Reviews

Of Zheng He we have heard so much that we might feel overfed or at least uninterested with the matter.  Heroes should always be looked at suspiciously, still more when they are made up by a Communist state—the People’s Republic of China in our case.  And, still more suspiciously, if possible, when one becomes a Chinese “ethnic” Muslim hero.  This does not prevent indeed the character, viz. a genuine hero, the Emperor’s Chinese Muslim eunuch and favourite, to arouse our curiosity.  We knew of his fabulous expeditions, of his seven great journeys, of his deeds unique in his time.  In her article, F. Aubin leads us through a detective story that keeps us to the last line on the alert.  A highly scientific, deep and thorough bibliographical research supports every stage of a “wonderful” story with no long halting-place, since each of its steps leads to more wonders.  The story begins with a young boy of eleven years, who that same fatal year endures the loss of his father, of his freedom, and of his sexual attributes.  Brought to the court, he will never see his native Yunnan.  Though he rapidly gains favour and glory, and brings more fame, if possible, to the Emperor and to the young Ming dynasty.  It is well known that Zheng He was Chinese, and a Muslim like his father and grand-father.  But what were the true origins of his family?  Why was the Emperor so fond of him?  What about Zheng He’s respect, or more, for Buddhism, for the Goddess of the Sea?  Why did China delay so much boasting of such a figurehead?  Even more intriguing, why did Chinese Muslims delay even more claiming his Islamic identity, recognised after national honours had been rendered to him by the state?  The enigma will not be elucidated here:  Some of its keys are to be found in the article.  Some of them only, since the story is still far from end.  Many shadowy corners remain to be brought in full light.  Meanwhile, the readers will discover a lot in the present narrative, in Yunnan, in Shaanxi, along earlier centuries, up to the Central Asia roots of Chinese Islam, up to the Prophet Muhammed himself.   They will also be brought by Françoise Aubin till nowadays, in Great Britain for a new, if not true, story of the discovery of the seas, in Canada where a Canadian Muslim, of Chinese origin claims descent from the first Emperor of the Ming dynasty.  This very same dynasty which deprived Zheng He of his free life, but allowed him to become the fabulous adventurer, making him a hero for ever.  As we just told you, the story is not over.

Constance-Hélène Halfon-Michel, Paris
CER: I-5.3.E-501