Map of southern China in DW

Introduction :

Marco Polo was a Venetian merchant and explorer who traveled from Venice, Italy, to China through the Eurasian land during the Yuan dynasty between 1271 and 1295. It is widely believed that after Marco Polo returned to Venice in 1295, he told his story to Rustichello da Pisa in 1298, when both of them were imprisoned in Genoa. Accordingly, Rustichello da Pisa finished the book The Description of the World (Le Devisement du monde). In this book, Polo described the mysterious cultures, customs, geography, demographics, and local stories of the Eastern world to the contemporary Europeans, leaving them with the first comprehensive look into China, Persia, India, Japan, and other Asian countries.

In his description, Marco Polo referred to southern China as “Mangi”, or “Manzi”, which means “southern barbarians” in Chinese. It often appears in documents of the Mongol Yuan as a disparaging term for southern China. The word “Manzi” reached the Western world in Marco’s version “Mangi”, a name commonly found on medieval maps. As we can see, the European’s impression of southern China was largely built upon the contents of The Description of the World, so the reliability of it consequently played a decisive role in the accuracy of such impressions. Therefore, the main goal of our research is to answer the question— “Is Marco Polo’s description of Southern China reliable?”

In order to solve this problem, we are going to approach from Polo’s descriptions of various major cities and regions in southern China, including the city of Yangzhou, the city of Xiangyangfu, the city of Quinsai, the city of Zaytun, and the kingdom of Fuzhou.

 

 

Marco Polo Memorial Hall in Yangzhou

Known for his epic trip to China, Marco Polo had claimed that he was once the governor of Yangzhou. With very little historical context proving this, we have accumulated enough clues and sources to retain its authenticity. However, through investigation and research, we found quite a lot of evidence and reasons to prove the authenticity of Marco Polo being an official in Yangzhou. By researching and analyzing from three perspectives: historical background, terminology, and geography, we find that although there are some exceptions, Marco Polo’s description of southern China is reliable in general.

 

Bank of Han River

One of the most controversial accounts by Marco Polo is the claim that along with his father and uncle, he participated in the siege warfare of Xiangyang in southern China. With detailed and vivid descriptions, Marco portrayed himself as the key to winning and was therefore highly recognized by Qubilai Khan. Though the elaborate description seems to convince people of their participation, the three Polo’s occurrence in the siege has been invalidated by most historians, serving as a major counterargument against the reliability of The Description of the World. In this section, we will explore inaccuracies in chronology and order that deny Marco’s contribution, correct names of the siege engineers, the consequent doubts regarding if he had been to China or Southern China at all, and scholars’ explanations for this false account.

 

 

Marco Polo Sculpture in Hangzhou

Quinsai was a Southern Song usage for modern Hangzhou, the Southern Song capital. Marco Polo visited the city many times and offered a detailed description in paragraph 152 &153 in The Description of the World. This website studies the reliability of these descriptions through multiple perspectives: the place, including roads, bridges, and other city features; people’s livings, including population and people’s customs; and businesses, including markets and salt taxes. By comparing with contemporary Chinese sources, mostly local chronicles, we find that most descriptions were reliable, including unique features of Quinsai, such as its fire hazard and alarm, and detailed descriptions, such as the width of roads. However, Marco Polo tended to exaggerate the number of constructions or facilities in the city, probably for impressing the readers.

 

 

Zayton as imagined by a 15th-century European illustrator of The Travels of Marco Polo

In his account of travel to China, Marco Polo narrates the city Zaytun also known as Quanzhou in Chinese. Its port was so bustling that it brought economic prosperity both to itself and for the entire kingdom. The city, despite being located far away from the imperial capital, contributed significantly to the Great Yuan. Such importance is not an imagined tale; instead, Marco Polo’s description of Zaytun has been confirmed by several research. Major aspects about the port are discussed in detail by other texts: its status as a maritime trade superintendency in China, trade with India involving foreign merchants, and exports of porcelain that facilitated the industry’s development. Overall, the book provides reliable information about Zaytun and illustrates Southern Chinese society under Mongol’s rule during the 13th century.

 

 

Map of the Fujian Region

The kingdom of Fuzhou is the last one of the nine parts of Mangi that are described in The Description of the World. This kingdom is of great importance because it contains many important port cities during the Yuan dynasty, including the city of Fuzhou, Fujian, Quanzhou, and so on. Meanwhile, the description of the natural environment is also detailed and noteworthy. Therefore, by analyzing the animals, plants, sugar industry, and an alternative name of the kingdom mentioned by Marco Polo in his text, we found that his account of the local environments of Fujian region is quite aligned with the historical facts. This discovery could lead to an affirmative answer to our question about the reliability of Marco Polo’s description of southern China.

 

 

Conclusion:

In the nutshell, Marco Polo’s description of the city of Yangzhou, the city of Quinsai, the city of Zaytun, and the kingdom of Fuzhou is defensible. Admittedly, his declaration that he had played an important role in the siege warfare of Xiangyang has been proved to be untrustworthy. However, in general, most of his accounts of the customs, cultures, social norms, geography, and demographics of southern China are reliable and accurate.

 

List of references:

Fuzhou:

1. The Description of the World, by Marco Polo [Chapter 4 Mangi]. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2016).

2. Yule, Henry. The Book of Ser Marco Polo. (London: John Murray, 1903).

3. Pelliot, Paul. Notes on Marco Polo [Volume 1]. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1959).

4. Xu, Xiaowang 徐晓望. “All the Way to the North – the Maritime Transport of Fuzhou During the Yuan Dynasty”, 一路向北——元代福州港的海运.

5. Zhang, Kai 张铠. “Marco Polo and ‘the Quanzhou – Venice Axial Age’”, 马可波罗与“泉州—威尼斯轴心时代”, pages 196-217.

6. Walter E. Parham, “Marco Polo in the Fujian Region of South China: An Environmental Interpretation”, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch, 2011, Vol. 51 (2011), pp. 304-308.

7. Zhang, Muqing & Govindaraju, Muralidharan. “Sugarcane Production in China”, pages 49-68. (IntechOpen, 2018).

8. Christopher M. Isett. “Sugar Manufacture and the Agrarian Economy of Nineteenth-Century Taiwan”, Modern China, Apr., 1995, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 233-259.

9. Yang, Zhijiu 杨志玖. “Marco Polo Had Been to China – A Response to ‘Did Marco Polo Go to China?’”, 马可波罗到过中国——对《马可波罗到过中国吗?》的回答, History Research 历史研究, 1997, Vol. 3, pp. 115-116.

10. Cai, Meibiao 蔡美彪. “On the Topic of Marco Polo Had Been to China”, 试论马可波罗在中国, Social Sciences in China 中国社会科学, 1992, Vol. 2, pp. 177188.

11. Stephen G. Haw. “Marco Polo in ‘Mangi’: Kuizhou, Fuling, Houguan, and the Pontoon Bridge at Fuzhou”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, 2020, Vol. 170, No. 2 (2020), pp. 445-466.

12. Jiang, Fumei. “Legend of the King – South China Tiger”, China Today.

http://www.chinatoday.com.cn/ctenglish/2018/sl/201808/t20180830_800139695.html#:~:text=THE%20South%20China%20Tiger%20was,five%20tiger%20skull%20specimens%20from (2018-08-30).

13. “The South China Tiger”, Save China’s Tigers.

https://www.savechinastigers.org/southchinatiger.html#:~:text=The%20South%20China%20tiger%20originated,Siberian%2C%20etc)%20are%20derived.

14. “Ginger”, Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger (2020-12-10).

15. “Ginger”, The International Writing Program of the University of Iowa.

https://iwp.uiowa.edu/silkroutes/ginger#:~:text=Believed%20to%20have%20been%20first,has%20become%20a%20world%20traveler.&text=500%20BCE%2C%20is%20attributed%20to,without%20ginger%20when%20he%20ate.

16. “Galangal”, The Epicenter, Encyclopedia of Spices.

http://theepicentre.com/spice/galangal/

Yangzhou:

Polo, Marco, and Sharon Kinoshita. The Description of the World. UK ed., Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2016.

Bian, Ming Jie Jin. Yongle Dadian (High Imitation Gift Pack)(Chinese Edition). 中华书局, 2015.

匿名. 万历扬州府志(精)/扬州旧志整理系列. Guangling Publishing House, 2019.

【明】宋濂 王褘, and 研究小組中國歷史. 元史(第四卷): 中國二十四史 (Traditional Chinese Edition). 1st ed., M.J. Magic Publishing, 2020.

郦道元. 水经注 (Chinese Edition). 中文在线, 2012.

Haw, Stephen G. “The Overview of the Unified Territories of the Great Yuan and Marco Polo’s Account of the Empire of Qubilai Qa’an.” Zeitschrift Der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, vol. 170, no. 1, 2020, p. 215. Crossref, doi:10.13173/zeitdeutmorggese.170.1.0215.

Wei, Peichun, and Xianzhong Wu. “Verification of Marco Polo’s Traces in Yangzhou from Yangzhou Local Records.” Verification of Marco Polo’s Traces in Yangzhou from Yangzhou Local Records, 1995.

Wood, Frances. Did Marco Polo Go To China? Routledge, 1998.

Yu, Zhiqun. “Marco Polo in the Chronicle of Yangzhou.” Marco Polo in the Chronicle of Yangzhou, 2012

陆国俊.《中西文化交流先驱》, 1995

Quinsai:

Yuanshi, by 宋濂 (Song Lian) &王祎(Wang Yi).

The Description of the World, by Marco Polo. Sharon Kinoshita translated. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

《梦梁录》(Menglianglu), by 吴自牧 (Wu Zimu). 1274.

《咸淳临安志》(Xianchun Linanzhi).

《乾道临安志》(Qiandao Linanzhi). 1169.

《淳祐临安志》(Chunyou Linanzhi). 1268.

Yang Zhijiu. 《元史三论》(“About Yuanshi”). People’s Publishing. 1985.

Stephen G. Haw. “Marco Polo in “Mangi”: Kuizhou, Fuling, Houguan, and the Pontoon Bridge at Fuzhou”. 2020.

Bao, Zhicheng. 《马克.波罗杭州行迹探究》 (“Marco Polo’s Trace in Hangzhou”). 杭州研究 Hangzhou Research, 4th ser. 2001.

Lin Zhengqiu.《马可波罗对于杭州的评说》(“Marco Polo’s account of Hangzhou”). 杭州通讯 Hangzhou Communication. 2009.

Xiang Da. 《元代马哥孛罗诸外国人所见之杭州》(“Hangzhou in the eyes of foreigners such as Marco Polo during the Da Yuan Dynasty”). East Journal, juan 26, number 10. 1929.

Gong Yingyan. 《马可波罗对杭州的记述》(“Marco Polo’s Description of Hangzhou”). Jan 1998.

Xiangyangfu:

Haeger, John W. “Marco Polo in China? Problems with Internal Evidence.” Bulletin of Sung and Yüan Studies, no. 14, 1978, pp. 22–30. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23497510. Accessed 20 Dec. 2020.

Jackson, Peter. “Marco Polo and His ‘Travels’.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, vol. 61, no. 1, 1998, pp. 82–101. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3107293.Accessed 20 Dec. 2020.

Moule, A. C. (Arthur Christopher), 1873-1957, and Marco Polo. Quinsai: with Other Notes on Marco Polo. Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1957.

Pelliot, Paul, 1878-1945. Notes on Marco Polo: Ouvrage Posthume. Paris: Impr. nationale, 19591973, vol. 1.

Polo, Marco. The Description of the World. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Rachewiltz, Igor de. “Marco Polo Went to China.” Zentralasiatische Studien 27, 1997, pp. 34-92.

Wood, Frances. Did Marco Polo Go to China? Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996.

Yang, Chi-Chiu(杨志玖). “马可波罗与中国 — 对《马可波罗到过中国没有?》一文的看法.” 元史三论,人民出版社,1985,pp.127-132.

Yule, Henry, et al. The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian, concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East; Translated and Edited, with Notes, References, Appendices and Full Index. Amsterdam: Philo Press 1975, vol. 2.

Zaytun:

Brook, Timothy. 2010. The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Chaffee, John. 2008. “At the Intersection of Empire and World Trade: The Chinese Port City of Quanzhou (Zaitun), Eleventh-Fifteenth Centuries.” In Hall 2008, 99–122.

Guy, John. 2001. “Tamil Merchant Guilds and the Quanzhou Trade.” In Schottenhammer 2001, 283–308.

Haw, Stephen G. 2006. Marco Polo’s China: A Venetian in the Realm of Khubilai Khan. Routledge Studies in the Early History of Asia. London: Routledge.

{230} Ho, Chuimei. 2001. “The Ceramic Boom in Minnan during Song and Yuan Times.” In Schottenhammer 2001, 237–81.

Polo, Marco. The Description of the World. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Rachewiltz, Igor de. “Marco Polo Went to China.” Zentralasiatische Studien 27, 1997, pp. 34-92.

Stargardt, Janice. 2001. “Behind the Shadows: Archaeological Data on Two-Way Sea Trade between Quanzhou and Satingpra, South Thailand, 10th–14th Century.” In Schottenhammer 2001, 309–93.

Vogel, Hans Ulrich. 2013. Marco Polo was in China:New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. Monies, Markets, and Finance in East Asia, 1600–1900. Leiden: Brill.

Wood, Frances. Did Marco Polo Go to China? Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996.

Yule, Henry, et al. The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian, concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East; Translated and Edited, with Notes, References, Appendices and Full Index. Amsterdam: Philo Press 1975, vol. 2.

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