Mongol Group B3

Does Marco Polo's account of Borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu support enough evidence that he went to Northern China?

 

1-Introduction

Marco Polo’s description of the 112-114 borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu supports his presence in Northern China. These provinces disclose Polo’s detailed description of the people’s terrain, economic, and social factors to the North of China as he traveled towards the West. According to his report of Northern China, Marco Polo must have traveled a great deal in the region. His vivid description of the complex social structures, great wealth, and enormous power endowed with the area suggests that Marco polo toured northern China.[1] Some scholars argue that there are multiple proven historical facts in Marco Polo’s narrative of the borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu. For example, a research by Hans Ulrich Vogel of Germany’s Tubingen University significantly helped restore Marco Polo’s integrity. Vogel wrote a book entitled “Marco Polo Was in China,” to counters skeptics’ arguments.[2] In Vogel’s view Polo documents the aspects of Mongol Northern Chinese civilization in greater detail than any of his Persian, Arab, or Western contemporaries. Furthermore, Marco polo gives a detailed description of salt production and currency in the Yuan era. Christopher Columbus later toured Northern China guided by Marco Polo’s description of the region.[3] Polo gives an accurate account of the Chinese social norms and practices of the time. Again, these scholars point out that he accurately described the Mongol system of administration. In medieval Europe, Northern China was referred to as Cathay while the Mongols referred to South China as Mangi.

 

 

Therefore, Marco polo’s description of the economic and social activities that he observed among the Chinese living in the medieval Cathay, Acbalac, and Chengdufu imply that he actually visited Northern China. During the voyage, Marco Polo marveled at Northern China’s complex social structure, great wealth, and cultural customs. Most of the cultural practices and norms observed among the Mongols in these areas were widespread in medieval europe including the other parts of Northern China. Marco polo’s description of the borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu was important because it gave the Europeans some of their earliest information about China. The description also helps the Europeans understand the need for the Mongol administration to advance to the South-western China before developing its roots in Mangi.

 

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Map of China

Yuan (Mongol) Empire C. 1300

 
 

2- Content

2.1- Marco Polo’s description of the borders between Cathy and Mangi

Marco Polo explains that the men living in the borders between Cathay and Mangi lived from silk and crafts trade which were in plenty within the region.[4] Pole observed the economic activities of these men as he crossed beautiful plains while on a three-day journey to the west. The people of northern China primarily relied on the land, forest, and hunting to earn a living. The lands to the North also contained large quantities of coal which Marco Polo describes as “black Stone, which burn like logs.” The comparison of coal to burning logs and the description of its color further suggest Polo’s presence in Northern China. Historically, the country of Cathay contains large quantities of coal that exist in beds in the mountains that are extracted and used for heating within the bath-houses and baths.[5] Although the region has lots of firewood, coal was more convenient due to its quality and long burning hours where they could burn overnight. The coal is made to heat bath water for the enormous population during winter. Marco polo adds that there are castles and cities in the valleys and mountains. The region is endowed with vast forests that housed several wild animals such as roebuck, fallow deer, lynxes, bears, and lions. The inhabitants of northern China caught and traded with most of these animals. Polo must have spent some time in the north and interacted with the inhabitants of the lodgings, castles, and cities to know their lifestyle.[6] He explains that traders could be easily located within the lodgings and cities. These traders transported goods to other markets in the North such as Beijing. Cathay traders traded on the costly wares of China and the other fine and precious goods of the province.

Marco polo also describes Beijing as the North of the country. The Great Khan resided in the city of Cathay (China) referred to as Cambaluc (Beijing) in January, February, and March.[7] Beijing was Kublai Khan’s new winter capital at the time of Marco Polo’s visitation and was under construction. Polo describes the new city as being perfectly square and each of its sides being six miles long. The city was enclosed with walls and it only had 12 gates. According to Marco Polo’s description, the palace of the Great Khan was constructed within the walls of the city and a large number of people lived in twelve suburbs outside the city. [8] Polo’s mind could not comprehend the exact number of people and houses within Kublai Khan’s new winter capital of Beijing; then Daidu. Marco pole also studies the events that occurred in Beijing on the eve of the New Year. He records that huge numbers of beautiful white horses and elephants were presented before the Great Khan and exhibited in a procession. The horses were covered with unique clothing designed from silk and gold.

Meanwhile, Polo illustrates the glazed roof tiles of blue and yellow and red and green which adored the buildings in Daidu from a distance. The new city is said to have a large number of prostitutes, approximately 20,000, and plenty of coal where people could take about three hot baths in a week.[9] Besides, Marco Polo describes the streets of the great capital city of Daidu. The streets are said to be straight-lined with a large number of beautiful palaces, fine hostelries, and houses. In the middle of the city was a bell which was struck at night three times and signal that all the people in the city should stay indoors.[10] Each of the twelve gates was guarded by a guard of honor for the sovereign. The city also had several plots, courts, and gardens assigned to different family heads.

The Rice-wine drunk by the people of Cathay was a better drink compared to any other forms of liquor brewed in the region. Polo notes that the wine was attractive and clear, and it was served hot to make one drunk sooner than all the other liquors. Some great traders made huge profits and wealth from the silk trade. At the time of Marco Polo’s visitation of Northern China, the country was under the Yuan (The Mongol Empire) dynasty whose internal economy dwarfed that of Europe.[11] Most of the crafts were made from iron. China manufactured approximately 125,000 tons of iron yearly.

 

2.2- Macro Polo’s description of Acbalac Mangi Province

Marco Polo took twenty days to ride through the mountains of Gongchang and finally arrived at Acbalac Mangi province.[12] He adds that the Acbalac Mangi province was entirely flat. The Chinese to the North had established lots of castles and cities at Acbalac. Just like the inhabitants of the border between Cathay and Mangi, the residents of Acbalac Mangi province were idolaters who lived on crafts and trade.[13] Some of the economic activities that Marco Polo observed in this region include rice, wheat, and ginger. The large quantities of ginger grown by the northern farmers were exported throughout the great province of Cathay. Both Ginger and grains exported from this region yielded huge profits and benefits to the Chinese farmers. Again, pole observed that the soil in northern China is very fertile and suitable for growing everything. Marco Polo comes across beautiful plains that have many cities and castles. He also gives an estimate of the time taken to move from one place to the other. For instance, it takes him two days to cross great valleys, mountains and their extensive forest.[14] Marco Polo mentions several wild animals and creatures that characterize Northern China. Some of these animals he comes across in Acbalac Mangi province include stags, roe deer, fallow deer, lynxes, bears, lions, and plenty of musk making creatures. This detailed discussion of the Acbalac Mangi province’s physical features and wildlife is indicative of Marco Polo’s presence in the described areas. Furthermore, during the voyage, Marco Polo observes that Acbalac Mangi residents depended on herding, hunting, and fruit-gathering for livelihood.

 

 

 
 

A map showing modern Chengdufu city

2.3- Marco Polo’s description of Chengdufu (Sindanfu) Province

Marco Polo also described the great province of Chengdufu located in a plain within the borders of Mangi. Marco Polo is also conversant with the political changes that took place in Northern China. Polo reports that Chengdufu was formerly headed by a powerful king. He approximates that the province is 20 miles around.[15] A king had divided the Chengdufu city into three parts to be shared among his three sons. Marco Polo describes that the city also has a common wall within which there are three partitions. The king was very wealthy and powerful and had shared his wealth among his three sons when he was approaching his death.[16] Later, the great king Khan overthrew the three kings and ruled over the kingdom. Polo vividly describes the physical features of Chengdufu province. For example, he reports that a large freshwater river flows in the middle of Chengdufu city.

 

A map showing Jiangshui river which passed through Chengdufu city

 

Marco polo gives a detailed description of the river, which further suggests that he must have visited Chengdufu city before. According to his observation, the river was a good half-mile wide, quite deep, and more than 80 to 100 days’ journey away.[17] The residents refer to the river as Jiangshui. River Jiangshui harbors a lot of fish and terminates into the ocean sea. The Chinese living by the shores of Jiangshui River lived on fishing as their main economic activity. At the shores of the river are several castles and cities. Marco pole put it clear that the ships on the river Jiangshui that someone who has not seen them would not believe.[18] This suggests that Polo must have seen them at the time of the reporting. The ships were used to transport goods up and down for rich merchants. Most of the crafts and clothes manufactured from the Chengdufu province were transported through canal-based transport which linked China’s huge cities and markets.

 

 

River Jiangshui is so broad that it seemed like a sea to Marco Polo and any other person who saw it. The Chinese had constructed a long bridge across the river within Chengdufu city. Marco Polo also portrays absolute knowledge of the bridge as observed from his description. The bridge was entirely made of stones and was eight paces wide and a half-mile long.[19] Marble columns held up the cover of the bridge. The cover is made up of wood painted with rich paintings. The bridge is said to have temporary wooden structures that were used during the day for craftwork and trade and put down at night. During this period, the Chinese extensively used marbles and wood in construction. For instance, Marco polo reports that each of the sides of the palace constructed in the capital of Daidu had grant flights of marble steps. Again, the sides of the great halls of Daidu were adorned with dragons in carved gold and wood. Marco polo also observed that the merchants operating from River Jiangshui Bridge made contributions to the great lord’s income worth 1,000 gold bezants.[20] Pole must have spent some time with the bridge based merchants to know their operations and the amount given to the great lords. He adds that all the inhabitants of Chengdufu city are idolaters. Hence, Marco Polo should have toured Northern China for him to know the terrain of the land, the economic activities, and the distance between places.[21] As such, pole rides for five days through the valleys and plains of Chengdufu province.

 

 

3- Conclusion

Marco Polo’s detailed description of the borders between Cathy and Mangi, Acbalac, and Chengdufu clearly indicates that he visited Northern China. The estimates of the distances and the description of the people’s way of life are evidence of keen observation and close interaction of Marco Polo with the people of Northern China. From the description, the economic activities and the physical features within the three provinces become clear and understandable. Marco polo notes that the men living in the borders between Cathay and Mangi lived from silk and crafts trade which were in plenty within the region. The people of northern China primarily relied on the land, forest, and hunting to earn a living.

Similarly, residents of Acbalac Mangi province were idolaters who lived on crafts and trade.[22] They engaged in various economic activities such as rice, wheat, and ginger. The large quantities of ginger grown by the northern farmers were exported throughout the great province of Cathay. Lastly, Marco Polo gives a detailed report of Jiangshui River, which flow at the middle of Chengdufu City. Jiangshui River is a half-mile wide and quite deep. The river is used to transport goods for the city rich merchants and supports fishing. The Great heritage of mineral ores, craftwork, extensive forests, wildlife, and trading activities of the people of Northern China can be understood from Marc Polo’s description of the world around him at that instance.[23] There being no other Chinese history sources recorded before Polo’s presentation, polo should have observed and recorded the first-hand information from Northern China.

 

 

4- Footnotes

  • 1 Frances Wood, “Did Marco Polo go to China?,” 2018, 32.

  • 2 Vogel, Hans U. Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. Leiden: BRILL, 2012, 31.

  • 3 Vogel, Hans U. Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues, 36.

  • 4 Marco Polo, The Description of the World (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2016), 98.

  • 5 Polo, The Description of the World , 98.

  • 6 Polo, The Description of the World , 99.

  • 7 Hays, “”MARCO POLO’S DESCRIPTIONS OF CHINA,” Facts and Details.”

  • 8 Hays, “”MARCO POLO’S DESCRIPTIONS OF CHINA,” Facts and Details.”

  • 9 Hays,”MARCO POLO’S DESCRIPTIONS OF CHINA,” Facts and Details.”

  • 10 Hays,“MARCO POLO’S DESCRIPTIONS OF CHINA,” Facts and Details.”

  • 11 Polo, The Description of the World , 100.

  • 12 Polo, The Description of the World , 99.

  • 13 Polo, The Description of the World , 99.

  • 14 Palladius, Elucidations of Marco Polo’s Travels in North-China, 12.

  • 15 Polo, The Description of the World , 99.

  • 16 Polo, The Description of the World , 99.

  • 17 Polo, The Description of the World , 99.

  • 18 Palladius, Elucidations of Marco Polo’s Travels in North-China, 15.

  • 19 Polo, The Description of the World , 100.

  • 20 Polo, The Description of the World , 100.

  • 21 Polo, The Description of the World , 100.

  • 22 Polo, The Description of the World , 100.

  • 23 Wood, “Did Marco Polo go to China?,” 2018, 57.

 

 

5- Reference

Hays, Jeffrey. “MARCO POLO’S DESCRIPTIONS OF CHINA.” Facts and Details. n.d. https://factsanddetails.com/china/cat2/4sub8/entry-5456.html.

Palladius, Archimandrite. Elucidations of Marco Polo’s Travels in North-China, Drawn from Chinese Sources. 1876.

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

Vogel, Hans U. Marco Polo Was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues. Leiden: BRILL, 2012.https://reviews.history.ac.uk/review/1667

Wood, Frances. “Did Marco Polo go to China?” 2018.

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

“Marco Polo”, Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Nov. 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Polo

Morgan, David. The Mongols. Blackwell, 2008.

Rachewiltz, Igor de. The Secret History Of The Mongols. BRILL, 2013. https://newclasses.nyu.edu/access/content/group/6866b62d-9089-4cd6-898c- d53f7484622a/Readings%20for%20the%20Class/Marco%20Polo%20Went%20to%20China.pdf

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

 

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