The great maritime feats of the Ming Dynasty admiral Zheng He may have been achieved six centuries earlier by a Tang Dynasty diplomat, according to a recent TV program aired by China Shaanxi Broadcasting Corp.
Widely recognized as the greatest admiral of ancient China, Zheng is listed among the world's foremost pioneers in maritime history for the series of expeditions that saw Chinese ships sail to far-flung destinations including the coastal territories and islands in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and beyond between 1405 and 1433.
According to the TV program, a recent study of a stele inscribed with more than 1,000 words on the achievements of Yang Liangyao throughout his career in diplomacy during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) showed that Yang may have made the same journey as Zheng He six centuries earlier.
The stele was first discovered in the 1980s in Shaanxi province's Jingyang county, at a site believed to be Yang's tomb. Last year, a structure believed to be the stele's base was discovered at a nearby village, giving researchers more clues to dig deeper.
Researchers found that the inscriptions contain accounts of a journey by a fleet commanded by Yang, who sailed across the Western Pacific Ocean, through the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean to reach the Abbasid Caliphate, now modern day Iraq.
Inscriptions on the stele stated that when Yang reached the fertile crescent between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, he had ordered to have his ships anchored before continuing the journey by land to the Abbasid Caliphate capital, modern-day Baghdad.
A Shaanxi official said that during the Tang Dynasty, China had maintained close ties with the Middle East partly due to the bustling trade over the "maritime silk road," and that the latest findings gleaned from the stele provides valuable details on the far-reaching voyages by diplomats during the era.