Chapter Two: Seven Voyages to Western Oceans
Section Five: The Fifth Voyage to the Western Oceans (1417–1419)
After Zheng He’s four trips to the western oceans, the
Ming Dynasty’s influence in Southeast Asia, South Asia,
West Asia and even Eastern Africa was on the rise. Many
countries sent their envoys to China. In early 1417, envoys
from 18 countries, including Calicut, Java, Champa,
Ceylon, Brava, Aden, Sumatra, Malindi, Ra’s, Hormuz,
Cochin, Indonesia, Singosari, and Pahang, along with
envoys from the Palembang Pacification Commission,
bid their goodbyes to Emperor Yongle. Emperor Yongle
dispatched Zheng He to escort the envoys home and
to present the kings of these countries with imperial
edicts from the Ming Government and a variety of gifts.
Therefore, Zheng He went on his fifth voyage to the
western oceans in May of 1417, according to the Chinese
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Before the fleet left the country, Zheng He paid a visit to
the tombs of Islamic sages in Lingshan Mountain outside
the Renfeng Gate (East Gate) of Quanzhou, Fujian. On the
one hand, he prayed for the blessings of Islamic sages;
on the other hand, he wanted to pay tribute to the Arab
sages who made contributions to the friendship between
Arabian and Chinese people.
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The mission of this voyage was to escort the envoys
from 18 countries back home. The fleet sailed to Champa,
Java, Palembang, Malacca, Pahang, Sumatra, Indonesia,
Ceylon, Cochin, Calicut, Hormuz, Aden, Mogadishu,
Brava and Malindi.
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Aden (now in the Yemen Arab Republic) was located at
the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, near the
mouth of the Red Sea. It was an important international
trade port in ancient times. The country enjoyed a mild
climate, warm weather, fertile land and rich products.
The people in Aden believed in Islam and had a strong
character. Their country was so powerful that all
neighboring countries were afraid of it. When Zheng He’s
fleet arrived in Aden, the king and his ministers waited at
the seaside to greet Zheng He and held a grand welcome
ceremony for him at the royal palace. Zheng He read out
the imperial edict of Emperor Yongle, and presented the
king with coins and gifts. In return, the Aden king offered
Emperor Yongle a golden crown decorated with all kinds
of pearl and precious stones.
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Then, Zheng He’s mission visited Ra’s. The country
was located to the west of Aden and the east of the Red
Sea, close to the Lasa village of Mukalla of the Arabian
Peninsula. People there lived in stone houses and there
were three remarkable Islamic temples with round domes.
Zheng He announced the imperial edict there. In 1416,
the country had sent envoys to China to pay tribute.
Later, envoys from Ra’s paid three visits to China, all
accompanied by envoys from Aden and Brava. After
Zheng He finished his visit to Ra’s, his fleet passed the Bab
el Mandeb Strait, and sailed southward to Mogaadicio,
Brava and Malindi on the east coast of Africa.
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Magaadicio (now Mogadishu in Somalia) was a
mountainous country with little rainfall. With yellow
soil and red stones, the fields there were barren with
little harvest. Poor people went fishing in the sea, while
those who were better-off went for business in faraway
lands. The country was rich in frankincense, leopards and
ambergris. Since it did not produce timber, most of the
residents lived in stone houses.
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Brava (now Brava on the southeast coast of Somalia)
neighbored Magaadicio. Its lands were too salty for
cultivation and people there had to rely on fishing for
food and income.
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When Zheng He’s fleet arrived in the east coast of
Africa and set foot on Magaadicio and Brava, they were
warmly received by kings of the two countries. As usual,
Zheng He announced the imperial edicts of Emperor
Yongle to the two kings, and presented them with gifts.
Before parting, the kings sent their envoys and gifts to
China along with Zheng He’s fleet. Among the gifts were
an auspicious beast kylin (giraffe) and a lion from the king
of Magaadicio to Emperor Yongle.
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Zheng He’s last stop in Eastern Africa was Malindi (now
Malindi in the east coast of Kenya). There he was warmly
received by the king. In 1415, Malindi sent envoys with
an auspicious beast kylin to China and Emperor Yongle
and his ministers held a grand reception ceremony for
them at the Fengtian Gate of the royal court. Zheng He’s
fleet wanted to go even further to the south but they were
already close to the Pemba Island and the Pemba Strait
where there was nothing there but dense forests. Zheng
He listened to the advice of local people and turned
eastward to the Indian Ocean from Malindi in the spring
of 1419. His fleet passed the Maldives, Ceylon, Sumatra
and Malacca and returned to China in July. The voyage
lasted for one year and nine months.
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When Zheng He returned from his fifth voyage to the
western oceans, he brought along envoys from 17 Asian
and African countries, as well as many rare birds and
animals, including ostriches from Hormuz, giraffes from
Aden, giraffes and lions from Magaadicio, camels from
Brava and Indian antelopes from Java.
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The arrival of envoys from Asian and African countries
and the presentation of rare birds and animals were the
feature of Zheng He’s fifth voyage to the western ocean.
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