鄭和下西洋

An Educational Resource for China's Greatest Explorer

Legends

The following legends were compiled in a book by History Express entitled "The Great Explorer Cheng Ho":

  •  Legend has it that when the fleet was in Malacca, Zheng He brought with him a special fish, nicknamed the "Zheng He fish" or the "Sam Po Gong fish" to entertain sailors. During a storm on the voyage, the ship hit some rocks and water began entering the ship through the holes. Miraculously, the Zheng He fish plugged the leak and saved the ship from sinking. It is even said that when Zheng He took the fish and put it back in the ocean, his fingerprints were marked on it. As a result of this legend, some Chinese-Malaccanese still do not eat the fish to this day.
  • It is possible that durians were first brought back to China after having been discovered by Zheng He on an island. It is also speculated that Zheng He was the first Chinese person to have tasted bird's nest. As he had heard from the Javanese, the nest of the salangane, which is made of saliva, is edible and in fact highly nutritious. When the crew made a stay on an isolated island, Zheng He suggested that the crew try eating this bird's nest. Thenceforth it was brought back to China. However, other historical documents suggest that bird's nest was consumed in China way back in the Tang Dynasty. In another food-related legend, legend has it that Zheng He himself planted a magical kind of ginger on Dagou Mountain in Taiwan (now the Cai Mountain in Gao Xiong) with special healing powers.
  • An easily debunked legend suggests that Zheng He invented the game of mahjong while attempting to find a way to entertain his crew members. According to the legend, this explains why there are so many references to sailing found on the tiles. (e.g. navigational directions- north, south, east, west; "wan" refers to distance, "suo" refers to the rigging of ropes)

The 1421 Theory

In Dr. Gavin Menzies' bestseller, "1421: The Year China Discovered the World", it is argued that Chinese fleets (under the Yongle emperor's command and the authority of Zheng He) reached several destinations that were not documented in official records. The book's central thesis is that the Chinese had traveled to America, the Cape of Good Hope, Australia, as well as the South Pole previous to explorers from other nations.  In fact, it is argued that the Chinese had even circumnavigated the world before the Magellan-Elcano expedition that began in 1519. Menzies' claim is that these unrecorded Chinese expeditions occurred in the year 1421. It should be noted that the theory does not indicate that Zheng He had reached such destinations, but rather other captains leading separate fleets under his command.

In his book, Menzies provides a list of evidence from maps to sites of shipwrecks to DNA records of Chinese settlements. That said, the theory is highly controversial as many noted historians criticize its unsubstantial evidence, as well as Menzies' subjectivity in his writing. In another one of Menzies' books, "1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance", it is further claimed that Zheng He did not die on the seventh voyage and went on to travel to Europe and even met the Pope.

 Please refer to www.1421.tv or the book itself for a presentation of the evidence. 

Other Pop Culture

Although he remains largely unknown in many foreign countries,  Zheng He has been featured either referentially or allegorically in many books, comics, video games, etc. Here is a list of such occurrences:

  • Paradox Interactive's strategy video game, Europa Universalis 2, mentions Zheng He of China in the beginning of the "Grand Campaign".
  • World War Z, a popular fiction book by Max Brooks, (later adapted into a blockbuster) mentions a nuclear missle submarine from the Chinese called Zeng Ho.
  • A comic by legendary director John Woo and Garth Ennis from Virgin Comics called Seven Brothers chronicles the tales of a mighty treasure fleet. The creators have indicated that the story is loosely based on Zheng He's voyages.
  • The Years of Rice and Salt, a 2002 historical science fiction book by Kim Stanley Robinson, has a minor character called Zheng He.
  • WizKids released a strategy computer game in 2005 called Pirates of the Spanish Main. Admiral Zheng He is a character in it, along with mention of the Baochuans. (treasure ships)
  • A Deepness in the Sky, a 1999 sci-fi novel by Vernor Vinge, has a character named Qeng Ho who is a trader in China.
  • "1421: The Year China Discovered America?" was a PBS documentary about Zheng He and the 1421 theory by Dr Gavin Menzies.
  • It was announced that the 1421 theory would be adapted into a feature film. Samantha Olsson was briefly attached to it but to date there has yet to be any confirmation.
  • In 2005, TVB, a TV station in Hong Kong, released a short documentary series on Zheng He in commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the fleet's first voyage.
  • National Geographic produced an hour long documentary about Zheng He.