Chinese admiral and explorer, a Muslim court eunuch from Yunnan province. He commanded seven remarkable voyages (1405–33) undertaken by order of the Ming emperor Yongle and his successor. His first voyage in 1405–07, consisting of 62 ships, called in at Malacca and reached India. Subsequent voyages went to the Persian Gulf and his last voyage in 1431–33 reached the coast of East Africa. His voyages were made possible by the use of the compass and by Chinese advances in navigation and shipbuilding. The purpose of the voyages is unclear, however, as they were used neither to develop trade nor political influence with the countries visited, although Zheng He did return with tribute in the form of gifts to the emperor, including giraffes, ostriches, and zebras from the city of Mogadishu in East Africa.
Subjects: World History.