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Medieval Contact: China meets Africa

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Booming cities on the eastern coast of Africa come in contact with dynastic China in the 8th century. For centuries, rumors and sporadic contact bring the two distant worlds ever closer. Then, in the 15th century, Zheng He leads a massive expedition to Africa. This is what he saw.

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Jinyuan, G. (1984). China and Africa: The Development of Relations over Many Centuries. African Affairs. African Affairs, 83(331), 241–250.

Chirikure, S. (2014). Land and Sea Links: 1500 years of connectivity between Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Rim regions, AD 700 to 1700. African Archaeological Review, 31(4), 705–724.

Dashu, Q. (2022, April 9). An investigation of Chinese ceramics discovered in Kenya and major conclusions. ART.ZIP. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from

Levathes, L. (1994). When China ruled the seas: The treasure fleet of the dragon throne, 1405-1433. Oxford University Press.
A key secondary source for Zheng He’s voyages.

Nuwer, R. (2013, March 15). Six centuries ago, Chinese explorers left this coin behind in Africa. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from

Smidt, W. G. C. (2001). A Chinese in the Nubian and Abyssinian Kingdoms (8th century). Chroniques Yéménites, (9).

Snow, P. (1989). The Star Raft: China’s encounter with Africa. Cornell University Press.
This work provided much of the information on Chinese-African contact prior to Zheng He.

Sudnik, M. (2021, February 23). Cultural Exchange in the tang dynasty – the journey of a tomb figure. Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. Retrieved August 31, 2022, from

Tagliacozzo, E. (2022). From China to Africa: Prolegomenon. In In Asian waters: Oceanic worlds from Yemen to Yokohama (pp. 25–51). essay, Princeton University Press.


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