Zheng He: The First Chinese in Africa


The narrative that we have heard is that Vasco da Gama was the first person to come to Africa. He may have been the first European but, certainly not the first non African person to come to the continent. Archaeological evidence that has been discovered corroborates the written historical records in China as well as oral tradition from Somalia in East Africa to the Mozambican Channel. The records show that Zheng He was the first non African person to visit the continent of Africa.

Written accounts in China indicate that Zheng He was born in 1371, during the final days of the Mongolian dynasty. The Ming dynasty invaded his home territory, castrated him and he became a eunuch in the Ming army. Zheng possessed extraordinary talents in war strategy, skill and diplomacy which won him favor with the Emperor.  He was appointed to oversee the construction of 3500 ships for the expansion of the Ming dynasty’s expeditions.

Zheng He was selected to lead the voyages to the Western Oceans. In 1413, Zheng led a voyage of 32,000 to Somalia, Kenya and eventually reached Mozambique.

The Chinese who came in the 15th century left some people on the African island of Pate off the coast of Kenya. The Chinese brought silk and porcelain in exchange for giraffes, ivory, medicine. A sunken ship was excavated which validates this account and many 15th century Chinese coins have been discovered in Africa. The Chinese accounts reflected their racist views towards Africans, describing Africans as lacking virtues.

Even though trade with China has increased tremendously in the last few years, it is evident that Chinese people first came to the African continent many centuries ago. In the 21st century, the Chinese are buying many raw materials from Africa but selling inferior manufactured goods to Africans.