Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch, died in 1433 aged 62 and is buried in the Chinese city of Nanjing
Zheng He: Symbol of China’s ‘peaceful rise’
Setting sail more than 600 years ago, Zheng’s armada made seven epic voyages, reaching south-east Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.
Some say he even made it to America - several decades before the celebrated European explorer Christopher Columbus - although this has been widely disputed by historians.
Zheng, known as the Three-Jewel Eunuch Admiral, carried gifts from the Chinese emperor aboard his “treasure ship”, which groaned with valuable cargo including gold, porcelain and silks.
These were exchanged along the established Arab trade routes for ivory, myrrh and even China’s first giraffe, promoting recognition of the new Ming dynasty.
But within years of his death, Zheng appeared to fade from public consciousness, and for centuries his legend was overlooked as China turned its back on the world and entered a long period of isolation.
Now Zheng is enjoying a resurgence - and there appears to be more than historical curiosity behind his revival.