A Legacy of The Great Admiral

Asia, Indonesia

The Statue of Zheng He in Front of Sam Poo Kong Temple

In the early 15th century when Ming dynasty ruled China, The Yongle Emperor sponsored seven expeditions of unprecedented naval fleet to impress other nations across the Indian Ocean and control trade in the region. The great expedition, however, was commanded by Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch who had proven his allegiance to the new emperor. On his expeditions, Admiral Zheng He supplied the vessels with various goods such as gold, silver, porcelain and silk to be dispensed along the way. In return he received some exotic presents such as a giraffe, zebras, ostriches, camels and ivory from the Swahili in East Africa.

Generally all the expeditions commanded by Zheng He were conducted peacefully since diplomacy was his preferred way to interact with other nations. However he occasionally used the military power to suppress pirates who had long plagued the Chinese and Southeast Asian waters. His successful effort to crush piracy in the region had positively raised his image among regional kingdoms.

Once upon a time when Zheng He’s fleet cruised around the northern coast of Java, some of the crews fell sick. Then the admiral commanded his fleet to anchor at a place which is now part of modern-day Semarang. At this particular place, apart from curing his crews by using herbs gathered in the area, he found a small cave inside a rock and did his prayer there. Purportedly, the admiral’s arrival to Java, among other things, had helped spread Islam to the local people.

In the early 18th century, long after Zheng He’s visit to Semarang, a temple was constructed at the site of the cave. The temple was then aptly named Gedung Batu (Stone Building) after the cave. Having been owned by several different people and withstood turbulent times during Japanese occupation, political upheavals and economic recession, the temple compound underwent a major renovation in the 2000s which coincides with the commemoration of 600 years of Zheng He’s visit to Semarang.

Admiral Zheng He

Currently, Gedung Batu is located within a larger compound called Sam Poo Kong which houses several temples, with Gedung Batu as the largest one. The entire compound’s architecture combines Chinese and Javanese traditional features painted in the auspicious bright red and ubiquitously adorned with statues from Chinese mythology.

The Main Temple

A Guardian Lion

Chinese Lanterns

Carved Columns

Cascading Roofs of The Main Temple

Animals-Adorned Roof Tips

Some of The Animals at The Roof Tip

Other Angle

Sitting next to the main temple, two smaller temples which were built years after the construction of Gedung Batu emanate distinctive fragrance of burned incense sticks. The one which flanks the main temple is called Juru Mudi temple after the tomb of Wang Jinghong, one of Zheng He’s trusted deputies in his expeditions across the oceans. Another temple in the compound is dedicated for the sacred anchor which used to be a part of Zheng He’s fleet, while the other smaller temple houses the weapons of Zheng He.

Venerated by both Muslims and Buddhists, Chinese and Javanese, Zheng He and Sam Poo Kong Temple have played a major role in the history of the people of Semarang. Today the entire compound is now one of the most visited places in this beloved hometown of mine.

The Smaller Temples

Statues of The Elders (or Deities)

Burned Incense Sticks

The Entire Compound

Related Post: A Place Called Home

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

24 thoughts on “A Legacy of The Great Admiral”

  1. Pingback: A Place Called Home « What an Amazing World!

  2. raisealittleelle says:

    Those columns are amazing! I think I would have stared for hours, lol.


    • I love the columns too! The way they line up makes the entire row a very nice thing to be taken pictures of.


  3. Lu says:

    I’m also thoroughly impressed with those carved columns – truly inspirational.
    Lovely photographs, Bama – I enjoyed this post 🙂


  4. How interesting! That temple looks almost new! The roof decoration appears more realistic than the Beijing ones. Had no idea about Zheng HE having landed in Indonesia!! Thanks for sharing!


    • The new look is probably the result of the renovation almost a decade ago. Yes, Zheng He landed in Indonesia. In fact, from some references that I read, he visited Java four times (out of his seven expeditions across the Indian Ocean). Thanks for reading, Madhu!


  5. Wow Bama, I had no idea that Zheng He was such an important figure in Semarang’s history. The temple looks quite modern – you can almost tell it’s in Southeast Asia!


    • Local people know him as Cheng Ho (just a matter of variation in pronunciation). I think in people’s mind when they’re asked about three words which describe Semarang they will be: Old Dutch buildings, The foods (particularly Lumpia, similar to spring rolls) and Cheng Ho!
      Yes indeed the temple itself was extensively renovated a few years ago, and the photos which I took somehow make me think of Penang in Malaysia. It’s quite weird because I’ve never been there, but you probably got it right. Both places are in Southeast Asia, hence the similarity (or so I think).


      • Looks like I’ll have to pay Semarang a visit, it seems to be quite the meeting point of cultures! I was in Penang once, a long long time ago. The only thing I really remember is the airport, the tallest building and an old colonial fort. Perhaps someday I’ll go back and blog about it!


      • I hope Semarang will be ready to welcome you when you go there! A friend of mine is visiting Penang in early May. I’ll anticipate some pictures of his after he returns home. When I find them appealing, I might go there soon considering how close it is from Indonesia.


    • Man, please let me know if you’re going to Semarang. I’ll be happy to show you around (just be prepared for the hot and humid air, though).


  6. Wow, great shots! Like in Jackie Chan films!! ^^

    You know, Asian culture has always attracted me…I find it so misterious, ancestral and magical. All the temples, monuments, the history hidden in them… It inspires me a lot of respect and admiration.


    • Hi Javi! The way you think of Asian cultures is pretty much the same with the way I think of European cultures. 🙂
      By the way I have just returned from a trip to a ‘magical’ place in North Sumatra, Indonesia. I’ll be writing the stories very soon.


    • Thanks Dustin! I always bring my Canon EOS 500D every where I travel. It’s not the best camera but so far I’m quite satisfied with it. But actually one day I want to upgrade it to a better one.


  7. Pingback: A Taste of Home « What an Amazing World!

  8. Pingback: Silk, spice and pirates | Plus Ultra

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