Primary Source

Excerpt from the Memoirs of Ma Huan


This excerpt is from the memoir of Ma Huan (1380-1460), a Chinese Muslim voyager and translator, who accompanied Admiral Zheng He on three of his seven voyages. The excerpt focuses on their time in Calicut (modern day Kozhikode, India) in the 1430s and highlights aspects of their experiences there. In this excerpt Ma Huan describes religious practices of Muslims and Hindus (who he mistakenly refers to as Buddhists), and trading practices of various groups in the area.

This source is a part of the Trade and Religion in the Indian Ocean Network, 1100-1500 teaching module.


THE COUNTRY OF KU-LI [ CALICUT] [This is] the great country of the Western Ocean. Setting sail from the anchorage in the country of Ko-chih, you travel north-west, and arrive [here] after three days. The country lies beside the sea. [Travelling] east from the mountains for five hundred, or seven hundred, li, you make a long journey through to the country of K’an-pa-i. On the west [the country of Ku-li] abuts on the great sea; on the south it joins the boundary of the country of Ko-chih; [and] on the north side it adjoins the territory of the country of Hen-nu-erh. ‘The great country of the Western Ocean’ is precisely this country. In the fifth year of the Yung-lo [period] the court ordered the principal envoy the grand eunuch Cheng Ho and others to deliver an imperial mandate to the king of this country and to bestow on him a patent conferring a title of honour, and the grant of a silver seal, [also] to promote all the chiefs and award them hats and girdles of various grades. [So Cheng Ho] went there in command of a large fleet of treasure-ships, and he erected a tablet with a pavilion over it and set up a stone which said ‘ Though the journey from this country to the Central Country is more than a hundred thousand li, yet the people are very similar, happy and prosperous, with identical customs. We have here engraved a stone, a perpetual declaration for ten thousand ages. The king of the country is a Nan-k’un man; he is a firm believer in the Buddhist religion; [and] he venerates the elephant and the ox. The population of the country includes five classes, the Muslim people, the Nan-k’un people, the Che-ti people, the Ko-ling people, and the Mu-kuapeople. The king of the country and the people of the country all refrain from eating the flesh of the ox. The great chiefs are Muslim people; [and] they all refrain from eating the flesh of the pig. Formerly there was a king who made a sworn compact with the Muslim people, [saying] ‘You do not eat the ox; I do not eat the pig; we will reciprocally respect the taboo’; [and this compact] has been honoured right down to the present day.
The chief and the Che-ti, with his excellency the eunuch, all join hands together, and the broker then says ‘ In such and such a moon on such and such a day, we have all joined hands and sealed our agreement with a hand-clasp; whether [the price] be dear or cheap, we will never repudiate it or change it.’ After that, the Che-ti and the men of wealth then come bringing precious stones, pearls, corals, and other such things, so that they may be examined and the price discussed; [this] cannot be settled in a day; [if done] quickly, [it takes] one moon; [if done] slowly, [it takes] two or three moons.’ Once the money-price has been fixed after examination and discussion, if a pearl or other such article is purchased, the price which must be paid for it is calculated by the chief and the Wei-no-chi who carried out the original transaction; [and] as to the quantity of the hemp-silk or other such article which must be given in exchange for it, goods are given in exchange according to [the price fixed by] the original hand-clasp - there is not the slightest deviation. In their method of calculation, they do not use a calculating-plate; for calculating, they use only the two hands and two feet and the twenty digits on them; and they do not make the slightest mistake; [this is] very extraordinary. The king uses gold of sixty per cent [purity] to cast a coin for current use; it is named a pa-nan; the diameter of the face of each coin is three fen eight li [in terms of] our official ts’un it has lines on the face and on the reverse; [and] it weighs one fen on our official steelyard. He also makes a coin of silver; it is named a ta-erh; each coin weighs about three li; [and] this coin is used for petty transactions…


Via Prof. R. Kent Guy, University of Washington,

How to Cite This Source

"Excerpt from the Memoirs of Ma Huan," in World History Commons, [accessed February 25, 2024]