On 8 March 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China. The ships, some nearly five hundred feet long, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di's loyal eunuch admirals. Their mission was "to proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas" and unite the world in Confucian harmony. Their journey would last for over two years and take them around the globe.But by the time the fleet returned home, Zhu Di had lost control and China was beginning its long, self-imposed isolation from the world it had so recently embraced. And so these great ships rotted at their moorings and the records of their extraordinary journey were destroyed. And with them, the knowledge that the Chinese had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan, reached America 70 years before Columbus, and Australia 350 years before Cook.The result of over 15 years research, this is Gavin Menzies' account of the voyage of the emperor's fleet, the remarkable discoveries he made and the incontrovertible evidence to support them: ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and the later European navigators, as well as the artefacts the fleet left in its wake - from sunken junks to the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, giving thanks to Shao Lin, goddess of the sea.