For years, whether Marco Polo was an “armchair traveler” has been debated among scholars, and arguments on both sides seemed to provide no concession. In order to address the research question “Was Marco Polo’s account credible?”, Group A3 extensively investigates diversified aspects including customs, religion, warfare, cultural behaviors and architectures in Chapter II of Description of the World. The research question is important because if Marco Polo is proved to have travelled the route he described, the sceneries depicted and events retraced are authentic. Due to the wanting primary sources survived from the Mongol Empire, Marco’s first-hand experience plays an imperative role in expanding the width and depth of scholars’ research on this specific historical period. However, if Marco was indeed an “armchair traveler” and his account was unreliable, scholars should objectively accept the fact and seek for other sources such as archaeological sites in order to professionally delve into the research on history of Mongol Empire. Therefore, the following research aims to address the research question with endeavors to maintain an objective lens.

Beren will introduce Marco’s description of Tartars’ custom during Mongol rule. This topic is important because though specific customs would definitely vary from a certain city to the other along Marco’s journey to Da Yuan, the overview about Tartars’ lives given by Marco is worth analyzing. I will come to conclusion that the possible existence of inconsistency between Marco’s word and other sources might support the claim that Marco never came to China in person. Specifically, the vivid narrations reflecting the basic nomadic life of Tartars lead one to conclude that no obvious wrong message was provided among the information given by Marco. Descriptions like military-administration organization arrangement and fighting tactics are essential parts of Tartars’ life and Marco excelled in presenting them in his words. However, it is not sufficient to claim that this section provides sufficient evidence that suggesting Marco’s journey is historical fact merely based on his presentation of Tartar’s custom. Indeed, more investigation and research are needed to verify Marco’s text.

In Lisa’s research, she will investigate Marco Polo’s accounts on Prester John majorly in Chapter II. Most analysis will focus on reference to Ong Khan, the leader of Kereyit tribe. First of all, it is imperative to understand that description of Prester John came from hearing of stories. In order to answer the research question “Did Marco go to the place where he describes?”, her research will focus on evaluating the authenticity of Marco’s depictions of his hearings. With every increase of authenticity level, the more likely Marco heard from locals during his travel, as he himself said, “according to what the people of this country say”. From primary sources such as Secret History of the Mongols and secondary sources such as Cambridge History or China and Notes on Marco Poloshe will come to conclusion that despite some places of inaccuracy, Marco’s descriptions follow a mostly accurate and logical pattern, and therefore it is highly plausible that Marco Polo did go to places near Tenduc Plain.

Siteng works on shamanism and customs related to shamanism. In the book “The description of the World”, chapter 2, Marco Polo had talked about some marvelous customs related to Shamanism. Marco had mentioned funerals, the ghost marriage, and how people showed their respect to their god Nacigai. In her essay, Siteng is going compare the details in this book and in other primary or secondary sources, such as the book written by Jean de Plan Carpin, to find out the credibility of Marco Polo’s description. After comparing these primary sources, Siteng thinks Marco Polo did go to those places, but he had added his exaggeration into his description.

Shaoming’s research focuses on cannibalism. Marco Polo described his observation of cannibalism—the behavior of eating people—in multiple places including China (Shangdu and kingdom of Fuzhou), Japan island, and India (kingdom of Perlak, Samudra, and Dagroyan.) All people who participated in cannibalism, according to Marco Polo, were idolators who were non-Christians but worshippers of physical figures. Hence, he did research on, firstly, who were the idolators (their religions) in the regions Marco Polo mentioned; and secondly, how were their beliefs connected with cannibalism. After his research, he found out that the idolators in Marco Polo’s eyes were basically worshippers of Buddhism and Hinduism, based on different countries, China and India respectively. However, the beliefs and values of these religions did not match Marco Polo’s depiction of eating people. Consequently, Marco Polo’s words might be problematic and inaccurate. Forwarding to Shaoming’s group topic, Marco probably did not go to the places he recorded but fabricated the book based on his imagination of different religions.

Richard’s individual topic concentrates on whether Marco Polo’s description of Qubilai Khan’s palace is reliable or not. In chapter 2 of The Description of the World, Marco Polo talked about Qubilai Khan’s royal court in detail. The royal court, in my opinion, was the most important component of Khanbaliq, capital of Yuan Khanate. If what Marco Polo says about the palace is correct, then he probably did travel to Khanbaliq. In order to draw a conclusion, Richard examined not only records about the architecture and design of the palace but also the residents living and serving in or around the court. Overall, Marco Polo showed a good level of knowledge about Qubilai Khan’s court and the city of Khanbaliq. Richard came to believe that Marco Polo’s account of Qubilai Khan’s court is mostly reliable, thus proving that he has physically visited Khanbaliq.

Jeff’s research focuses on the great battle between Qubilai Khan and Nayan took place in 1287. In the Description of the World, Marco Polo’s description about the great battle between Qubilai Khan and King Nayan was so detailed that we can approximately dope out that he was a witness at that time. However, some of the facts might be exaggerated or vague according to other Chinese sources. In the individual page of this topic, Tianze talks about those facts from four different points respectively: 1) the location of the battle; 2) the time of the battle; 3) the military strength of two sides; 4) the place where Nayan was captured. Jeff comes to conclusion that Marco Polo’s description of the battle between Qubilai Khan and Nayan is partly reliable, with some descriptions reliable and some descriptions not.

To sum up, topics on Tartars’ customs, shamanism, Prester John and Khubilai’s royal court come to conclusion that Marco Polo’s account followed a mostly reliable pattern. By contrary, the mismatch between cannibalism and certain religious values resulted in Shaoming’s conclusion on Marco’s fabrication of DW. Jeff stays neutral to the research question, regarding some descriptions on Nayan’s warfare against Khubilai convincing while others unreliable. Therefore, it is impulsive to provide an absolute “yes” or a complete “no” with regard to our research question “Was Marco Polo’s account reliable?”. In some places, Marco’s descriptions were surprisingly similar to other primary historical sources in terms of time, individuals involved and events which took place. However, in other places, Marco seems to depict his own imagination by creating literary instead of historical texts and tends to exaggerate certain facts.

 

 

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