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jeudi 26 janvier 2012

Zheng He and Salalah, Dhofar, Oman


Whenever you are near the Ocean in many of the Asian Countries, if you are a History enthusiast, the name of that great Chinese Admiral Zheng He would automatically pop up.
I am sitting in my room staring at the Arabian Sea at the port of Salalah in the Dhofar Region of the Sultanate of Oman. I can picture the large fleet of the great Admiral bobbing in the gentle waters off the coast.

Public Seminar: Searching for Remains of Zheng He's Fleets off Oman

18 August 2010


Between 1413 and 1433 the Chinese sent out seven huge fleets under the command of the famous Admiral Zheng He. On the last four of these expeditions the fleet sailed to the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Chinese scientists, with help from University of Sydney, and in collaboration with the Omanis, are half way through a project to search for wrecks off the northern Omani coast. If Chinese wrecks are found, new information will come to light on exchanges between the Far East and the West in the early 15th Century.
In this talk, Dr Phil Mulhearn, of the Ocean Technology Group and the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney and Professor Changqing Hu, of the Shanghai Acoustics Laboratory at the Institute of Acoustics, Chinese Academy of Sciences will present details of Zheng He's voyages and their expedition findings so far.

Another item of interest is that China and Oman have decided to erect a statue in honour of the great hero in Oman. And it would stand in Salalah, where I am today.
Certain naïve writers may believe that Zheng He Islamized the people he visited. But as Naipaul has pointed out in his book . Among the Believers, the converted people, like the Malays or Indonesians always want to have a purer projection of their faith. While it was Gujerati merchants who converted Parameswara the Hinu Prince from Sumatra who founded what is now Malaysia, many Malays like to believe that their religion came either from Mecca direct or it was Zheng He who converted Parameswara.
Such a controversy wont arise here in Oman, they are Arabs who have dwelled in this peninsula for centuries if not millennia. Zheng He had the noble idea of learning, teaching and paying tribute rather than colonizing  (British did that, their colonies were called Trucial States, Muscat and Oman, Aden etc), he wanted them to know the great strength of China, in arts and literature and Medicine and other sciences and knowledge.
What could he have taken back to China?

Frankincense for which Dhofar region and Oman are famous for.  The Mastic tree was taken from Oman (even though the tree is native to the island of Chios in Greece) and was planted in China.
The other sultanate is also on my mind, Brunei. Zheng He visited Brunei twice, the other towns that pop up in my mind for various reasons are Malacca and Cochin both visited by Zheng He about four times each.
Remember he was not a tourist!  This was nearly 600 years ago!  I have been lucky to visit Galle as well, but at that time I was not mature enough to look for the Inscription left by the Great Admiral there.