Coming soon to a cinema near you: Cheng Ho the movie!

An epic TV series based on the life of the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He), starring no less than two former Indonesian ministers! Yes, that’s the gist of the two headlines about the Cheng Ho seried currently being filmed in Bangkok. The series is a joint production between six ASEAN nations and the two ministers involved play the lead of Cheng Ho as well as an unnamed Majapahit king. Cheng Ho is somewhat of an ancient celebrity in Southeast Asia, a Muslim eunuch who commanded “treasure fleets” and travelled as far as East Africa in search of new territories and tributes. One report says that the drama is intended to reveal how Cheng Ho helped to bring Islam to Indonesia – I’m not sure how big a role Cheng Ho actually played as I am given to believe that the spread of Islam in the region was more of a result of the influence of Arab traders and sufis operating in the region.

15 August 2007 (Antara, Bernama) – An epic TV series based on the life of the Chinese Admiral Cheng Ho (Zheng He), starring no less than two former Indonesian ministers! Yes, that’s the gist of the two headlines about the Cheng Ho seried currently being filmed in Bangkok. The series is a joint production between six ASEAN nations and the two ministers involved play the lead of Cheng Ho as well as an unnamed Majapahit king. Cheng Ho is somewhat of an ancient celebrity in Southeast Asia, a Muslim eunuch who commanded “treasure fleets” and travelled as far as East Africa in search of new territories and tributes. One report says that the drama is intended to reveal how Cheng Ho helped to bring Islam to Indonesia – I’m not sure how big a role Cheng Ho actually played as I am given to believe that the spread of Islam in the region was more of a result of the influence of Arab traders and sufis operating in the region.

Ex-minister plays Admiral Cheng Ho in ASEAN film

Prof. Yusril Ihza Mahendra, former minister/state secretary, is currently in Bangkok for shooting a drama colossal film on Admiral Cheng Ho.

Yusril played the role as Admiral Cheng Ho in the film jointly produced by six member countries of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations).

The former minister told ANTARA here on Wednesday that the film having duration of 48 minutes would cost around US$3 million and involved about 6,000 actors and actresses from six ASEAN member countries.

Another former Indonesian minister, Shaifullah Yusuf, also joined the film and played as a Majapahit king.

The film would be produced in 26 episodes. The film is expected to be shown simultaneously on television stations in the six ASEAN member countries early 2008.

According to Yusril, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also supported the joint ASEAN film production. The production process being held at Kantana Studio in Bangkok has reached 30 percent, he said.

Cheng Ho was born around 1371 in China`s southwestern Yunan Province (just north of Laos) with the name Ma Ho. Ma Ho`s father was a Muslim hajji (who had made a pilgrimage to Mecca) and the family name of Ma was used by Muslims in representation of the word Mohammad.

Based on an imperial edict his first of seven or perhaps eight voyages in Asian waters took him from 1405 to 1407 to Java and Sumatra.

Two Former Ministers Turn To Acting

Two former Indonesian ministers who were ousted from the cabinet of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently are now film stars in the making.

They were enlisted in a 26-episode drama about Admiral Cheng Ho which involves about 6,000 artistes from six Asean countries.

Former State Secretary Prof Yusril Ihza Mahendra has been given the lead role as Admiral Cheng Ho.

He is now in Bangkok for the filming of the drama series along with former State Minister for Development of Backward Regions, Saifullah Yusuf who is playing the role of the Majapahit King.

Antara’s report from Bangkok quoted Yusril as saying that the drama which would have a 48-minute episode each cost US$3 million (RM10.5 million) to produce.

Yusril said the drama, currently being shot at Kantana Studio in Bangkok and already 30 per cent underway, was fully supported by President Susilo.

The drama which depicts Cheng Ho’s role in propagating Islam in Indonesia is expected to be televised simultaneously in six Asean countries by early 2008.

At the height of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, Cheng Ho led a fleet of 357 ships with 27,800 crew members.

His travels had taken him to Melaka, Sumatra, Java, India, West Asia and East Africa.

He died in 1435 while on his return journey from Africa to China and was buried in Niushou, Nanjing.


Read more about Cheng Ho’s amazing voyages throughout the ancient world, as well as the kingdom of Majapahit in:
Java in the 14th Century: A Study in Cultural History the Nagara-Kertagama by Rakawi, Prapanca of Majapahit, 1356 A.D. by R. Prapantj
The Pararaton by I Gusti Putu Phalgunadi
Zheng He by M. Yamashita
Zheng He: China and the Oceans in the Early Ming Dynasty, 1405-1433 by E. L. Dreyer and P. N. Stearns
When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433 by L. Levathes
Majapahit by J. Boisselier

What do you think about the upcoming TV series about Cheng Ho? What would you like to see in it?

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

One thought on “Coming soon to a cinema near you: Cheng Ho the movie!”

  1. Two ousted minister turn to acting, while current president busy to arrange some song. This is an artist nation!

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