Where expedition starts
Water flows calmly where the Liuhe River merges with Yangtze River in Taicang, East China's Jiangsu province. Fields of green rice lie beside the waters and bird fly lazily overhead.
Eyeing the idyllic scenery, one may find it difficult to imagine China's naval expeditions, led by Zheng He (1371-1433), all started here. The place, called Liujiagang, was the "No 1 Port Under the Heaven" in documents from the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644).
Between 1405 and 1433, the Ming emperor sponsored seven expeditions, all starting from Liujiagang. Fleets visited Brunei, Java, Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, India, the Horn of Africa, and Arabia.
Liujiagang is still a port, but only on the YangtzeRiver. It isno longer a seaport. Liuhe River re-routed more than a century ago, leading to the port's decline.
It is better known as a wetland, with large areas of reeds as well as impressive sunrises and sunsets. It is a favorite place for photographers and birdwatchers, who visit the area looking for swans, wild geese and eagles.
The main relic of the naval expeditions is the Mazu Temple, which stands about two kilometers from the wetland. Zheng He and his officers prayed in the temple to Mazu, Chinese goddess of the sea, before each expedition.
The size of the temple has greatly shrunk, but one can still see a century-old hall for the goddess. The hall features four pillars from the Ming Dynasty, carved out of the rare silkwood.
The main recording of Zheng He's expeditions was a stone stele that included his major destinations. However, the stele disappeared during the wars in the early 20th century. A replica was erected in the palace when the 580th anniversary of the first expedition was celebrated in 1985.
The town where Liujiagang is seated, called Liu He, is famous for its delicacies - all kinds of fishes and shells - from the Yangtze River and the sea. Many residents of the neighboring Shanghai enjoy spending a weekend in the town.
Mazu Temple where prayers were held before naval expeditions in the 15th century. Provided To China Daily