Yongle was the third emperor of the Chinese Ming dynasty, which flourished from 1368 to 1644; he is one of the most famous and celebrated Chinese emperors and his reign, which began in 1403 and lasted for 21 years, provided a time in which people lived in peace, trade thrived, the arts flourished, and China was promoted to being the richest, strongest and most advanced state on the Earth. It was Yongle who moved the Chinese capital from Naxying to Beijing, where it has stayed ever since, and built there the Forbidden City, for himself and the rest of his court to live in.
Unlike many previous Chinese emperors, Yongle was interested in the other people and civilisations of the world, and the countries that lay beyond the seas; he initiated a series of grand naval expeditions and under the command of the famous admiral Zheng He, Chinese ships sailed to Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Calicut in India, and finally to Mogadishu and Malink in Africa. Once, the Chinese ships brought back a giraffe from Africa and, unfamiliar with this strange animal, the sailors thought it to be a ‘gilin’ – a mythical beast only seen when a sage is on the throne; yet the Emperor Yongle declared that this was impossible, the animal could not be a gilin as he was not a sage.
It is recorded that the giraffe continued to live happily in the palace gardens for many years.
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