Geo Answer

The World
The World

We head off the coast of East Africa for today’s Geo Quiz. The waters off of Somalia have become a dangerous place for international shipping.

Pirates have attacked more than a hundred vessels — and hijacked dozens of them — just this year.

Countries that depend on shipping lanes there for oil and other goods are fed up with the menace.

And one country is sending its warships to the region for the first time in modern history.

But it’s NOT the first time that ships from this Asian nation have plied the seas off Africa.

So, what’s the country we’re talking about?

The World’s Matthew Bell is here with another hint:

Matthew Bell: “Yes, our country in question will be sending its modern navy to the Somali coast to conduct anti-pirate operations. And actually, there’s an interesting parallel here with the 15th century. That’s when this country dominated the high seas. Under the command of a legendary Muslim explorer.”

Katy Clark: “OK, Matthew… Before we give our answer. Tell me more about this explorer.”

Matthew Bell: “I won’t give his name yet, but this famous admiral actually commanded the world’s most powerful navy 600 years ago. His ships were known as treasure ships, which says something about what they were up to. The new ruler of the country he served was keen to establish his legitimacy. And one way he thought he could do that was by expanding trade, expanding diplomatic relations.

So, this explorer spent a lot of time trading… bringing back goods. Bringing back foreign diplomats. He even brought back a giraffe from Africa at one point.”

Katy Clark: “Enough already, What’s the explorer’s name and where did he come from?”

MB: His name was Zheng He. Sometimes he’s referred to Cheng Ho. And he was from China. About the giraffe. When he brought it back to China, some people it was a mythical creature called a Qilin… and by bringing it to the new Chinese emperor… This was thought to show that the emperor had won the favor of Heaven to rule China.


KC: You said this admiral was Muslim?

MB: Yes, and his story is fascinating. Zheng He was born in southwestern China to a Muslim family. In the late 1300s, he was captured by Ming soldiers. Who were fighting the Mongols… and he was eventually brought back to the Chinese capital. Where he was castrated. And he become a eunuch servant to the man who would become the first Ming emperor. They became very close… and Zheng He got a lot of military experience through the fighting with the Mongols.

When the emperor came to power, he put Zheng He in charge of the Chinese navy. Now… keep in mind… this was the early 1400s… almost a hundred years before Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic. And the Chinese armada was THE dominant naval power at the time.

Zheng He led armadas of ships throughout Southeast Asia… to Thailand and Indonesia… to South Asia… the coast of India and Sri Lanka… and as far as the Persian Gulf and the coast of East Africa… where those Somali pirates operate today.

KC: Getting back to what modern China is doing there to deal with the pirates. What kind of naval force is the Chinese navy sending?

Chinese NavyChinese Navy

MB: It will include two destroyers with modern weaponry, including missiles, helicopters and specially trained troops. They will be escorting oil tankers… China gets more than half its oil from the region… And they will be conducting patrols. A Chinese commander is quoted in the state-run Xinhua news agency today. And perhaps he was invoking the spirit of Admiral Zheng He here. He said he fully expects to his forces to engage in firefights with pirates… And that one Chinese special forces soldier could handle several enemies with his bare hands.

KC: Alrighty then, The World’s Matthew Bell with the answer to today’s Geo Quiz, which is China.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.