Once upon a time, a great Chinese admiral led his fleets on legendary voyages from China to the many regions in Asia and Africa over a period of 28 years, leaving marks in many cities and advocating peaceful global interactions long before the birth of modern technology.
Born in 1371 as Ma He in Yunnan province in China at the southwest corner of Lake Dian, the admiral was later known as Zheng He or Sam Poo Tay Djien. His father was a Moslem of Persian origin who used to serve the Mongolian Empire.
When the Ming army conquered Yunnan, 11 year-old Zheng was captured. He was castrated at the age of 13 and was assigned to serve the young prince Zhu Di, one of the Hongwu Emperor’s sons. After displaying his loyalty in a battle against Hoei Tee who tried to usurp the emperor’s throne, Zheng rose to higher ranks in the administration as Prince Zhu Di became the next emperor.
A year after Zhu Di’s ascension to power, Zheng was appointed to explore the seas in an epic effort to expand the Chinese presence throughout the southern states. Commanding 62 large ships and 27,000 troops, Zheng’s first naval expedition was launched in 1405. This was the start of a great saga that encompassed Champa, Java, Malacca, Ceylon, Calicut, Sumatra, Maldives, Mogadishu, Hormuz, and the Arabian Peninsula.
An Unplanned Stopover
Not only did Zheng establish and restore extensive trade and diplomatic relations, he also left an outstanding presence that can be seen from the many temples built in his honor. And in Semarng, the admiral’s manifestation was even more than that, leaving a grand legacy that has stood the test of the time.
Semarang is the capital of Central Java province where large Chinese population still lives today. According to one story, the great admiral did not plan to stop in Semarang. But as his fleets sailed through the Java Seam one of his lieutenants, Wang Ji Hong, suddenly fell ill, forcing them to make an emergency stop. Simongan – the old name of Semarang – became a temporary shelter for Zheng and his men while they waited for Wang Ji Hong to recover.
The quiet Simongan Village impressed Zheng. He encouraged his men to blend in with the locals, teaching them farming and life philosophies. He quickly became a beloved resident of Simongan, and after he resumed his voyage, the villagers built a large temple to commemorate his deeds, the Sam Po Kong Temple.
The sick lieutenant, Wang Jing Hong, even decided to resign from the fleet and stay in Simongan after his recovery. His decision played a significant role in developing the area and continuing the admiral’s teachings. Today, a tomb that bears the name Kiai Juri Mudi Dampo Awang (the venerable fleet helmsman and admiral), which can be found inside the temple, is believed to be Wang Jing Hong’s.
Next article: PRIDE OF SEMARANG
Text: Ninus Andarnuswari
Source: Journey Indonesia Magazine
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