Zheng He

Zheng He, the Muslim eunuch admiral of the Ming Chinese treasure fleet, commanded an armada of 317 ships, the largest more than 450 feet long and 100 feet wide (two side notes: 1.) ships that size weren’t built again until the late 19th Century and 2.) the Ming government had ~3,500 ships when he was active. The U.S. Navy currently has only 430 vessels.). He definitely made it around SE Asia, South Asia, the Persian Gulf, and East Africa. Some folks claim he made it all the way to North America. Color me skeptical.

Anyhow, reading about the recent LiDAR-based discovery of the 1,000,000-inhabitant megalopolis surrounding Angkor Wat, it occurred to me that Zheng He might very well have visited it – in the century of its collapse as a population center – during one of his seven voyages. This map of his routes suggests otherwise. But would he really skip from medieval Vietnam to medieval Thailand without stopping along the way to catch a glimpse of the largest city in the world, even if it did require a journey inland by horseback? I mean, this is a guy who stopped occasionally to prosecute whole land wars. Anyhow, if he did see it, there may be a description of the city somewhere in the output of his faithful chronicler, Ma Huan.

And if there isn’t, I might have to write it for him – if only by claiming, Borges-like, that it exists.

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One Response to “Zheng He”

  1. Hammer of the Goths | Chamblissian Says:

    […] have a soft spot for military eunuchs, I guess. Zheng He, particularly, but also Narses – an Armenian castrate and fanatical Marianist who weathered a […]

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