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Book Review: The Great Voyages of Zheng He

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Columbus and Da Gama and Magellan get all the press, but they had nothing in the way of resources that the great Zheng He had. Why don't we know more about this great Chinese explorer from the 15th Century? Several reasons present themselves, among them the Chinese habit of not sharings its secrets with the outside world and the recent refocusing on Chinese accomplishments throughout history.

If you don't recognize the name of Zheng He, you're certainly not alone. But you should know who he was.

An adventurer by nature, he grew up in the shadow of Mongol China and, through political circumstance, became a key adviser to the new Chinese emperor. In that role, he was given a huge amount of money and people to explore the world. At its height, the fleet included more than 20,000 sailors and hundreds of ships. Amazingly, too, these ships were as long as 400 feet. (Columbus's ships, by contrast were not even 100 feet long.)

Zheng He and his fleet went to India, Ceylon, Arabia, Africa, and many other places, spreading the word about the glory of China. He brought back with him many tributes and many strange animals and plants.

The relevance, of course, is that a host of books published in recent months and years claim that Zheng He or one of his voyages reached North America in 1421, way before Columbus got there. This book doesn't weigh in on that theory; rather, this is a book for young readers, to introduce them to this famous explorer, whether he reached North America or not. The art is good, as is the writing. Check it out!

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