Zheng He: Inscription to the Goddess the Celestial Spouse

(1431)

The Inscription to the Goddess the Celestial Spouse is one of several inscriptions left by Zheng He, the Muslim eunuch admiral who commanded the fabled Ming treasure fleets between 1405 and 1433. A devoted servant to the ambitious emperor Yongle (r. 1402–1424), Zheng He used the voyages to spread the renown of the Ming Empire throughout the known world, to gather medicinal and zoological specimens, and to secure imperial vassals among the potentates of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea regions. The various inscriptions, carved on stone monuments, were intended to supplicate both Chinese and local deities and to document the Ming Dynasty’s maritime achievements as an extension of its imperial glory. This particular inscription, erected at Changle in the maritime province of Fujian in 1431, appears during the last of the Ming voyages and provides not only a summation of the nearly three decades of ocean voyaging but also a clear self-celebrating interpretation of what the...