Ma Huan

Ma Huan (simplified Chinese: 马欢; traditional Chinese: 馬歡; pinyin: Mǎ Huān; Wade–Giles:) 馬歡; (ca. 1380 - 1460), courtesy name Chung-dao 宗道, pen name Mountain-woodcutter, was born in Kuaiji (會稽) County (presently, part of Shaoxing City) of Zhejiang province. He was a Muslim voyager and translator who accompanied Admiral Zheng He on three of his seven expeditions to the Western Oceans. It was said he was not born Muslim, but was a Chinese who converted to Islam when he was young, and his "Ma" surname had nothing to do with Muslim ancestry. He knew several Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts. He learned Arabic to be able to translate.

In the 1413 expedition (the 3rd), he visited Champa, Java, Sumatra, Palembang, Siam, Kochi and Hormuz.

In the 1421 expedition, he visited Malacca, Aru, Sumatra, Ceylon, Kochi, Calicut, Zufar and Hormuz.

In the 1431 expedition, he visited Bengal, Chittagong, Sonargaon, Gaur, Calicut. From Calicut, he was sent by Eununch Hong Bao as emissary to Mecca.

During his expeditions, Ma Huan took notes about the geography, politics, weather conditions, environment, economy, local customs, even method of punishment for criminals. Returned home on his first expedition, he began writing a book about his expedition, the first draft of which was ready around 1416. He expanded and modified his draft during later expeditions, the final version was ready around 1451. The title of his book was Ying-yai Sheng-lan (The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores).

During the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty, there were many printed and handcopied editions. The latest authentic text of a printed version was edited and annotated by historian Feng Chen jun. A newer edition, based on Ming dynasty handcopied editions, was recently published by Ocean Publishing House in China.

An annotated English translation by J.V.G. Mills (1887–1987) was published by the Hakluyt Society in 1970, and reprinted in 1997 by The White Lotus Press in Bangkok. Mills's translation was based on the edition by Feng Cheng jun.

The Ying-yai Sheng-lan is considered by sinologists worldwide as a primary source for the history of Ming dynasty naval exploration, history of South East Asia and history of India.

Scholars who have done research work on Ma Huan: J.J.L. Duyvendak, F. Hirth, Paul Pelliot, Feng Chen jun, Xiang Da, J.V.G. Mills.

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