The Admiral: Zheng He

In 1405 the Yongle emperor of the Ming assembled an Indian Ocean fleet so large it would not be surpassed until World War II. 7 Chinese naval expeditions set sail to explore the Indian Ocean.

The admiral of all was Zheng He, a Muslim Chinese and the great-grandson of a Mongol warrior. His original name was Ma Ho, the Chinese version of Muhammad. The emperor conferred on him the title Zheng and he was known as Zheng He. There were hundreds of ships manned by about 27,000 men. Zeng He called at Java, Sumatra, Aceh, Sri Lanka, Thailand and other places.
The last 4 expeditions were recorded by a Muslim Chinese named Ma Huan, a translator. He learned Arabic from Muslim merchants. His notes were published in 1433, as The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shore. It has 20 chapters, beginning with Champa in Vietnam and ending with "The Country of the Heavenly Square" - Makkah. Main entries are on Thailand, Malacca, Sri Lanka, Aden, Makkah, Sumatra, Bengal, Maldives, Mogadishu, and Malindi.

When the Chinese ships departed, the ruler of Yemen gave Zheng He gifts for the emperor, among them a letter written on gold leaf and exotic African animals. The animals were a hit in the Ming court, and paintings of zebras and giraffes by court artists have survived.