A less Admirable Admiral A Beijing exhibition celebrating a Chinese hero relies too heavily on simplistic propaganda

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The voices of Beijing’s political propagandists echo through the National Museum of China’s exhibition to mark the 600th anniversary of the voyages of the eunuch admiral Zheng He - and some of the visitors traipsing through the museum’s cavernous halls are clearly listening.

Popular appreciation for Zheng is hardly spontaneous, however. The exhibition, now at the National Museum in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, is part of an effort to establish the 15th-century navigator as China’s newest national hero.

”Through this visit I have discovered that Chinese people are really something! I’m proud! So proud!” wrote a recent visitor in the comments book, a well thumbed tome on a small table by the exhibition shop. “Zheng He established for us a bridge of friendship between China and other countries,” wrote another. “I truly thank and admire him.”

In part, such praise reflects Zheng’s achievements. From 1405 to 1433 he led fleets, each of up to 240 ships and 28,000 men, on seven voyages of diplomacy, commerce, politics and discovery to south- east Asia, the Indian Ocean and Africa.

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