Throughout this time, the light of the Empire spread throughout the world. Innumerable diplomatic missions were dispatched to the four directions, and a constant stream of embassies seeking trade agreements and bearing all manner of gifts were received at court. Ambassadors were dispatched to suborn usurpers who threatened the empire’s allies.
Only the Empire’s relationship with the Shogun of Japan was a continuing cause of frustration. The mission that the Yong Le Emperor sent there in the seventeenth year of his reign was turned back. In the meantime, Japanese bandits were again plaguing the Empire’s coasts, capturing ships and even attacking and sacking towns on China’s coast. Accordingly, the Yong Le Emperor had the most vulnerable towns evacuated and increased his naval forces there. This tactic was successful. Many pirates were killed, and their boats commandeered or destroyed. But regardless of their losses, the Japanese persisted in their depredations.
Cheng Ho’s return from Africa with the Great Star Raft fleet more than compensated for this annoyance. His ships were again laden with a vast assemblage of valuable and wonderful things, and the lions, leopards, dromedaries, ostriches, zebras, rhinos, antelopes, and giraffes pleased the Emperor enormously. They were soon housed in his zoo where he went to examine them daily.
In the same period, the army’s diligence and discipline kept all the Empire’s borders secure and the only Vietnam required constant and costly military intervention.
In the sixteenth through the eighteenth years of his reign, the Yong Le Emperor continued to strengthen the heart of the Empire by improving the educational system and by publishing the texts on which all teachings would be based.
In the sixteenth year of his reign, the Emperor had printed a book which he compiled himself and in which he appended numerous commentaries and poems. The book was entitled Compassionate Actions Do Not Seek Reward. And recounts the lives of one hundred and sixty-five people who embodied the highest standards and consideration for others in their application of Confucian Teachings, Buddhist precepts or Daoist purity. In the Introduction, the Emperor wrote:
“In The Book of Documents, it is stated that those who act compassionately without seeking reward or praise are protected and blessed by Heaven itself. When a person acts virtuously or gives to others according to their need and takes no account of receiving anything in return, Heaven, which governs all beneath the sky, responds like an echo to a chime. The virtues of such people resound forever and continue to aid those who call out to them."