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Odyssey Modeled on Ancient Oceanic Trip

If he still lived today, ancient Chinese mariner Zheng He (1371-1435) would have set sail on his eighth oceanic odyssey next year, 600 years after his first voyage.

As one of the world's greatest navigators, Zheng He travelled to the west seven times in the early 15th century, sailing more than 50,000 kilometres and visiting about 37 countries and regions.

But this time the journey will be made by his descendants from across the Taiwan Straits in a wooden sailboat equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

"Our aim in re-enacting Zheng He's adventure is to promote his spirit,'' said Alan Hsu, director of Taiwan's Society of Extreme Exploration. Hsu's society is organizing the three-year event entitled "Gazing at Zheng He's Era,'' which is to cost 150 million new Taiwanese dollars (US$5 million).

An expedition team consisting of explorers and historians will complete the trip between July 2005 and June 2008 to 20 countries and 50 trading ports he visited.

Professor Li Sheng, director of the Research Centre for China's Borderland History and Geography Studies under the China Academy of Social Sciences, said the trip is the best way to mark the 600 anniversary of Zheng's first expedition.

"Besides advocating the Chinese civilization and cultural heritage, the event will help publicize the Chinese people's love for peace and peaceful co-existence of different cultures,'' he said.

Zheng He, a contemporary of Cristopher Columbus (1451-1506), sailed from China to places in South Pacific, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, Africa and possibly America some 87 years before him.

From 1405 to 1433 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Zheng commanded a single fleet.

During his 28-year naval career, at least 317 ships and 37,000 men were under his command, according to historical documents.

The flagship of his fleet, named "Treasure Ship,'' was a nine-masted vessel measuring 440 feet, nearly 1.5 times the length of a football field and 5 times that of Columbus's boat. The 25-metre-long and 5.5-metre-wide vessel can hold 16 passengers at most.

Organizers of the event are planning to imitate a miniature wooden sailing boat of Zheng's "Treasure Ship'' in a mainland shipyard.

The 25-metre-long and 5.5-metre-wide vessel can hold 16 passengers at most.

The expedition team will embark on the ambitious expedition on July 11 2005.

(China Daily January 9, 2004)

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