The beginning of the Ming dynasty was a period in which China greatly expanded. The 3rd Ming emperor, Yung-lo, commissioned the Admiral Cheng Ho to extend Chinese influence throughout the Indian Ocean.

In 1405, Cheng Ho set sail, commanding 300 ships and 27,000 men. The fleet visited Vietnam, Siam, Java, Ceylon, and the West coast of India. Returning in 1407, Cheng made six more such voyages in the following 24 years, exploring areas of Africa and Asia not discovered by the West until almost a hundred years later.

On his fourth voyage, a Chinese mission visited Mecca and continued to Egypt. From this trip Cheng Ho brought the envoys of over 30 states to pay homage to the Chinese Emperor. After the emperor Yung-lo died foreign policy shifted, the capital was moved from Nanking to Peking in order to defend the northern borders, and the new emperor suspended naval expeditions abroad.

Cheng-ho's voyages did not lead to the establishment of trading empires like similar voyages of European merchant sailors. But, in their wake, Chinese emigration increased, resulting in vast Chinese colonization in Southeast Asia.

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