• Inclusion Advocate

(Editorial) Zheng He, One of Humanity's Greatest Explorer that You Are Mispronouncing

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Co-Authors: Bob Zhaobo Wang and Bincheng Stéphane Mao

Zheng He, 郑和, was a Chinese explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral who led massive naval expeditions throughout the western Pacific and Indian Ocean during the Ming Dynasty of China.

“He” in English is commonly pronounced as [hee], as the pronounce substituting “a male person or animal that has already been mentioned." However, when “He” appears in an Asian name, it should be pronounced as [hə]. In Chinese, mostly it means “peace."

A great Chinese navigator’s name includes the character: Zheng He, which is pronounced as [dʒəʒ hə] usually mistakenly pronounced as [zenʒ hi]. Although he was a eunuch, he was a great mariner, explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral during China's early Ming dynasty.

Zheng He commanded expeditionary voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. His fleet consisted of more than 200 ships, and the largest one stretched 120 meters in length (Columbus's Santa Maria, for comparison, was 26 meters), which carried hundreds of sailors on four tiers of decks.

Considering the costs of Zheng He’s seven navigations were outrageously high, his sponsor, Yongle Emperor, must have strong reasons to support him. Historically, there are a few proposed reasons. Here I list some of the most interesting ones.

1. Yongle Emperor, who got his power through an armed uprising, believed the former emperor may have escaped overseas and wanted to search for him.

2. Yongle was eager to demonstrate the power and wealth of the Ming Dynasty to the rulers of nearby countries, in an effort to establish a dominating and central status of the dynasty.

There is, nonetheless, another point of view. According to Information about Zheng He’s Navigation by Professor Xiang Da of Peking University, Zheng He, who led a grand fleet that consisted of more than 27,000 elite sailors and marines, was asked to flank attack the Timurid Kingdom, whose founder, Tamerlane, the conqueror of Central Asia, had already generated a force of 500,000 soldiers marching toward China.

Source: Beijing Normal University Library

Nevertheless, Tamerlane himself died on his way to China and the plan of invading China was therefore cancelled. Zheng He no longer to need to attack Timurid on its southwest edge but to maintain peace between China and the surrounding countries, just as his name, He, indicated.

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