China's Great Armada

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The Esala Perahera procession is led by thousands of dancers wearing medieval court dress and traditional costumes.
This faded mural of Zheng He is painted on the wall of a park dedicated to him in his hometown of Kunyang, in Yunnan province. Though there is renewed interest in his exploits in China, he was virtually forgotten there for 600 years.
Zheg's ships brought home at least one giraffe, a gift for the emperor.
Another precious Indonesian commodity, sulfur, is still mined from active volcanic vents in Ijen Volcano, East Java, Indonesia.
At the peak of the Datak Chachar festival, the procession of penitents, skin punctured with fishhooks, passes through Malacca.
Peak of Interest
The gravity-defying leaps and lightning quick swordwork of Kalaripayatta mimic the movements of animals.
Though many women in Yemen shroud themselves completely in black , colorful head scarves and veils (hejab) are often seen in the markets.
Sailing along Swahili
This 31,000-ton stone monument, commissioned by Emperor Zhu Dhi to honor his father, never stood and still lies where it was cut, as no one, not even the overly ambitious emperor was able to move it.
A tourist stands on the edge of Hainan Island China's southernmost point, considered to be the "end of the civilized world," by the emperor of the middle kingdom.
Zheng He was born in a small farming village like this one along the shores of Diandi Lake in Yunnan, a 30 day walk from the ocean.
Growing up amidst the terraced rice paddies of the landlocked province of Yunnan, Zheng He went on to become China's greatest seafaring explorer
Rice planters work in Xiao, a Mongolian village like Zheng He's birthplace of Kunyang.
The people of Xiao are Muslim, as was Zheng He. Here a villager takes his ducks for a walk.
Zheng He, growing up among people like these villagers washing vegetables in an irrigation canal, did not seem destined for fame.
Tobacco, here drying on poles after harvesting is the major cash-crop, other than rice in Yunnan.
Tobacco, here drying on poles after harvesting is the major cash-crop, other than rice in Yunnan.
In the Mongolian tradition elders stay at home to care for the children.
Yunnan, remains China's most ethnically diverse province, home to 25 different Ethnic groups. Zheng He was of Central Asian descent. His original name was Ma He, Ma being a derivative of Mohammed.
The imperial tea gardens in Hangzhou still produce China's most precious teas. Zheng He helped spread the culture of tea around the world.
 A woman boils silk cocoons to separate the threads.
A silk farmer spreads lime over worms feeding on mulberry leaves.
Hangzhou still produces the finest silk cloth, one of Zheng He's most prized items and still in worldwide demand today.
Newly dyed cotton dries in the traditional way. Indigo dyeing was invinted by the Chinese in the Han dynasty.
Hot was is applied to cotton fabric in designs and patterns and then dipped in dye. Here a worker scrapes wax off the dyed cotton.
The famed blue and white porcelain from the ancient kilns at Jigdezhen is still produce by hand.
The famed blue and white porcelain from the ancient kilns at Jingdezhen is still produced by hand.
The porcelain glaze is applied by hand, the final step before firing in the kilns.
 Herbal medicines have always been high on the list of Chinese trade goods. Zheng he brought 180 doctors and pharpacologists aboard his ships to collect medicines.
Zheng He may have passed nets like these on his way to the South China Sea.
Aquaculture in China, here in Maluan Bay, was described by Marco Polo in the 13th century.
The last  rays  of the day are reflected in oyster beds off Xiamen.
Women do the dirty work of harvesting the oysters.
 At sunrise on the China Sea, off Meizhou Island, fishermen bring their catches to market.
The catch is so paltry that chopsticks are used to pick out the edible fish.
Zheng he recruited thousands from this area long the coasts of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Fujan to build and sail the ships of this immense trading fleet.
The descendents of Zheng He's crews on Hainan Island clean their catch, working in much the same way as their ancestors did 600 years ago.
The descendents of Zheng He's crews on Hainan Island clean their catch, working in much the same way as their ancestors did 600 years ago.
These are the last of the wooden junks on Hainan Island, as China banned the use of wood as a building material for fishing boats in 2001. Zheng He sailed on ships eight times the size of this one. .
China's largest fishing fleet sails from Hainan. Zheng He commanded a fleet of 300 ships of varying sizes, with the largest measuring up to 400 feet in lenght.
Zhu Di moved his capital from Nanjing 600 miles north to Beijing, at a huge cost.
Forbidden City Beijing
The Forbidden City
In springtime, fishermen line the bank of the moat that surrounds the Forbidden City.
Early morning exercise atop Coal Hill, the highest point in Beijing, said to be built on the ruins of the Mongols' palace.
 A Beijing Opera actress powders up before applying her make-up.
The actors and actresses of the Opera are responsible for their own make-up, which can take hours to apply.
The actors and actresses of the Opera are responsible for their own make-up, which can take hours to apply.
With Zheng He's many stops in India, this Chinese art form may have influenced the development of the equally elaborate Kathakali drama there.