A Ming-Dynasty-style ship is departing Tuesday from Qingdao, in east China's Shandong Province, to retrace the "maritime Silk Road" first plied by a prestigious Chinese sea voyager, Zheng He, 600 years ago.
The voyage is taking place to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the seven journeys of Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch of the Ming court who traveled to West Asia and East Africa between 1405 and 1433.
Zheng He, born in Yunnan, joined the imperial court at the age of 11 and became a close confidant of the prince who later became Emperor Yongle (r. 1403–1424), the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Pioneering the first express sea route through the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, Zheng He's voyages took place 87 years before those of Columbus; 92 ahead of Vasco da Gama's and 114 years before Magellan's.
At its peak, Zheng He's fleet included 30,000 men and 70 ships. He brought back to China many trophies and envoys from more than 30 kingdoms, including a king of Ceylon.
Life magazine ranked Zheng He the 14th most important person of the last millennium.
The ship that sets sail on Tuesday, christened the Lu Meimao (Green Eyebrow), is China's largest reproduction of a ship of this model. The style, originally designed more than 800 years ago, was selected by Zheng He for his fleet during his legendary voyages.
The vessel is 31 meters long and seven meters wide, and carries three masts and four sails. It was built by the Putuo New Port Shipyard in east China's Zhejiang Province.
(China.org.cn, Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2005)