Zhang He was an admiral, diplomat and explorer during the early years of the Ming Dynasty. He made many trips on the Indian Ocean, visiting East Africa, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
As a young man, Zhang He distinguished himself as a soldier and eventually came into the service of the prince of Yan. In 1400, with the help of Zhang He, this prince ousted his uncle, the Jianwen emperor, from the throne and became emperor himself. The newly crowned Yongle emperor wished to project Chinese naval power further abroad, both to extend trade and to control its tributary nations in South and Southeast Asia.
Appointing Zhang He as commander in chief, the Yongle emperor created a massive treasure fleet of Chinese ships and sent them away. The first voyage departed in 1405 with 62 ships and 27,800 men. Zhang He went on to make five more voyages for the Yongle emperor, who died in 1424. His successor, the Hongxi emperor, abruptly canceled international explorations soon after he came to the throne, though Zhang He did make one final voyage in 1431, travelling to Southeast Asia, India, the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. While journeying back to China, Zhang He died in the city of Calicut on India's western coast in 1433.