Mongol Group A4

Marco Polo in fuzhou



The kingdom of Fuzhou [Fugiu] is described in Chapter 4 Mangi of Marco Polo’s The Description of the World as one of the nine parts of southern China during the Yuan dynasty (1279 – 1368). This region is the current Fujian Province, whose capital is the city of Fuzhou nowadays, in China. It has been studied by many previous scholars, mainly because it contained many important port cities where commercial activities prospered during the 13th and 14th centuries when Marco Polo was presumably in China (1275 – 1291). For instance, the scholar Xu Xiaowang in his article points out the indispensability of the Fuzhou port to China, as numerous food and commodities were delivered by ships from Fuzhou to northern China and the capital Dadu [1]. Besides, scholar Zhang Kai talks about what was traded in the markets of the city Zaytun, Quanzhou in Chinese, and how imperative this port was to the global trading network during the 11th to 14th century in his paper [2]. From their discussions, we can clearly see that Marco Polo’s descriptions of those port cities are aligned with the historical facts.

However, while most scholars have focused on descriptions of the major cities, rural areas of the Fujian region haven’t got enough attention. In rural areas, the natural environment of this kingdom is depicted by Polo, including the animals, plants, and so on. In addition, the sugar production industry is also frequently mentioned in Marco Polo’s account of Fuzhou. Those are important details for us to analyze in order to validate his portrait of the kingdom of Fuzhou. Thus, through researching on those details, I will try to draw a conclusion which could contribute to answering our group question—”Is Marco Polo’s description of southern China reliable or not?” In the end, a discussion regarding the name of “Fuzhou” will also be given, which could help support my main argument that the account of this kingdom is reliable in general.


Wild Animals in Fuzhou:

In section 155 of the “F” version of The Description of the World, Marco Polo states that there were lots of “very large and fierce lions” and other wild animals in the kingdom of Fuzhou [3]. In another version of the Polo’s text by Manuel Komroff, which is consulted by Walter E. Parham in his article “Marco Polo in the Fujian Region of South China: An Environmental Interpretation”, Polo notes that in these parts were “tigers of great size and strength” [4]. As these two descriptions are very similar, we might not be able to figure out whether those wild animals are referred to as lions or tigers. However, if they were tigers, then this description coincides with a relatively recent discovery. In the early 19th century, the famous “South China Tiger” was first identified by the American naturalist Harry Caldwell in Xiamen, Fujian Province [5], which is the same region as the kingdom of Fuzhou in Polo’s book. According to a journal on China Today, the tiger mainly lives in evergreen forests in southern China, especially the vast mountainous areas in Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangxi, and Fujian provinces [6]. Moreover, scientists have found that the South China tiger originated in China two million years ago [7].


Therefore, if it was the tigers that Marco Polo talked about in his description of the kingdom of Fuzhou, then this agrees with the recent findings and we could confirm its reliability. Besides, since he didn’t mention any lions or tigers in other places of southern China, it is reasonable for us to believe that this information provided by him was not based on wild guesses. Hence, we could further confirm the accuracy of his account of the animals in the Fujian area.

South China Tiger


Plants in Fuzhou:


Ginger and galangal are two plants that have been frequently noted by Marco Polo in his record of the kingdom of Fuzhou. Nowadays, biologists believe that ginger originated in Maritime Southeast Asia, which is close to southeastern China [8]. Some also indicate that ginger had been “first recruited from the wild in southern China” [9]. Similarly, according to the Encyclopedia of Spices, galangal is indigenous to India, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Southern China, in particular Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, and Yunnan Provinces [10]. Therefore, we could speculate that there must have been many ginger and galangal produced in southern China and in the Fujian area during the Yuan period when Marco Polo traveled to “Mangi”. As a result, it is justifiable that Marco Polo specifies that “they have ginger and galangal beyond measure” [11].



Another plant mentioned in the text is a fruit that “resembles saffron but isn’t” [12]. As clarified by Walter E. Parham, this is Carthamus tinctorius, or “false saffron”, which arrived in China around 200 to 300 AD and became flourished and abundant in local areas [13]. This information again verifies that Marco Polo’s description of the natural environment of the kingdom of Fuzhou is believable.


Sugar Production Industry of Fuzhou:



According to Marco Polo’s record, in both the city of Fujian and the city of Fuzhou, sugar was produced in great amounts [14]. Currently, China is the world’s third largest sugar producing country, and more importantly, Fujian Province is one of the major sugarcane production areas in China [15]. Besides, from a paper discussing the sugar manufacture and agrarian economy of Taiwan, we could learn that peasants in Fujian region started to cultivate wet-rice, sugarcane, and peanuts altogether at least since the late 17th century [16]. This implies that soil and natural conditions in Fujian region have been suitable for sugarcane planting for a very long time. Moreover, scholar Zhang Kai also asserts, in his article “Marco Polo and ‘the Quanzhou-Venice Axial Age’”, that sugarcane was an imperative cash crop cultivated in large quantity and used to export during the Song and Yuan dynasty [17]. As we know, sugarcane is the major raw material for producing sugar, so the sugar manufacturing industry must have been relatively mature and prosperous when Marco Polo was presumably in China.


Furthermore, in the article “Marco Polo Had Been to China – A Response to ‘Did Marco Polo Go to China?’”, scholar Yang Zhijiu analyzes various pieces of evidence to support his argument that Marco Polo had indeed been to southern China. Meanwhile, he also identifies that in the book The Travels of Friar Odoric by Odoric of Pordenone, who is believed to have been to China in the early 14th century, the Italian missionary explorer emphasized a lot about the necessity of sugar to local people in Quanzhou, a city of the kingdom of Fuzhou [18].

All the evidence above can lead us to conclude that the amount of sugar produced in the kingdom of Fuzhou during the Yuan dynasty must have been remarkable. Hence, Marco Polo’s description of the sugar manufacture is reliable.


The Name of Fuzhou:

Last but not least, the name of “Fuzhou” is worth noticing. Most scholars, including Henry Yule, Henri Cordier, and Yang Zhijiu, have agreed that Marco Polo only knew Persian and a little bit of Mongolian, but nothing about Chinese [19]. Nevertheless, in this text, unlike names of other places, the names of cities in Fujian region are fairly accurate. For instance, “Fuzhou” is exactly how Chinese people nowadays call and pronounce that city.


However, there is also something confusing in his book. In section 155, Marco Polo first introduces the kingdom of Fuzhou. Later on, in section 156, he introduces the city of Fuzhou, which was “the capital of the kingdom called Choncha” [20]. This would easily confuse the audience and lead them to wonder what is the difference between “Fuzhou” and “Choncha”? Many previous scholars have tried to provide explanations of this question. In Henry Yule’s The Book of Marco Polo, he hypothesizes that “Choncha” may be a derivation from the name Ch’uan-chou, or it may resemble Chung-kuo, the Middle Kingdom of China, phonetically [21]. While Yule’s hypotheses seem untenable, some other explanations are reasonable. In the book Notes on Marco Polo, Pelliot states that “Choncha” might probably be the Fujianese pronunciation of Fujian itself. Nonetheless, Pelliot quickly rejects himself by arguing that he couldn’t find other cases where Chinese dialectical pronunciation is used in Marco Polo’s book [22]. On the contrary, in the article “Marco Polo in ‘Mangi’: Kuizhou, Fuling, Honguan, and the Pontoon Bridge at Fuzhou”, the author Stephen G. Haw lists several names of towns and cities mentioned in Polo’s which represent dialect pronunciation [23]. For example, “Caiciu” represents the place of Xiezhou, which has been locally called Haizhou. Also, “Uuguen”, the city of Fujian, represents an approximation of the name of Houguan, a county within the city, in local dialect.

The city of Fuzhou


The city of Quanzhou

Therefore, we could declare that “Choncha” is a dialectical pronunciation of “Fuzhou”. If this is true, then it is more likely that Marco Polo might have been to southern China before and heard how local people pronounced the names of those cities. Although the main goal of our research is not to discuss whether he had been to China or not, if he did come, then his description of Fuzhou and southern China would be more reliable and defensible.



The ultimate goal of our group research project is to dig out the answer to this question— “Is Marco Polo’s description of southern China reliable or not?” While the other four sections are mainly about the accounts of the important cities in “Mangi”, including the city of Yangzhou, the city of Xiangyangfu, the city of Quinsai, and the city of Zaytun, my part gives more weights to the natural environment of the kingdom of Fuzhou described by Marco Polo. I hope this could provide a new perspective for our audience to deliberate on Polo’s book.

Having analyzed both the historical and current natural environment of the Fujian region, I come to the conclusion that Marco Polo’s depiction of the animals and plants in the kingdom of Fuzhou is reliable. Moreover, his observation of the prosperity of the sugar production industry is also aligned with the historical and global contexts. Last but not least, the use of “Choncha” to represent “Fuzhou” may imply that Marco Polo had been to the Fujian area, which would to some extent support my argument that his account of the kingdom of Fuzhou is tenable. In the nutshell, based on my research, I would like to give an affirmative answer to our group question.



1. Xu, page 6.

2. Zhang, Kai, pages 198 – 200.

3. The Description of the World, page 139, location 4011.

4. Parham (2011), pages 304 – 305.

5. Jiang (2018).

6. Same as 5.

7. Save China’s Tigers.

8. Ginger, Wikipedia (2020).

9. The International Writing Program of the University of Iowa.

10. The Epicenter, Encyclopedia of Spices.

11. The Description of the World, page 139, location 4011.

12. The Description of the World, page 139, location 4017.

13. Parham (2011), pages 305 – 306.

14. The Description of the World, page 140, location 4031 and 4037.

15. Zhang & Govindaraju (2018), pages 49 – 52.

16. Isett (1995), page 238.

17. Zhang, Kai, page 200.

18. Yang (1997), pages 115 – 116.

19. Cai (1992), page 178.

20. The Description of the World, page 140, location 4037.

21. Yule (1903).

22. Pelliot (1959), pages 245 – 246.

23. Haw (2020), page 447 & 456.


List of References:

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.,five%20tiger%20skull%20specimens%20from (2018-08-30).

13. “The South China Tiger”, Save China’s Tigers.,Siberian%2C%20etc)%20are%20derived.

14. “Ginger”, Wikipedia. (2020-12-10).

15. “Ginger”, The International Writing Program of the University of Iowa.,has%20become%20a%20world%20traveler.&text=500%20BCE%2C%20is%20attributed%20to,without%20ginger%20when%20he%20ate.

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