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Zheng He
by Shelton Gunaratne
30 November 2002 23:47 UTC
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The following letter to the editor appeared in the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) on Dec. 1, 2002.

Zheng He, the Three-Jewelled Eunuch and Sri Lanka
I write regarding the book by Gavin Menzies entitled "1421: The Year China Discovered the World".
I have for some time been interested in Chinese Grand Admiral Zheng He, whose voyages form the subject of the book and thought I would write to fill in some details which may be of interest to Sri Lankan readers.
Zheng He (otherwise known as Cheng Ho, Ching Ho or Ma San-Pao) visited Sri Lanka on possibly three occasions between 1405 and 1415. On his first visit he had requested the Tooth Relic for the Chinese Emperor but was refused and barely escaped from an attempt to waylay him.
He returned in 1408 and led an invasion as far as Kandy and captured King Vira Wijaya Bahu VI and several of his court and held them hostage in China for five years before returning them. (It is interesting that while King Vira Wijaya Bahu survived five years as a hostage in China, he was murdered in his capital on the night of his return by his Sri Lankan Chief Minister!)
Following his 1408 visit, Zheng He left a tablet inscribed in Persian (some say Arabic) and Tamil respectively praising Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism. This was found in 1911 near Cripps Road in Galle.
Interestingly, Zheng He, who had been castrated as a 10-year-old boy to serve in the court and was known variously as "the Three-Jewel Eunuch" and "the Eunuch of the Three Treasures" is suggested in the book as having circumnavigated the world in 1421 (i.e. before Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan), reached America before Christopher Columbus and Australia before Captain Cook. (It is said that his first fleet included 317 vessels and 28,000 men and that his flagship "Treasure Ship" was four hundred feet long compared to Columbus's "St. Maria" which measured eighty five feet.)
He died in 1435 and being a Muslim, the top of his tomb near Nanjing bears the words "Allah is great". Further information regarding Zheng He's travels may be found in Richard Hall's "Empires of the Monsoon" and Hulugalle's "Ceylon of the Early Travellers".
Dr. Rohan H. Wickramasinghe
Colombo 7

Shelton A. Gunaratne, professor
Mass communications department
Minnesota State University Moorhead
1104 Seventh Ave. S.
Moorhead, MN 56563

Tel.:  (218) 236-4035 (office)
        (218) 233-0453 (home)
Fax: (218) 291-4333
E-mail: gunarat@mnstate.edu

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