Mongol Group A4

Marco Polo in Yangzhou



The city of Yangzhou is a very important stop in Marco Polo’s journey to China. According to Marco Polo’s narrative in The Description of the World, he had been the governor of Yangzhou for three years. Stories regarding this event have spread widely throughout the world and have raised many discussions. In The Description of the World, the text goes: “Messer Marco Polo himself, whom this book is about, ruled this city for three years.” [1] However, many scholars doubt the authenticity of this statement. They believed that Yangzhou was quite an important city and it was impossible for Marco Polo who didn’t know Chinese to rule this place. They also note that the Chinese official history record has no trace of Marco Polo as governor of Yangzhou. However, through investigation and research, I found quite a lot of evidence and reasons to prove the authenticity of Marco Polo being an official in Yangzhou. My report will be explained from three perspectives : historical background, terminology, and geography. Although there are some exceptions, Marco Polo’s description of southern China is reliable in general.


Historical Background:

Some scholars in history denied that Marco Polo had been to China. One of the masters is Frances Wood, who wrote the famous book Did Marco Polo Go to China. These scholars pointed out that the bureaucratic system in ancient China was well developed, and all matters large and small would be recorded, and the successive local officials of each city would not be overlooked. The local chronicles of Yangzhou clearly record the full list of officials of the Yuan Dynasty, including foreigners, but there is no record of Marco Polo. Therefore, it can be inferred that Marco Polo could not have been a Yangzhou magistrate. In addition, there are no historical relics and folklore of Marco Polo in Yangzhou.

In fact, there was a certain historical reason that the Chinese historical records did not mention Marco Polo’s name. This should not be the only criterion for judging the authenticity of this event. Regarding why the Yuanshi and the local chronicles did not mention Marco Polo, Mr. Zhu Jiang, a scholar from Yangzhou, pointed out that the fundamental reason was that the Yuan Dynasty ruled the Central Plains with ethnic minority rulers and adopted high-pressure policies to oppress the Han people to maintain their rule, which inevitably caused sharp ethnic conflicts. In the process of seizing the power of the Yuan Dynasty by the Ming army, every time a city was conquered, a large number of cultural relics of the Mongols and Semu people were destroyed. For the reasons above, in the process of compiling official history books and local chronicles, the Ming people would delete a large number of deeds of Mongols and Semu people in addition to essential historical facts, instead of being recorded in the annals. Therefore, Marco Polo’s deeds in China as a Semu man naturally left no historical data for later generations. Professor Yang Zhijiu further pointed out that there are no less than ten Western missionaries, envoys, and businessmen who arrived in Mongolia before and after Marco Polo, but their names and deeds are also rarely seen in Chinese records.

Moreover, Marco Polo mentioned that he was the governor for three years, which is in full compliance with the record in Yuanshi that “the officials within and outside of the country were set for three years as a test, and those who are full of office are relocated, and those who are not satisfied are not allowed to move beyond.” [2] That means his being an official is after Kublai Khan announced this policy in 1282. In The Description of the World Marco Polo states “that it has under its rule a good 27 large, good cities of great trade. This city is the seat of one of the Great Khan’s 12 barons, for it was selected by one of the 12 sages.” [3] This record also fits with Yuanshi for Yangzhou being one of the twelve sages with 27 cities attached to it between 1282 and 1284.

All of the above materials can prove that Marco Polo’s record of being an official conforms to the historical background, and the lack of official records is also caused by various reasons. Therefore, we can infer that Marco Polo had indeed been to southern China, and his description is reliable.



As mentioned above, the history of Yuan lacks official records of Marco Polo. But people have overlooked an important question: How did the people in the Yuan Dynasty call Marco Polo? In Stephen G. Haw’s article The Overview of the Unified Territories of the Great Yuan and Marco Polo’s Account of the Empire of Qubilai Qa’an, the author claims that: “It has been pointed out already, no one now knows what name Marco was known by in the Yuan Empire. Looking for his name in lists of officials in Yangzhou is therefore essentially futile. In any case, extant lists of officials in Yangzhou during the Yuan period are obviously far from complete. A point worth emphasis- ing here is that Marco undoubtedly would have used inclusive reckoning, which was normally used at the time not only by southern Europeans but also by Chinese and Mongols.”[4] During the Yuan Dynasty, the Chinese people’s awareness of accepting foreigners was not so strong. Even if Marco Polo had been the governor for three years, civilians and officials might still not know how to call him. Besides that, because of the language barrier, there might be some misunderstandings in the communication between Marco Polo and the Chinese people. Therefore, Marco Polo’s memory of his travel may also contain such misunderstandings, with even terminology deviations caused by cultural differences between the East and the West.

However, some scholars did find Marco Polo in historical documents. According to Marco Polo in the Chronicle of Yangzhou by Yu Zhiqun, in Yangzhou Fuzhi, there was a person called “Huozhe“. “Huozhe”, derived from Muslim vocabulary, is a transliteration of Persian Khwaja, which means noble or rich. It is the honorific name for the saints and scholars in Islam, and is also the name of the upper-class Islamic aristocracy in Xinjiang and Central Asia.[5] It can be seen from the above that in the officialdom of Yangzhou in the Yuan Dynasty, there was such a Semu man who was both noble and wealthy. He was sent to Yangzhou as an official by the emperor. His name and official position were not in the local chronicles. With the four elements of being an official in Yangzhou, being dispatched by the emperor, wealthy, and Semu people, he had to be Marco Polo. According to Yu Zhiqun, this name of “Huozhe” should be a nickname for Marco Polo. [6] At that time, it was established in the Yangzhou officialdom that people did not need to call a Semu man with the complex “Marco Polo”, but directly called him “Huozhe”, thus no ambiguity would occur. Professor Yang Zhijiu‘s discovery of the text in Yongle Dadian, Zhanchi in 1941 contained three envoys whose names were exactly the same as those recorded in Marco Polo’s travel notes. Therefore, Professor Yang presumed that Marco Polo had been to China. This statement is recognized by scholars all over the world, and has also won many honors for Professor Yang himself. In the original text discovered by Professor Yang, the word “Huozhe” was directly after the three envoys’ names. The appearance of the “Huozhe” in Yangzhou Fuzhi thus can be confirmed by the historical facts of the Zhanchi official document.

In summary, from the perspective of historical terminology, Marco Polo did serve as an official in Yangzhou although his name may not be seen in records. Instead, people find this “Huozhe” who completely fits with Marco Polo’s traces. His description of his being the governor may not be too precise and detailed for various reasons, in general, his notes of stories in Yangzhou is reliable.




Position of Yangzhou and Taizhou

In The Description of the World, the text goes: “When one leaves Taizhou, he went southeast one day’s journey through beautiful country, where there are many castles and dwellings; then you find a noble and large city called Yangzhou.”[7] The paragraph above contains an obvious wrong information, that is to say, riding a day from Taizhou to the southeast to reach Yangzhou, this is a huge mistake, because Yangzhou is southwest of Taizhou instead of southeast.


But apart from this mistake, Marco Polo’s description of Yangzhou, Yizheng, and Guazhou is actually very accurate. Professor Wei Peichun and Wu Xianzhong pointed out in the article Verification of Marco Polo’s Traces in Yangzhou from Yangzhou Local Records that Marco Polo’s record of “They live from trade and crafts, for they make great quantities of equipment for knights and men-at-arms, for I tell you in all truth that in this city and the lands around it, there are many men-at-arms.” [8] as well as his description of Yangzhou’s trades and salt affairs are all valid according to the Yangzhou Fuzhi.


Furthermore, Marco Polo’s mentioning of “When one leaves the city of Yangzhou and he went southeast 15 miles, then one finds a city called Zhenzhou.” [9] and “Know that it is on the greatest river in the world, called Quian:12 in some places it is 10 miles wide, in another 8 and in another 6, and it is more than 100 days’ journey long.” [10] matches perfectly with the famous geographical works in Chinese history Shuijingzhu, written by Li Daoyuan in the late northern Wei dynasty. Marco Polo’s narrative about the salt affairs in Yangzhou is completely grounded. His statement that there were many troops stationed in Yangzhou is in line with the facts at the time, and the record of the Yangzhou part of the great canal is also very consistent with the record of the Shuijingzhu. [11] Therefore, there is no doubt that Marco Polo had been to Yangzhou, Guazhou and Yizheng regions.




Regarding the question of whether Marco Polo has actually been to southern China and whether his description is reliable, I gave the answer in my research on the city of Yangzhou. Through the historical background and the historical records of Yangzhou, we are sure that Marco Polo served as the governor of Yangzhou for three years. Through the study of the words used in historical documents and the address of Marco Polo, we found that the “Huozhe” recorded in Yangzhou Fuzhi is the historical Marco Polo. With this, we are further convinced of the authenticity of Marco Polo’s being an official. Later, by comparing history with Marco Polo’s description, as well as some geographical and humanistic records, we found that Marco Polo’s description of southern China in the early Yuan Dynasty was very accurate. Although there are few exceptions, these errors do not mean that Marco Polo’s description is not reliable, since his memorizing of his travels was years after his trip. Generally speaking, Marco Polo’s description of southern China was reliable.



1. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, page127

2. Yuanshi 经济汇编 99卷

3. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, page127

4. Haw, Stephen G. . page 224-225

5. Yu, Zhiqun. page 92

6. Yu, Zhiqun. page 92

7. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, page126

8. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, page127

9. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, page129

10. Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, page129-130

11. Li, Daoyuan. 水经注卷四十


List of references:

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