Studying Non-Western Explorers: Studying Zheng He’s Voyages through Images

Target audience and setting
The target group for these lessons is a 10th grade World History class during their unit focusing on the Age of Exploration


Our history classrooms give a lot of airtime for the well-known European explorers, Columbus, Pizzaro, Henry the Navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, and others. However, another notable explorer who often receives less attention is China’s Zheng He. He sailed throughout Southeast Asia, Arabia, and the Middle East for Ming Dynasty China with an enormous fleet of 300 ships (some over 400 feet long) and 28,000 people. This impressive voyage took place nearly 100 years before Columbus’ three ships stumbled upon the shores of the America’s.

This voyage is interesting to contrast with the later European explorers by looking at the sheer size of Zheng He’s fleet and how the nature of his voyages were both similar and different from European colonizers. The goal of this lesson will be for students to analyze the expedition of Zheng He and interpret images to determine the significance of Zheng He’s fleet.


To introduce this lesson, I will show a short presentation and providing background information on the voyages of Zheng He. Following the video, I will present students with a few primary source image documents and divide them into breakout rooms. Students will be able to analyze the images to answer questions about them in a Google Form about their significance.

Resources for learning
Zheng He PBS World Explorers: Link
Google form: Link

Delivery considerations
This lesson will be delivered remotely using Google Slides featuring Nearpod add-ons and Google Forms. This strategy will allow the lesson to be interactive in a remote setting.

Image Sources:’s_painting_of_a_giraffe_and_its_attendant.jpg