potrait of Zheng He
Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) was born in Kunyang, Yunnan (present-day Jinning County, Kunming) around 1371 AD, the fourth year of the Hongwu reign period (1371 AD) of the Ming Dynasty. He was originally surnamed Ma, and later was known as San Bao (Three Treasures). Raised a Muslim, Zheng He started to study the teachings of Islam at an early age. Both Zheng He's father and grandfather had made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and so were quite familiar with distant lands. Listening to his father and grandfather's stories, the young Zheng He developed a consuming curiosity about the outside world. Zheng He's father's direct character and altruistic nature also made a lasting impression on the boy.
Zheng He was captured by Ming Dynasty forces duringt their defeat of the remnants of the Yuan Dynasty in Yunnan, around 1381 AD. He was taken to Nanjing, where he was made an eunuch in the imperial service. He was then sent to Beiping (present-day Beijing) to serve in the palace of Zhu Di, the Prince of Yan, fourth son of the Ming Emperor.
Zheng He's birthplace, Kunming, Yunnan