Timeline: A Chronology Of the Ming Voyages
First Voyage 1405-1406
Early 17th century Chinese woodblock print, thought to represent Zheng He's ships.
Zheng He commanded a fleet of 317 ships, almost 28,000 men, their arms and supplies. The fleet included several massive "treasure ships,"approximately 400 feet long and 160 feet wide. The places the fleet stopped included Champa (central Vietnam); Majapahit on Java; and Semudra and Deli on the northern coast of Sumatra. It continued to Ceylon and then to Calicut, known as "the great country of the Western Ocean." Traveling through the Straits of Malacca on its return, the Chinese defeated a pirate chief who had been threatening trading ships in the Straits. Zheng He was not able to find any trace of the deposed Emperor whom some Chinese had thought might have found asylum in Southeast Asia.
Second Voyage 1407-1409
Zheng He did not go on the second voyage which probably returned the Siamese ambassador who had gone to China earlier on his own, and installed a new leader in Calicut. Again the fleet stopped at Champa (central Vietnam); Majapahit on Java; and Semudra and Deli on the northern coast of Sumatra; Ceylon; and Calicut.
Third Voyage 1409-1411
This expedition's special charge concerned Malacca, a port on the Malay peninsula that was gaining importance. Stopping in Malacca, the Chinese recognized Paramesawara as the legitimate ruler of Malacca and gave him a tablet officially declaring that the city was a vassal state of China. Increasing Malacca's power, the Chinese court believed, would establish a balance of power among Siam, Java and Malacca and insure Chinese trading rights through the Straits. After stopping at Semudra, the fleet went to Ceylon where they got involved in a local power struggle among its Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslim populations. Luring the Sinhalese troops out of the city, Zheng He and his troops took the capital, captured the ruler and installed a ruler of their own choice in his place. After this voyage many ambassadors from the countries the treasure fleet had visited brought tribute to the Ming court.
Fourth Voyage 1414-15
This voyage headed for Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. The fleet stopped at Champa and Java. At Sumatra, the Chinese captured a pretender to one of the local thrones and sent him back to Nanjing where he was executed. One part of the fleet went to Bengal and brought a giraffe back to the Emperor. (The Chinese believed the giraffe was a magicalanimal comparable to the unicorn, an auspicious sign and symbol of the righteousness of the Ming reign.) Cheng He and the rest of the fleet continued up the coast of Malay; to Ceylon; the Maldives; ports on the Indian coast; and Hormuz. This voyaged marked the height of Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.
1415: The Emperor decides to move the Chinese court from Nanjing to Beijing.
1416: Repairs on the Grand Canal are completed.
Fifth Voyage 1417-19
This impressive fleet was to take back home 19 ambassadors who had brought tribute to the Chinese court. While at Quanzhou, Zheng He tried to stop the persecution of Muslims there. The fleet then went to several ports on Champa and Java; to Palembang and other ports on Sumatra; to Malacca on the Malay peninsula; the Maldives, Ceylon; and Cochin and Calicut. This time the Chinese attempted to strengthen Cochin to counter the power of Calicut. The fleet explored the Arabian coast from Hormuz to Aden and the east coast of Africa, returning ambassadors from Mogadishu, Brawa, and Malinda and also stopped at Mombasa. The sailors brought the Emperor another giraffe from Africa.