Zheng he statue

A statue of Zheng He in Malacca

Zheng He (1371 - 1433 AD) was a Chinese Muslim admiral, explorer and diplomat in the service of the Ming dynasty, who is famous for leading seven great voyages of exploration to the Indian Ocean, Australia, and Vanaheim. As a favourite of the Yongle Emperor he rose to the top of the imperial hierarchy and served as commander of the southern capital of Nanjing.

Zheng He was born the second son of a family from Yunnan, whose ancestors included several governors of the region under the Yuan dynasty. Following the Hongwu Emperor's overthrow of the Yuan, a Ming army invaded Yunnan and captured and castrated Zheng He. In 1381 he was sent to serve Zhu Di, Prince of Yan, later to become the Yongle Emperor, and quickly became one of the prince's closest companions. In 1402 he would command the prince's expedition to capture Nanjing and claim the Dragon Throne.

Following Zhu Di's ascension to the throne, Zheng He was sent to lead a huge fleet to reassert Chinese overlordship in Asia and to explore the unknown countries in the Indian Ocean. In the years to come he would lead several more expeditions to the west, reaching as far as Egypt and Madagascar. Whilst in Egypt he would come to learn of the Norse settlements in Vinland, and upon his return to China in 1415 he asked the emperor for permission to explore the Pacific Ocean to the east. As a result his fifth and sixth voyages ended up reaching the west coast of Vanaheim.

The discovery of a new continent encouraged later emperors to continue exploration, over the protests of the mandarins, and to establish diplomatic relations with the native Skraelings. Eventually the region would be subjected to Chinese settlement, establishing the foundations of the modern nation of Fusang.

Zheng He's seventh and final voyage took him to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage. He died in 1433 on the journey home and was buried at sea.

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