B3 Group Topic

Was Marco Polo’s description of Northern and South Western China sufficient enough to prove that he has traveled to those regions in person?

 
 
 
 

Introduction

Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa’s The Description of the World could arguably be one of the world’s earliest best-sellers. It was written by Rustichello in a prison cell as Marco Polo, his cellmate, described the wonders he saw during his 24 years of travel in Asia[1]. The book was initially wildly popular and propelled him to be considered the greatest traveler the world has ever seen. However, centuries later, The Description of the World has been attracting a different type of attention from its readers. The credibility of Marco Polo’s accounts has been brought into question as scholars began looking at the writing as source of history rather than perhaps its intended purpose of entertainment, or as a travelers guide. While it is widely accepted that he left his native Europe in 1271 and returned in 1295[2], anything that has occurred in between is subject to a thorough investigation regarding his credibility. Our group has chosen to focus on the accounts of Northern and South Western China and whether there is enough proof presented in his writing to support his claims that he has traveled to the aforementioned regions[3]. This research topic is of significance because if the credibility of The Description of the World is in question, it removes one of the few primary sources that historians can access when studying the history of the Mongols.

 

A picture of Marco Polo

 

Individual Project

Krista: My individual topic was made to give an evidence of Marco Polo’s presence in Northern China as observed from his description of the borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu in Chapter 3 of The Description of the World. Marco Polo’s description of these areas responds to group question by revealing a great deal of historical information regarding the Chinese cultural heritage, economic activities, physical features, and cultural practices which partly supports his presence in Northern China. My research can provide the answer to whether Macro Polo’s description of Northern was sufficient to prove that he traveled to those regions in person.

Alice: My project focuses on Prester John in Chapter 2 and 3 of The Description of the World. Prester John is a popular legend in Europe in the Middle Ages. His legend prevailed during the European Crusades. As Europeans continue to deepen their understanding of the East, the character prototype of Prester John and the position of his kingdom continue to change. My part mainly analyzed the image of the Prester John that Marco Polo believed when he traveled to the Yuan Dynasty, and the correct and inaccurate description of Prester John he wrote in the book “The Description of the World”.

Kunquan: My individual topic focusing on Marco Polo’s description about the War between Yuan and Mien in Chapter 3. Through “Marco Polo, the description of the world” and other historical sources, I’ll critically examine the authenticity about the reasons, time and participants of the war included in his book, and respond to the group’s question about whether he has been to South-Western China or not.

Brandon: My portion of the research project inspects the stories regarding Tibet within Chapter 3 of The Description of the World. By finding out whether Marco Polo went to Tibet through researching the validity of his statements and analyzing his style and tone of writing, I can provide part of an answer to our group research question of whether Marco Polo actually went to South-Western China.

 

 

Marco Polo and The Description of the World

 

Conclusion

Based on our research, we concluded that Marco Polo was in Northern China, but he did not visit South-Western China. For the discovery in Northern China, Krista finds that Marco Polo’s detailed description of the borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu. All the information clearly indicates that he visited Northern China. Meanwhile, Alice points out that some of Macro Polo’s description of the stories of Prester John were inaccurate according to historical records; As a result, Macro Polo was in China because he recognized the specific historical details.

In addition, Paul finds that Marco Polo wasn’t in the city of Mien or Yunnan but he was in China because Marco Polo’s narrations of the war and the city of Mien were presumably pieced together by accounts he heard while visiting the court of Kubilai Khan. Last, from Marco Polo’s descriptions, Brandon concluded that Marco Polo had not been to South-Western China because his descriptions of Tibet were generalized, varying in accuracy, and lacked a personal touch. His conclusion also supports Paul’s presumption about Marco Polo telling stories that he heard while he was visiting the court of Kubilai Khan instead of actually traveling there himself.

 

 

Footnotes

[1] Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2016. pp.15
[2]
Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2016. pp.17
[3]
Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2016. pp.95

 

Reference

Primary Sources:

Chengjun, Feng. Translation of “the Travels of Marco Polo”. 2001.

Morgan, David. The Mongols. Blackwell, 2008.

Polo, Marco. The Description of the World, Hackett Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2016.

P. Peliot, Notes on Marco Polo, Paris: Imprimerie Nationale Librairie Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1959,

Rachewiltz, Igor de. The Secret History Of The Mongols. BRILL, 2013.

Song, Lian, and Jing’an Yao. 元史 (Yuanshi) Vol.1. Zhonghua Shuju, 1976.

Song, Lian, and Jing’an Yao. 元史 (Yuanshi) Vol. 118. Zhonghua Shuju, 1976

Vogel, Hans U. Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. Leiden: BRILL, 2012.

H. Yule, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol.1, London: John Muray, 1875,

Rachewiltz, Igor de. The Secret History Of The Mongols. BRILL, 2013

Song, Lian, and Jing’an Yao. 元史 (Yuanshi) Vol. 118. Zhonghua Shuju, 1976

Tuo, Tuo. 辽史 (Liaoshi) Vol.30. Zhonghua Shuju, 1974,

Secondary Source:

Atwood, C. P. Marco Polo’s Sino-Mongolian Toponyms, with Special Attention to the Transcription of the Character zhou 州.’. In Conference ‘Marco Polo and the Silk Road,’Yangzhou Museum, Yangzhou University, and International Academy of Chinese Studies of Peking University, Yangzhou, Jiangsu, China, 2015.

Chang, Na,Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues”. reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1667 (14.12.2020)

Dawson, Christopher et al. 出使蒙古记. China Society Science Publishing House, 1983.

Goldstein, Melvyn C,Stratification, Polyandry, and Family Structure in Central Tibet.” https://case.edu/affil/tibet/booksAndPapers/stratification.html (14.12.2020).

Grousset, René Grousset. The Empire Of The Steppes. Rutgers University Press, 2010, p. 237.

Morgan, David. The Mongols. Blackwell, 2008.

Jackson, Peter, “Marco Polo and His ‘Travels’.” www.jstor.org/stable/3107293 (14.12.2020).

“Marco Polo”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Nov. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Polo (12.12.2020).

Rachewiltz, Igor de, Marco Polo Went to China, https://newclasses.nyu.edu/access/content/group/6866b62d-9089-4cd6-898c- d53f7484622a/Readings%20for%20the%20Class/Marco%20Polo%20Went%20to%20China.pdf (12.12.2020)

Vogel, Hans Ulrich, Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1667 (14.12.2020).

Willett, Jeff, “Tibetan Fraternal Polyandry: A Review of Its Advantages and Breakdown.” DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln, digitalcommons.unl.edu/nebanthro/113/ (12.12.2020).

Yang, Zhijiu. 马可波罗与中外关系 (Macro Polo And Sino-Foreign Relationship. Nankai University Press, 1999.

Zhang, Cong Ellen, “Anecdotal Writing on Illicit Sex in Song China (960–1279).” www.jstor.org/stable/24616671(12.12.2020).

Zhou, Gang, “Small Talk: A New Reading of Marco Polo’s Il Milione.www.jstor.org/stable/29734478 (14.12.2020)

Zhou, Qingshu. 汪古部事辑(Events of the Ungs), Inner Mongolia. Mongolian university, pp. 160