In the early 15th century, Imperial Chinese mariners under the eunuch admiral Zheng He made great voyages of discovery in enormous ships. Then the Hongxi Emperor decided that what they had found on far shores was underwhelming, the whole fleet was scuppered and the Chinese paid no further attention to seafaring. In 2007 I discussed a silly story about alleged descendants of Zheng He’s non-eunuch crew in Kenya who had suddenly remembered their Chinese heritage, which was convenient since the Chinese were interested in local mining rights.
Now the Guardian has news about the Kenya – Zheng He – China connection, relayed to me by Aard’s Chinese reporter who happens to share my bed and board. A well-funded group of Chinese maritime archaeologists plans to spend three years searching for the wreck of one of Zheng He’s ships off the Kenyan coast. According to the newspaper, the impetus of the project is “Kenyan lore” about a shipwreck taking place in the 1400s. If so, then I am very sorry for my Chinese colleagues. They have a “likely shipwreck site”, but no actual shipwreck yet.
I hope the project does find a 15th century Chinese shipwreck. But if they do, then this will in no way validate the suddenly remembered folklore. It’s a ridiculous product of current Afro-Chinese economic relations, and I’m sure no well-educated Kenyan or Chinese archaeologist believes one word of it.