- Since June this year, a broad spectrum of events has been presented under the Singapore Zheng He 600th Anniversary Celebrations commemorating Zheng He’s maiden voyage to the South Seas. This occasion was also celebrated by our neighbours in the region like Malaysia and Indonesia. These celebrations demonstrate the strong influences that Zheng He left in the region and the importance of Singapore’s position along the vital sea lane between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. This is a reminder of how interconnected we already were 600 years ago.
Zheng He 600th Anniversary Celebration
- The Zheng He Celebration, under the auspices of the Zheng He Advisory Committee and Central Coordinating Committee, comprises events like the Festive Village, the musical Admiral’s Odyssey by Action Theatre and the “Zheng He and Maritime Asia Symposium and Exhibition” by the National Library Board, which will be on until February next year. We also have a new travel book “Zheng He and the Treasure Fleet” by SNP International Publishing, as well as special commemorative items by Singapore Mint and Singapore Post.
- Today, we are here for the final event of the Zheng He Celebrations – to view the recreated Long Ya Men or Dragon’s Teeth Gate.
Singapore’s Link with Zheng He’s Voyages – The Long Ya Men
- Existing records show that Zheng He’s ships did not stop at Singapore, or Temasek as the island was known then. However, we do know that all his seven voyages passed through the Straits of Singapore.
- Historians and academics have generally accepted that the original Long Ya Men was indeed located in Singapore. It served as a navigational marker used by the Ming and Qing Dynasty sailors and was documented in the Zheng He navigational map which appeared in the famous historical maritime annal, Wu(3) Bei(4) Zhi(4) (武备志).
- Research by the late C.A. Gibson-Hill, a very renowned and respected historian and curator, who was Director of the Raffles Museum in 1950s, supports this. In his well-researched thesis, “Singapore Old Straits and New Harbour: 1300 – 1870”, published in 1956, he gave detailed descriptions of Long Ya Men and suggested that Long Ya Men was Keppel Harbour Straits which was bordered at its western entrance by two hills that looked like dragons’ teeth. Not long ago, Mr Chung Chee Kit, President of the Friends of the Zheng He Society also wrote a research paper to support this view, using ancient Chinese pilot directories and modern navigational charts as his points of reference.
- In 1848, the British blew the Long Ya Men up to widen the gateway into the harbour channel. As part of the 600th anniversary celebration, we have built this symbolic replica of the Dragon’s Teeth Gate in celebration of Singapore’s maritime history. Although a replica, it represents the Long Ya Men which is an important part of Singapore’s maritime history that we should safeguard for future generations. I am sure it will also be of interest to tourists, particularly those from the region who are familiar with the celebrated mariner.
The 1421 Exhibition
- Run in parallel with the official Zheng He Celebration, STB is happy to have supported the 1421 Exhibition, a collaboration between Pico and Gavin Menzies. Given that this exhibition and Gavin Menzies’ story have generated a fair amount of controversy in the press lately, I would just add a few words here.
- Many of you would know that Gavin Menzies’ book, “1421: The Year China Discovered The World” was on many best seller lists all over the world when it was launched in 2002. Today, the book is on sale in 100 countries throughout the world. Four major television documentaries in English, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese have been made about the book and broadcast to a further 45 countries. In Singapore alone, 15,000 copies have been sold.
- We are aware that many mainstream historians rejected Menzies’ claims. It was also unlikely that Zheng He’s voyages across the Atlantic and Pacific could have been so completely ignored in the Chinese recording of dates, historic events and geographical places. But Menzies’ imaginative story in 1421 made for an interesting read and the exhibition could have been a potential attraction to visitors given the popularity of 1421. It is in this spirit that the event was supported. It is by no means an endorsement of the theory expounded in the book 1421.
Summary of the Zheng He Celebrations
- In the Zheng He Celebrations, we celebrate a mariner who was larger than life. He transcended boundaries in his voyages. No country was too far or too unimportant to travel to and trade with. I feel that this element has been very aptly illustrated in events such as the 10-day Festive Village, which was a joint international celebration with seven Zheng He ports of call including China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia and Singapore.
- The global representation was also seen in the musical The Admiral’s Odyssey which featured talents from all over the world. Incidentally, for those of you who missed out on the musical, all is not lost. I am pleased to inform you that the Action Theatre is considering a second run of the musical not only in Singapore but perhaps bringing it overseas as well.
- As the Zheng He Celebrations wind down to a close, I am happy to say that we have brought many people closer to this historical figure through our various events and activities. No doubt, the Celebrations added much vibrancy to our June through August calendar of events. More than 20,000 first-day covers were snapped up, not counting the many Zheng He stamps and other souvenirs that were bought for private collection.
- In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to our partners in the Celebration, our official sponsors Neptune Orient Lines, Keppel Corporation, Lee Foundation and the Chinatown Business Association and our official media partner, Lianhe Zaobao, for their kind support. My special thanks also go to the National Parks Board for providing the land on which the recreated Long Ya Men is standing.
- Last but not least, I would like to thank my fellow members in the Zheng He Central Co-ordinating Committee. Without their invaluable time, advice and expertise, we would not have been able to pull these Celebrations together. Thank you.
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