Mongol Group B3

Kunquan

Validity of Marco polo's description of the war between the Great Khan and Mien

 
 
Map of East China
 
 
 

Introduction

The Travels of Marco Polo” is well known by people. It was originally known as Livre des Merveilles du Monde or Devisement du Monde (“the Description of the World“). The book recorded the story about Marco Polo traveling through Eurasia continents and arriving in China by Rustichello da Pisa. It was translated into many languages, but the original manuscripts were lost, and the reconstructions have a matter of textual criticism. This individual research target critically discusses the validity of Marco Polo’s description of the war between the Great Khan and Mien in “Marco Polo, the description of the world”, and reaches the conclusion for the group question that whether his descriptions are sufficient enough to prove that he has traveled to China.

The Background of the war between Mien and Yuan at 1270s

As it is recorded in “Marco Polo, the Description of the World”, In year 1272, the Great Khan sent an army to Vocian and Qurajang to protect them from the harm of Mien and Bangala(Marco Polo, the Description of the World. Chapter 3, §§ 121). Qarajang was the name of Yunnan in China, and Mien was the Chinese name of Burma which referred to the Pagan Kingdom during the 1270s. The reason of the start of the war is not clear in “the Description”, but we could see from the historical materials that the possible trigger of the first war was the King of Mien Narathihapate’s refusal to pay tribute and the slain of Qubilai’s envoy. In “Yuan shi, Mien guo zhuan(元史,缅国传)”, the Yunnan government official said that “The King of Mien will not submit to the Yuan dynasty, and the envoys are not coming back”, but Kubilai Khan was focusing on the remnants of Southern Song and did not immediately respond to this insult(footnote 1). Later, Narathihapate resented the chief of the Kaungau(金齿) tribe who had pledged fealty to Kublai Khan. Therefore, he subsequently invaded the state of Kaungau and the war began(footnote 2).

Controversies in “Marco Polo, The description of the world

In “the Description”, the war started in 1272. However, in historical sources, one of the commonly recorded years of the first war between Mien and Yuan was the year 1277. For instance, in “the Yuan shi, Mien guo zhuan” and “the new Yuan shi, Mien guo zhuan(新元史,缅国传)” both recorded the year of “Zhi Yuan 14 year March, Mien people was resentful to Ahe’s(阿禾) claim allegiance to Yuan and attacked his territory”, which was at the year of 1277(footnote 2). Other sources recorded the different years of 1279, 1276 and 1275. The “Yuan shi, Nescradin zhuan(元史,纳速剌丁传)” recorded that “In Zhi Yuan 16 year, Nescradin became the supreme commander of Dali and led the army to attack the rebellious tribes in Kaungau, Pu(蒲), Qula(曲腊), and Mien”(footnote 4). The “Yuan shi, Xinjuri zhuan(元史,信苴日传)” mentioned in Zhi Yuan 13 Year(the year of 1276), the Mien gathered thousands of elephant mounted troops to invade the south of Kaungau and also wanted to attack Dali(footnote 3), and also in the “Yuan shi ji shi ben mo(元史纪事本末)”, it was documented that in Zhi Yuan 12 year(the year of 1275), Nescradin, the supreme commander(元帅) of Yunnan, attacked Mien and brought many people of Mien to surrender(footnote 4). Yet, none of the sources shows that the war happened in 1272, scholar Fengcheng Jun stated in his translation of “The travels of Marco Polo” that this mismatch was caused by clerical error during the process of copying, the year 1277 and 1272 written in Roman numerals are respectively Mcclxxvii and Mcclxxii. Thus, it is reasonable to lose a letter in such similar figures due to prolonged copying and repeating.

Another possible explanation about the year 1272 is the year that the Great Khan send army to Kaungau, as it is recorded in the “New Yuan shi, book 49”, Zhi Yuan 8 year, the two groups of Anfushi(安抚使) were sent to Kaungau and Baiyi(footnote 5), which is similar to the description in “the Description” that “the Great Khan sent a great army to the kingdoms of Vocian and Qarajang to protect them and keep other people from doing them harm”(Marco Polo, the Description of the World. Chapter 3, §§ 121). Also in the “Yuan shi, Mien guo zhuan ”, It was recorded that “In Zhi Yuan 8 year(the year of 1272), the King of Mien send troops of thousands to capture Abi(阿必)”, but this event didn’t lead to war, the Kaungau tribe paid gold to Mien and Abi was released(footnote 2). Therefore, “the Description” recorded the year 1272 was the year that the Great Khan sent an army to Yunnan to protect his people is believable, but to state the year 1272 was the beginning of the war between the Great Khan and Mien is not valid.

Moreover, except for the time, the participants and the leaders of the war introduced in “the Description” is quite controversial. There were actually many small battles in the three main wars between Mien and Yuan(footnote 6). However, Marco Polo confused the details of the first two battles here. By comparing the details of the war he described in “the description” with the historical sources, I would like to consider the war that Marco Polo described was the first war between Mien and Yuan—the Battle of Ngasaunggyan. The main reason for considering the war is the Battle of Ngasaunggyan is the similar descriptions of the elephant troops in “the Description” and “Yuan shi”. In “the Description”, it is mentioned that “Know that when most of the elephants were wounded in the way I have told you, I tell you that they turned in flight toward the king’s men with such a great din that it seemed the whole world was about to split apart”(Marco Polo, the Description of the World. Chapter 3, §§ 123). Also in “Yuan shi” and “New Yuan shi” it was mentioned as “The Mien troops and the elephant trod each other and the dead man filled three huge ditches”(footnote 7). So both the Chinese sources and “the Description” contributed the failure of Mien troops to the destruction of elephant troops. Although the details of the war are similar, the participants of Mongol troops are totally different. The Mongol troops in the first war, which were recorded in “Yuan shi” and “New Yuan shi”, were led by Wanhu(万户) Khudu, Zongguan(总管) Xinjuri and Zongba(总把) Tuoluotuohai(脱罗脱孩) and had 700 soldiers. The Mien troops had 800 elephants and 40,000 to 50,000 warriors(footnote 3). On the contrary, in “the Description”, the troops of Mien gathered 2000 elephants, with 12-16 fighters on each elephant, and also 50,000 men on horseback or on foot. The Yuan army had 12,000 mounted men and led by Nescradin(Marco Polo, the Description of the World. Chapter 3, §§ 122). The number and constructions of the Mien troops are not very controversial, also as recorded in “Yuan shi, Xinjuri zhuan”, there were tens of thousands of Mien troops with elephants(footnote 3). However, why in Marco Polo’s words the leader of the Mongol troops changed to Nescradin and the number of soldiers increased to 12,000? According to “Yuan shi” and “New Yuan shi”, Nescradin was the commander of Mongol troops who gathered thousands of troops from nearby tribes and participated in the second war between Mien and Yuan in October 1277, which was only 7 months after the first war(footnote 4). One possible guess of the difference in “the description” and “Yuan shi” is that the two wars happened too close and Marco Polo considered the two wars as one. The two wars happened in the same year and the number of Mongol soldiers in the first war was too small, it is safe to speculate that Marco Polo considered the first war as a small battle in the war between Mien and Yuan on a larger scale.

In addition, there are some historical documents that agree with “the Description”. For instance the “Yuan shi ji shi ben mo”. As I mentioned before, in year Zhi Yuan 12, Nescradin, the supreme commander of Yunnan, attacked Mien and brought many people of Mien to surrender(footnote 4). Also in the “Yuan Shi, Nescradin Zhuan”, that “In Zhiyuan 16 year, Nescradin became the supreme commander of Dali and led the army to attack the rebellious tribes in Kaungau, Pu, Qula, and Mien”(footnote 4), which were the same places that Khudu’s army attacked under orders in “Yuan shi”(footnote 3). Except for the debate of the accuracy of the year, Nescradin was recorded as the supreme commander of Yunnan, contrasting to Khudu who was a Wanhu recorded in “Yuan shi”. Nescradin was very likely the chief officer of Khudu and they both recorded to attack the same place, so it is also possible that the actual commander of the first war was Nescradin but he didn’t show up in the small battle led by Khudu.

About the result of the first and second war, most of the sources described roughly the same, ending with the victory of the Yuan Army and the recruitment of Mien soldiers and elephants. Yet, the rest of the wars that followed, and the establishment of the puppet government in Mien, were not included in the “the Description”.

Conclusion

After all, the year 1272 included in “the Description” should be the year that the Great Khan sent the army to Vocian and Qurajang, but not the time of the beginning of the war. As we see through the wars in 1277, the strategic intent of Yuan to Mien is correct in “the Description”. The first war was the result of intensification of the contradiction between Yuan and Mien, and it was true that Kubilai Khan sent the army to protect the Kaungau tribe. There are many losses and mistakes in “the Description”, but the overall general account for the war could match historical sources. Also the records of customs, culture and geography of Mien and Bangala in “the Description” are worth to be considered, because these aspects are deficient in Chinese historical sources. From his description about the time and the participants, I would rather consider Marco Polo has been to China but hasn’t personally experienced this war. Firstly, because he named the Pugan Kingdom as Mien, which is a Chinese form of address to call the place. Secondly, he knew that 1272 was the year that the Great Khan sent army to Yunnan but he didn’t know when the war actually happened. Lastly, he knew the supreme commander of Yunnan was Nescradin but he didn’t know the exact name and participants of the war. His narrations of the war and the city of Mien were presumably pieced together by accounts he heard while visiting the court of Kubilai Khan. It is hard to imagine that a person who hasn’t been to China can acquaint himself with those details.

Footnotes

1. 世祖至元八年,大理宣慰司遣乞台脱因等招之(新元史,缅国传). Zhi Yuan 8 year, Dali envoys including Qitaituoyin were sent by the diplomatic department to ask the King of Mien to submit to Yuan. 因言缅王无降云南行省意,去使不返,必须征讨。帝曰:“姑缓之(新元史,缅国传). The Yunnan official said, “The King of Mien will not submit to the Yunnan province, and the envoys are not coming back, then we need to send an army to attack them”. However, this time Kubilai Khan didn’t quickly respond to it, and only said to procrastinate the attack. This might be because Kubilai Khan was focusing on the remnants of Southern Song and had no more effort to send extra troops to attack Mien. As it is described in “the Mongols”, “Despite troubles to the north and west, Kubilai was not to be deflected from his conquest of the Sung. But it occupied him for many years: Hang- chou, the capital, fell in 1276, and not until 1279 was resistance at an end”(the Mongols, P120).

2. 至元九年(1272)三月,缅王恨阿必,乃率兵数万来侵,虏阿必而去(元史,缅国传). 我金齿不得已乃献缅重金,缅始释阿必. 至元十四年(1277)三月, 缅人以阿禾内附,怨之,攻其地(新元史,缅国传). Kaungau tribe was submitted to Yuan, and the King of Mien sent army to attack Kaungau, and captured Abi(the father of the leader of Kaungau) in 1272, but Kaungau paid gold to Mien and Abi was released. Also in 1277 March, the Mien people attacked Kaungau, but this time the Yuan army responded to the assault. Which promoted the Khan to sent army to Qarajang and Vocian.

3.十三年, 缅国拥象骑数万, 掠金齿南甸, 欲袭大理, 行省遣信苴日与万户忽都领骑兵千人御之(元史,信苴日传). Zhi Yuan 13 year(1276), the Mien had elephant troops for tens of thousands, and invaded south and Dali. The province sent Xinjuri and Khudu with about a thousand mounted soldiers to defend. At here we could see that the command was coming from the province, so we could probably guess that the command was coming from the supreme commander Nescradin. 时万户忽都、总管信苴日、总把脱罗脱孩方奉命伐永昌之西腾越、蒲骠、阿昌、金齿未降诸部族… 时缅军有众四五万,象八百只,马近万匹. 忽都等兵只七百人(元史,缅国传). Khudu, Xin, and Tuo received order to attack the rebellious tribes at west Tengyue, Pu, Chang and Kaungau. And the Mien had 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers, 800 elephants and tens of thousands of horses. Khudu only had 700 men. Also at here we could see that Khudu received order from his chief commander to attack those regions. And those regions are the same ones that Nescradin attacked.

4.至元十二年, 云南省臣言:“缅王无降心, 去使不返, 势须用兵. ”帝未许. 已而云南都元帅纳速剌丁率兵入缅界, 稍稍招降其众, 以天然还师(元史纪事本末). Zhi Yuan 12 year(1275), the Yunnan government official said that the King of Mien will not submit to the Yuan dynasty, and the envoys are not coming back, so we need to attack, but Kubilai Khan did not permitted, but let Nescradin led his army to Mien and recruited some of the Mien people. 纳速剌丁…官至中奉大夫, 云南诸路宣慰使都元帅. 至元十六年调任大理元军统帅, 率军至金齿, 蒲骠, 曲蜡, 缅国, 招安夷寨三百座(元史,纳速剌丁传). Nescradin, he positioned as Dafu and supreme commander of Yunnan. In Zhi Yuan 16 year(1279), he became commander of Dali and led his army to Kaungau, Pu, Qula, and Mien, and recruited 300 hundred villages. At here we could see that Nescradin was the commander and may send Khudu’s army to those regions.

十月,云南宣慰使都元帅纳速剌丁率蒙古、爨、僰、摩些军三千八百人征之(新元史,缅国传). In October(1277), Yunnan commander Nescradin attacked Mien with an united army of 3800 people from other tribes, which is only 7 months after Khudu’s battle.

5.至元八年,分金齿、白夷为东西两路安抚使(新元史,卷四十九·志第十六). Zhiyuan 8 year(1272), the two groups of Anfushi, which could be considered as reinforcements, were sent to Kaungau and Baiyi. This event proved Marco Polo’s narration about the event of Great Khan sent army to Qarajang and Vocian in 1272.

6. The Battle of Ngassaunggyan was the first of three decisive battles between the two empires, the others being the Battle of Bhamo in 1283 and the Battle of Pagan in 1287. By the end of these battles, the Mongols had conquered the entire Pagan empire and installed a puppet government(Wikipedia, “Battle of Ngasaunggyan”).

7.缅军及象马自相践踏而死者满三巨沟(新元史,缅国传). The elephants in the Mien troops treaded on their own people, and the dead people filled three ditches. This evidence showed in the Yuan shi and Marco Polo described the same.

References

Chengjun, Feng. Translation of “the Travels of Marco Polo”. 2001. P299. 冯承钧, 译. 马可·波罗行纪. 上海: 上海书店出版社,2001:P299

Bangzhan, Chen. (Ming). “Yuan shi ji shi ben mo”. 1606. 明. 陈邦瞻. 元史纪事本末( 卷六). 北京: 中华书局,2015: 35.

Kinoshita, Sharon. translation of “Marco Polo, the Description of the World(English edition). Chapter 3″.

Map of East China“.Marco Polo, the Description of the World(English edition)”.xlvi.

Map of Pugan”. 2017. Baidu. https://baike.baidu.com/item/蒲甘王朝/890751?fr=aladdin

Morgan, David. “The Mongols”. 2007. Wiley-Blackwell. P120.

Lian, Song. Yi, Wang. (Ming) “Yuan shi”. 1370. 明. 宋濂, 王祎. 元史:

  1. “Mien guo zhuan”.缅国传. http://guoxue.httpcn.com/html/book/TBXVPWKO/CQPWUYPWTB.shtml.
  2. “Xinjuri zhuan”.信苴日传. https://www.my2852.com/ls/yuanshi/0455.htm.
  3. “Nescradin zhuan”. 纳速剌丁传. http://guoxue.httpcn.com/html/book/TBXVPWKO/CQPWCQTBIL.shtml.

Shaomin, Ke. “New Yuan shi”. 1920. 柯劭忞·新元史:

  1. Mien guo zhuan”. 缅国传. https://www.my2852.com/ls/xys/1076.htm.
  2. Book 49, Zhi 16”. 卷四十九·志第十六. https://m.yuwenmi.com/guoxue/xinyuanshi/10923_5.html

word count: 1871

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