15 minutes drive, we were at the main entrance of Zheng He Park, the Moon Hill Park which was changed to the present name in 1985 to commemorate the 580th anniversary of Zheng He's sailing to the West Ocean.


After parking the car, we climbed 28 steps to the entrance tower. In the Middle of the entrance, there was a huge painting of a large ship sailing on the Western Ocean. Entering the gate, there was a zigzag step way to a square where we saw a marble statue of Zheng He in the navy uniform and a cloak of the Ming Dynasty style. Around the square, there was a set of relief carving about the life stories of Zheng He.

The statue of Zheng He in Jinning County, Kunming


The great contributions by Zheng He
Looking at the nice carving we recalled his great course of life. Zheng He was born in a Muslim noble family in 1371 and had a good family traditional education about his family history, the ocean sailing, the trade and the glory of his ancestors. He was captured as a war prisoner when he was only 11 and given to Prince Yan Zhu Di and was castrated to be a eunuch in Prince Yan Palace. He became a general chief of eunuchs in Emperor Yongle's Palace because he fought bravely and made meritorious contributions in Jingnan War to the establishment of Emperor Yongle's power. 

A ship model for Zheng He's navigation

In 1405, he started his first ocean sail as a general commander with 62 ships and 27,800 navy soldiers to South China Sea and Indian Ocean. And he sailed the oceans 7 times in 28 years to 39 countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh,India,Iran,Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and so on.


The seven times of Zheng He's sailing 
1st time: 1405-1407
2nd time: 1405-1407
3rd time: 1405-1407
4th time: 1412-1415
5th time: 1417-1419
6th time: 1421-1422
7th time: 1430-1433


He was a great Chinese in the world because of his great contributions to the ocean sailing that is almost 100 years earlier than the European pioneer sailors, contributions to China's diplomacy to many countries in Asia and Africa, and contributions to the international exchanges of culture and trades.


We climbed 65 steps to the top of the Moon Hill where we could see the flowers and trees all over the west hillside. Up there we climbed Sanbao Boat Pavilion built in shape of his flagship sailing the West Ocean (Sanbao was his eunuch title in Yongle’s reign of the Ming Dynasty). Standing on the watching tower, we could see the boundless Dianchi Lake in the east and think about his childhood when he received his sailing education from his grandfather and father when boating and fishing in the lake—which was the solid base founded for his later ocean sailing courses.


The tomb of Zheng He's father
We walked down the Pavilion and went to his father's tomb which was built exactly in the style of Muslim. The tomb dome was covered with lime stone slabs carved with Islamic patterns. Three stones were set in front of the Tomb. The one in the middle was set up in the 9th year of Yongle Period with the words "Tomb of Ma Hazhi": Ma is the original family name of Zheng He, Hazhi the name titled for the man who had been to Mecca as a pilgrim.  Zheng He could not remember his father's real name when he was captured at the age of 11, but what he merely remembered was that people called his father Ma Hazhi because he had been to Mecca as a pilgrim and gained the title. 

The Ma Hazhi stele

The other two tomb stones were set later in memory of Zheng He, one was the "Biography of Zheng He" and another was the Postscript of the Epitaph of Zheng He's Father. All those were the important materials for study of Zheng He's family. 


After the tomb, we walk into a big yard where we saw many stone tablets which we usually call Zheng He Tablet Forest. Most of them were the inscriptions by the scholars and officials of different times in praise of Zheng He on his great deed for the nation.


The memorial hall of Zheng He
We walked through trees and flower garden to the original site of Zheng He's former residence. It was a nice and quiet garden yard with three buildings, one was the house for the family and now an exhibit room for the family history and relics collection, one was the museum of Zheng He Ocean Sailing with relics collection and model ships etc. the smallest one was the memorial pavilion of Zheng He where we could see the stone tablet set up by Yunnan government officials after 1911 revolution. And some statues in the garden tell the life of Zheng He's childhood.


Two hours' sightseeing finished, we walked out of Zheng He's former residence, went along a track around the east side of the Moon Hill to visit the Jade Emperor Temple and then back to the parking place. 


We thought deeply about this place. It was called The Moon Hill Park before, and changed its name in 1985 in memory of the 580th anniversary of his great sailing to Pacific and Indian Oceans. As I know, there’re four Zheng He Parks in China:

A ship model for Zheng He's navigation,Zheng He Park, Nanjing

(1)-Kunyang Zheng He Park, Jinning County, Kunming Yunnan Province.
(2)-Zheng He Park which was called Taiping Park before 1985, Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province.
(3)-Zheng He Park, Fuqiao Town, Taicang City, Jiangsu Province, where Zheng He weighed his anchor for ocean sailing.
(4)-Zheng He Park, Changle City, Fujian Province. It was called Nanshan Hill Park and it was changed to be Zheng He Park in 1985 and it is a relay port waiting for the wind and material storage.