For four years, he fought on the side of Prince Zhu Di and accompanied him in numerous battles throughout China. He was a linchpin in Zhu Di’s imperial power. In 1404, Zheng He he was promoted to Great Eunuch. The Yongle Emperor appointed him commander of a great treasure fleet and more than twenty thousand men. Zheng HeAt thirty-five, he had the highest rank of all eunuchs in Chinese history.
The fleet left Nanjing in the fall of 1405. The army of Zheng He He left for Calicut, located on the west coast of India. It was the first of seven expeditions that Zheng He led from 1405 to 1432. Over the years, he traveled to many areas including Indonesia, Malaysia, Siam, India, Yemen, Somalia, Keyna, and Saudi Arabia. He traded and made numerous diplomatic contacts during these expeditions.
The Yongle Emperor died in 1424. At that time, Zheng He He had already completed six voyages and had brought many emissaries from various lands to meet the emperor. However, these expeditions were very expensive for the Chinese treasure. The Yongle Emperor’s eldest son, Zhu Gaozhi, became the Hongxi Emperor. In the ninth month of his reign, the emperor stopped all repairs and construction of the treasure fleet due to expense. The emperor wanted to spend the money to fight the Mongols and to feed the people of the provinces who were suffering from famine.
The Hongxi Emperor ceased to exist in 1426. The new ruler was Emperor Xuande and he made the decision to send Zheng He and his fleet once more. In 1432, when Zheng He was sixty-one, he set out with one of his largest fleets for his last sea voyage across the Indian Ocean. He sailed to Malindi, off the Kenyan coast, stopping at many commercial ports along the way. Zheng He died on the return voyage in 1433 at the age of 61-62 as his fleet sailed east from Calicut. They let him rest at sea, and legend has it that the crew returned to Nanjing, with a piece of his braid and shoes, for a funeral on land.