By Gwen McKinley
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Additional resources for A Problem in Card Shuffling, Edition: version 9 May 2015
Here, says Ma Huan, Cheng Ho’s sailors did battle, killing 5,000 pirates and taking the pirate chief back to Nanjing to be beheaded in front of the Emperor. Back in China, thousands were dying from epidemics. In 1407 the ships sailed forth again, carrying 180 doctors and pharmacists. The Chinese healers were ordered to bring back medicines such as sulfur (for lung problems) and chaulmoogra oil (for leprosy), and to consult with Arab doctors, who were at that time the best doctors in the world. Once more the ships returned after about two years, laden with medicines, spices, gems, and foreign ambassadors bearing gifts for Emperor Zhu Di.
The map shows how the Blue Nile flows from Ethiopia, and the White Nile flows from the Mountains of the Moon in central Africa (something British geographers didn’t confirm until the middle of the 19th century). The map even sketches in Scandinavia and Japan. Like the ancient Greek geographers, al-Idrisi believed that the Earth was round, and calculated its circumference to be about 37,000 kilometers (23,000 miles) — it’s actually more like 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles). The planisphere wasn’t as sophisticated as Chinese maps of the time.
Like Henry, Pedro was greedy for riches. He started to buy his own maps and send his own caravel boats down the coast of Africa, in direct competition with Henry. Then Pedro was murdered in 1449 by some nobles at Alfarrobeira. Some people whispered that Henry knew about the murder and could have prevented it. Henry certainly failed to protect his brother’s wife and children, who fled for their lives. It’s also suspicious that it took Henry five years to finally organize an elaborate funeral for Pedro.