The B5 group question is “whether Marco Polo’s descriptions of the places mentioned in Chapter 3 of The Description of the World are accurate. Chapter 3 is Marco Polo’s travel to western and southwestern provinces of China. The topic of this individual project is Qarajang and the question is “did Marco Polo visit Qarajang as his descriptions in the Description of the World?” In The Description of the World, Marco Polo claimed that he had visited Qarajang. “Qarajang” is the special Mongol term for “Yunnan”. It is the kingdom of Dali, modern Yunnan province of China. There is also a Yuan dynasty person named Qarajang, who was an important political character in oghon Temür’s reign written in YuShenWaiShi(1). This project has a total 6 parts: 1. “Where is Qarajang”. It defines the location of ancient Qarajang. 2. “How Did Marco Polo Arrive in Qarajang”. It analyzes whether the description of his travel from Jiandu to Qarajang is reliable. 3. “The City of Yachi”. It talks about who ruled Yachi. 4. “Christians and Muslims in Yachi”. It makes sure that Muslims and Christians Marco Polo saw were living in Yachi. 5. “Grains and Money in Yachi”. It talks about the grains and money Marco Polo saw were real. 6. “The City of Dali-fu”. It proves that “Qarajang” in this chapter is “Dali-fu” and the description of the “large snakes” cannot be verified. The description of Qarajang is an important part because if Marco Polo’s description is reliable, then it can help prove the group question. If Marco Polo visited Qarajang, then he would have most likely visited other places that appeared in The Description of the World.

 

Where is Qarajang

Qarajang was the kingdom of Dali, an independent kingdom before the Mongol conquest. According to the footnote of the chapter, the king of Dali was Duan Xiangzhi, who acknowledged himself as Mongke’s vassal in 1256, and in 1274, the area was incorporated into the new territorial unit of Yunnan (Herman 2007, 46–48). The capital of Qarajang was supposed to be Yachi, which is the modern city of Kunming. Before the conquest, it was not yet the capital of Yunnan. In 1276, Mongol rulers named the area Kunming County and made it the capital of Yunnan.

 

How Did Marco Polo Arrive in Qarajang

According to The Description of the World, Marco Polo left Jiandu before arriving at Qarajang. Jiandu is Present-day Xi chang in Sichuan Province. Marco Polo rode about 10 days and found a lot of castles and small dwellings. And then he rode 10 more days and found a large river called “Brius”, where he left and entered Qarajang. Then it raises the question on whether the description of the travel from Jiandu to Qarajang is reliable. From Jiandu to Yachi is from Xichang in Sichuan Province to Kunming in Yunnan Province. It can be inferred that the river “Brius”, where Marco Polo left to enter Yachi is Jinsha river today. It flows from the provinces of Qinghai to Sichuan, and then it arrives in Yunnan.(3) Jinsha river means “the river of golden sands” in Chinese. It got its name because gold mixed in sands appeared in the river in Song dynasty.(4) The actual Jinsha river matched the description by Marco Polo, “in this river is found a great quantity of gold dust”. Moreover, Jinsha river flows through the city of Kunming today, so we can confirm that “Brius” is Jinsha river. In conclusion, the description of Marco Polo’s travel from Jiandu to Yachi is reliable.

 

The City of Yachi

When Marco Polo crossed the river, he entered the province of Qarajang. He wrote that Qarajang “are a good 7 kingdoms”, and “the king of it is his son, named Esen Temür[Esen temur], who is a very great king, rich and powerful; he holds his land in great justice, for he is a wise and worthy man.” It is true that the king before the Mongol conquest was Duan Xingzhi, who claimed himself Mongke’s vassal in 1256, and the area was incorporated into Yunnan in 1274.(6) The detail is not accurate. Marco Polo called Esen Temür to be Qubilai’s son, but he was actually Qubilai’s grandson. His father was Kamala, the eldest son of Crown Prince Zhenjin, who was presumed heir to his father Kublai Khan.(7) The inaccuracy is not crucial enough to disprove Marco Polo’s travel to Yachi.

Christians and Muslims in Yachi

In Yachi, Marco Polo saw people who worshipped Muhammad and Christians who were Nestorians. It is true that Christians and Muslims lived in the southwestern regions during the Yuan dynasty. According to East Syriac Christianity in Mongol-Yuan China, Christianity started to have an influence since the Chingiz Khan time. The youngest son Tolei of Chingiz Khan married the Christian woman Sorkaktani Beki, the niece of Kerait Ong Khan. There were also Christians serving Khans. During the period of the Yuan Dynasty, there were groups of people called Semuren, which means all kinds of people. These people had western religions, including the most popular one, Christianity. These Christians, which were called “Nestorians”, were all over the country, especially in the west.(8) Islam was also an important religion in China in the Yuan dynasty. According to Islam and Tibet: Cultural Interactions, there were multiple Islam empires in Tibet in the Mongol empire. The empire and its people were referred to as Stag gzig. Muslims arrived in Tibet through plying their trade via Kashmir that Muslim settlers in Tibet were called by a name deriving from the name ‘Kashmir’: kha che. They were highly impacted by the Muslims in making medicines. “Galenos” in Tibetan medical histories appeared a lot. It originated from the west. And other medical knowledge came from Muslims to Tibet. Tibet was also an important point on the Eurasian trade routes and a source for a number of exotic goods. Musk, which was a highly demanded perfume, was both found in Tibet and Arab.(9) Tibet is in the northwest of Yunnan so that people could easily travel to Yunnan from Tibet. Therefore the description of different religions in Yachi is reliable.

Grains and Money in Yachi

In the Description of the World, Marco Polo saw “a lot of wheat and rice, but they do not eat wheat bread. because it is unhealthy; but they eat rice, and make a drink of rice with spices that is very beautiful and clear and gets men drunk just like wine.” According to an article by Fang Tie, a professor at Yunnan University, the tradition of people in Yunnan, which came from the Mongol period, is that they mostly ate rice and drank wine made of grains and they did not eat.(10) So the description of people’s diet is reliable. Marco Polo also mentioned the currency people used for trade. “for they spend white cowrie shells—which are found in the sea and which they put around their dogs’ necks—with 80 cowries [porcelaines] being worth a sag gio of silver, that is, two Venetians groats; and know that eight saggi of pure silver is worth one saggio of pure gold”. According to an article by Yin Jizhi and Chen Xiaorong, cowries were always the currency in Yunnan until the early Qing dynasty. And people paid taxes with cowries. (11) Therefore, we can tell that the description of cowries in Yachi is accurate.

The City of Dali-fu

Marco Polo left Yachi and proceeded 10 days toward the west, and he arrived in the province of Qarajang. More accurately, it was Dali-fu, Dali today in Yunnan. The actual distance between Yachi to Dali is about 10 days, the same as the distance between Jiandu and Yachi. In Dali, Marco Polo found “large snakes”. They were “10 paces long that are thick for they are about 10 palms around.” They also had “two legs in front, near the head, with no feet except a nail made like that of a falcon or a lion.” Obviously, there were no snakes with legs in front. It is possible that Marco Polo exaggerated the description. But It was true that people took the snake gall to make medicine. It was written in Compendium of Materia Medica that people took snake gall to make medicine. (12) It cannot be determined if the “large snakes” were snakes or some other reptiles like crocodiles. If they were snakes, then the description would be accurate. If they were animals like crocodiles, it would be possible that the description of this animal is not real since there is not much written records of people taking crocodile galls as medicine.

The chapter 3 of The Description of the World is about Marco Polo’s travel to western and southwestern provinces of China. The section 118 and the section 119 are about Qarajang. Qarajang was the kingdom of Dali, but it should refer to the entire Yunnan province. The six parts of this individual project include the geographical content of Qarajang and whether what Marco Polo saw on the way to Qarajang and in Qarajang were accurate. It can be concluded that although there are some inaccurate details, most of the texts in two sections are real. This may prove that Marco Polo did travel to Qarajang. And if that is true, the reliability of other texts in chapter 3 grows. The description of chapter 3 is more reliable.

 

Footnotes

[1]Geng Shen Wai Shi, Quan Heng.

[2]Li Tang, 88-130.

[3]Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, 3-14.

[4]Fang Tie(2005).

[5]Yin Jizhi, Chen Xiaorong(2008).

 

Work Cited

Gen Shen Wai Shi 庚申外史(1367), by Quan Heng 权衡. (Wang Ruzao edition).

“Jinsha River”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jinsha_River.

“Dali”. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Dali-historical-China.

“Yesün Temür Khan, Emperor Taiding of Yuan”. enacademic.com.

Li Tang, “East Syrian Christianity in China under the Mongol Empire: A History Reconstructed”. Published by: Harrassowitz Verlag. https://newclasses.nyu.edu/access/content/group/6866b62d-9089-4cd6-898c-d53f7484622a/Readings%20for%20the%20Class/East%20Syrian%20Christianity.pdf

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, “Islam and Tibet: Cultural Interactions–An Introduction.” https://newclasses.nyu.edu/access/content/group/6866b62d-9089-4cd6-898c-d53f7484622a/Readings%20for%20the%20Class/Islam_and_Tibet_Interactions_Along_the_M.pdf

Fang Tie 方铁. “Yunnan Yinshi Wenhua Yu Yunnan Lishi Fazhan” 云南饮食文化与云南历史发展, Yunnan University Xinan Bianjiang Shaoshu Minzu Yanjiu ZHongxin 云南大学西南边疆少数民族研究中心(2005).

Jizhi, Yin. Xiaorong, Chen. “试论贝币在我国的行用”. Zhongguo Zhiwang 中国知网. published in https://boyue.cnki.net/LiteratureDetail/Index?filename=SlJKWTIwMDgwMzAyOA==(20.08.2020).

Kunming

https://hk.trip.com/travel-guide/kunming-29/.

https://enacademic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/544413.