In 1405, Zheng He was appointed as Principal Envoy leading a huge fleet of 62 ships and 7,800 sailors leaving Nanjing on its first voyage to carry out a royal mission to the Western Ocean. Up to 1433, Zheng He led 7 missions across the Western Ocean. He landed in 39 Asian and African countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Iran, Maldive Archipelago, South Yemen, Somalia, and Arabia.
Zheng He’s expeditions to the Western Ocean constituted the greatest event and achievement in the 15th century and contributed towards the cause of navigation by opening up the sea routes and produced the most important chart at the time – the Zheng He Navigation Map. The expeditions by him promoted trade and cultural relations between China and the Western Countries.
As early as 1349, Wang Dayuan, a Chinese traveler, referred to Keppel Harbour Straits as Longyamen (Dragon’s Teeth Straits) as it was marked by two granite outcrops which reminded Wang of the mythical dragon’s teeth, which he described as: “The Strait runs between the two hills of the Dan(4)ma(3)xi(1) (淡马锡) barbarians, which look like “dragon’s teeth…”.
Although there were no records of Zheng He setting foot on Singapore shores, dotted lines on his navigational maps passing through Pedra Branca and Longyamen may have been the route he took during one of his expeditions. In fact, Ma Huan, Zheng He’s Arabic translator and Fei Xin who joined as a scribe, wrote about the passage he made inside the Dragon’s Teeth Straits. Studies of earlier 16th century navigational charts clearly shows the waterway past Tanjong Berlayar and Tanjong Pagar to have been one of the two designated passages from the Straits of Malacca to the South China Sea. In the mid-19th Century, the British destroyed the Long Ya Men and surrounding outcrops to widen the channel for larger vessels to sail through.
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