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By Cindy Jenson-Elliott

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The first expedition in 1405, led by Admiral Zheng He, consisted of 317 ships and 27,387 sailors. The expeditions stopped in India and sailed to the Middle East, stopping at Jidda in what is now Saudi Arabia, and extended down the east African coast as far as Malindi in present-day Kenya. Zheng’s ships came home in 1414 laden with exotic goods, spices, and the first giraffe the Chinese had ever seen. Ming Defenses The expansiveness of the early Ming Dynasty ended with Yongle. In the face of Mongol aggression at the border, later Ming rulers focused more on defense than on exploration.

To ensure an adequate supply for irrigating crops, Hongwu had dikes and canals restored and new reservoirs built. Forty-one thousand reservoirs were created or fixed in 1395. Within eight years his investment in agriculture and water systems had tripled in profits. With a restored water system, the Ming Dynasty was able to keep produce and products moving throughout China’s extensive canal system. To heal a deforested countryside and provide wood for a new shipbuilding industry, Hongwu had 50 million trees planted around Nanjing in 1391.

3 m) stone stream that ran like a maze past picnickers. Visitors placed empty wine cups into the stream, where they floated away to be refilled and floated back to guests. The Forbidden City also had libraries, temples, and halls and palaces with such names as the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. Both the ships and the expeditions were enormous. Estimates of the ships’ lengths range from 385 feet (117 m) long to 440 feet (134 m) long. Some historians believe they may have been the largest wooden ships ever built.

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