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This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in International Communication of Chinese Culture. The final authenticated version is available online at:


Zheng He was a eunuch of Moslem family heritage who held great authority early in the Ming Dynasty, primarily under the Yongle emperor (reign: 1402–24), as he led seven maritime expeditions, of which three reached the eastern coast of Africa. Of recent English language projects on Zheng He, Henry Tsai (1996) explores the context of the eunuchs of the Ming Dynasty in defining Zheng He’s work, and Edward Dreyer (2007) and Timothy Brook (2010) portray Zheng He within the context of the Chinese tributary system. However, other images also hold power over the Western imagination: Louise Levathes (1994) portrays Zheng He’s travels as trade missions and Gavin Menzies’s popularized Zheng He (2002) is first and foremost an explorer designed to be compared to Western explorers. While Zheng He can be partially understood through comparison to fifteenth-century Western navigators, we limit our knowledge when we identify him and his expeditions through the lens of Western traders and explorers. It is important instead to identify Zheng He within the framework of fifteenth-century Chinese history and culture. An examination of resources and methods for teaching Zheng He in an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum can serve as a case study for important issues to consider when infusing Asian Studies into undergraduate studies.