Zheng He kicks off a new ‘Famous Explorers’ silver coin series complete with inset hand painted porcelain

We’re seeing an uptick in the Mint of Poland’s impressive ancient world themed coins after months and months of Covid-induced interference, encompassing the old myths and legends of antiquity. Sometimes, amongst all the god s and fantastical beasts, we see something we like a lot here – real history. Enter ‘Famous Explorers’, a new series designed and produced by Mint of Gdansk.

Zheng He was an admiral that would feature on any historians top ten naval commanders, certainly in the field of exploration. He’d be considerably more widely known if he hadn’t had the misfortune to live between two periods of Chinese isolation from world events. A Muslim, a eunoch and a brilliant commander sailing the biggest ships in the world at the time, he has all the hallmarks of a standout figure, so hopefully, this new coin will help spread the exploits of this hugely impressive figure.

It’s as you would expect regarding the specification. one of the mints signature 2oz fine silver, antique-finished coins, employing lashings of high-relief and a rimless design. There’s a very stirring image of Zheng He on the reverse face, There’s one of the epic ‘Treasure Ships’ (Baochuan) that were used by Zheng He in the background, while the foreground is filled with an image of the man surrounded by some of the goodies he picked up. A classic pose it’s a fine choice. There’s no gilding this time, instead an inset porcelain Ming urn is placed in the face, complete with hand-painted detail.

The obverse continues the mints knack of sprucing up the simple Niue effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. She’s still there, but incorporated expertly into a wider piece of artwork showing off a mix of Chinese architecture and patterns. The coin has a mintage of 500 pieces and will come in a wooden box with a Certificate of Authenticity. As we stated earlier, we think the choice of subject is a refreshing one, eschewing the usual gods, myths and legends for a look at actual history, and it picks up plenty of brownie points for that alone. That the coin looks great and somewhat unique, is quite the bonus. Distributed by the producer, Mint of Gdansk, it’s available to order now and is expected to ship around years end, usual Covid problems aside. The first in a six-coin series planned to be released one per annum, we’re certainly looking forward to the next one.

ZHENG HE

Admiral Zheng He (aka Cheng Ho, c. 1371-1433 CE) was a Chinese Muslim eunuch explorer who was sent by the Ming dynasty emperor Yongle (r. 1403-1424 CE) on seven diplomatic missions to increase trade and secure tribute from foreign powers. Between 1405 and 1433 CE Zheng He commanded huge fleets loaded with trade goods and high-value gifts to such far-flung places as Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and Mogadishu in East Africa.

Following established sea routes but often finding himself the first ever Chinaman to land at many of his destinations, Zheng He is widely regarded as the greatest ever Chinese explorer. His travels may not have brought much success in terms of new trade or lasting tribute to the imperial court but the knowledge, ideas, and exotic goods he brought back home – from jewels to giraffes – created an interest in foreign countries and a realisation of their wealth which contributed to China’s increased role in world trade in later centuries. Even if his wake was not immediately followed, Zheng He had shown the way.

The first three voyages of Zheng He (1404, 1408 and 1409 CE) followed more established trade routes. He went via Southeast Asia, sailing down the coast of Vietnam, stopping at Sumatra and Java and then on through the Malay Archipelago and through the Straits of Malacca, crossing the eastern Indian Ocean to reach India and Sri Lanka. Zheng He’s fourth voyage in 1413 CE saw him sail to India again, once more pushing on around the southern tip of the subcontinent and visiting again Cochin and Calicut on the west coast. This time he also found time to stop off at the Maldive Islands, before crossing the Arabian Sea and reaching Hormuz on the Persian Gulf. Sailing down the coast of Arabia, he then went on to Aden and up the Red Sea to Jeddah, from where a party travelled to Mecca. A report states that 19 foreign rulers sent tributes and diplomatic missions to the emperor as a consequence of this fourth voyage.

Voyages five, six, and seven (1417, 1421, and 1431 CE) reached even further afield, landing at Mogadishu, Malindi, and Mombassa, all on the coast of East Africa. Zheng He is the first attested Chinese to visit the Swahili coast. The ruler of Mogadishu was responsive and did send an embassy to Yongle, and even distant Zanzibar was reached by Zheng He’s fleet.

Zheng He, like many great explorers before and since, died in the middle of an expedition, his seventh voyage. The great admiral died in Calicut in 1433 CE, and his body was returned to China for burial in Nanjing.

Cartwright, M. (2019, February 07). The Seven Voyages of Zheng He. Ancient History Encyclopedia. https://www.ancient.eu/article/1334/

SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION $5 NZD (Niue)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 62.2 grams
DIMENSIONS 45.0 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS Ultra high-relief, Coloured porcelain insert
MINTAGE 500
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes
MINT OF GDANSK