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 lunar calendar.

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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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