Mongol Group D4


kingdom of fuzhou


Fuzhou and Quanzhou are cities located at the south-eastern coastal regions of China, in present Fujian province. As an area that has always been trade-wise developed through out history, the Fujian province region is neighbor to Guangdong province, Jiangxi province and Zhejiang province.

In Kinoshita’s Description of the World, or the narration of Marco Polo’s journey to the east, Fuzhou and Quanzhou are two cities addressed as part of the biggest province (the Fuzhou Kingdom )of the Southern China region that Marco Polo called “Mangi”. In his words, the Fuzhou Kingdom have gained enormous wealth with unique local customs through their vital purpose to conduct massive trade.


Other scholars include Billy Kee Long So and Jilang Su, who had detailedly written about cultural, social, economical aspects of Maritime Southern China, which also included Fuzhou and Quanzhou as important port sites. Hugh Clark, in his Song-Yuan studies journal, “Why Does the Tang-Song Interregnum Matter? A Focus on the Economies of the South”, deprived evidences of specific trade goods at Fuzhou Kingdom from primary historical sources, for example, Wuguo Gushi五国故事[1] and Comprehensive Geography of the Taiping Era 太平寰宇记by Yue Shi[2], which offered a geographical approach to local costumes and economy in the area.

Considering the details provided by Marco, however, comparisons should be made between Marco’s stories and actual incidents that have partially been recorded. We must try our best to trace back to evidence regarding every characteristic Marco have told about the Fuzhou Kingdom, so that we can then attempt to verify Marco’s authenticity and offer potential explanations of bot his correct and false addresses.




In order to set a general background knowledge of the region, we must start with the crops and goods produced in the Fuzhou Kingdom. In Description of the World, although didn’t gave a direct account of “agriculture”, Marco did described several productions he considered incredible.

“They have ginger and galangal beyond measure, for, for one Venetian groat you get so much ginger it amounts to a good eighty pounds. They have a fruit that resembles saffron but isn’t; but it’s worth as much as saffron to work with; there are other things too. There’s also a strange thing which is good to mention: for I tell you that there are hens that don’t have feathers but skin like a cat and are all black; they produce eggs like those in our country; they are very good to eat.” [3]

Marco also included fragmented descriptions of the creation of “very great quantity of sugar”[4], “a lot of good fruit”, porcelain bowls that were “the most beautiful you can imagine”[5]. We will narrow down each production by tracing its origins and their relationships with the Fuzhou Kingdom area.


Present-day Fujian province, where the Fuzhou Kingdom, supposedly, was located in, is one of the biggest ginger production sites in China[6]. The ginger specie have its habitat in tropical south-eastern climates, which the Fujian region would also satisfy this criteria.


In Billy K.L. So’s “Prosperity, Region, and Institutions in Maritime China: The South Fukien Pattern, 946-1368″, he affirmed the production and export of sugar that emerged after Quanzhou had became one of the major ports in Southern China. Along with sugar are local products including wine, salt, and spices.


In Yue Shi’s Tai Ping Huan Yu Ji (Comprehensive Geography of the Taiping Era) 太平寰宇记, spices, especially spices for trade transportation, appeared at Volume 102, as a local product [7]that was called “spices and herbs for maritime travel ships” [8].

“Saffron-like fruit”:

Marco Polo also mentioned a “fruit” that looked alike Saffron but belonged to a different specie while at the same time, served similar functions [9]. It was also in Tai Ping Huan Yu Ji’s local products of Quanzhou where there the author gave account of a plant called “紅花茜緋”, or Rubia haematantha Airy-Shaw[10], meaning red-flowered plant. As shown in Figures x and xx, although Rubia haematantha Airy-Shaw and Saffrons does not look similar when they are fresh, they both showed a dark-reddish dry shape when they are being manufactured and stored. As a result, there are still possibility that the mysterious fruit Marco Polo was referring to is indeed Rubia haematantha Airy-Shaw.


Rubia haematantha Airy-Shaw

available from google

Macro shot of saffron in a wooden spoon on a textured wood background


available from getty




The accounts of the society in Fuzhou Kingdom remain vague. The only relevant content in Description of the World is then, probably, how its people:

“eat all wild things; they also willingly eat men’s flesh, as long as they have not died a natural death; but those that have been killed by arms they eat completely and consider it to be very good meat.”

There is no exist record referring to the region’s citizens as cannibals, neither did they “ate men’s flesh” and “considered it to be very good meat”. What would offer some clue, though, is Nan Zhou Yi Wu Zhi (Record of Weird Incidents that Happened in the Southern Region)[11], a Liao Zhai Zhi Yi-like record of grotesque folk stories. Within the book’s contents, a “head-hunting” religious practice in the Ling nan area (roughly the area surrounded by Guangzhou, Jiangxi, Hunan, and Guangxi ) was recorded. In Mo Zhidong’s “Hair plait master hat and ancient Lingnan customs”[12], a number of tribes had possessed the practice to take one’s head for religious rituals and witchcraft. Nan Zhou Yi Wu Zhi: 交广交 界,民曰乌浒。……行旅有单廻辈者,辄出击之。利,得人食之,不贪 其财也。……出得人归家,合聚邻里。悬死人中当,四 面向坐。击铜鼓,歌舞饮酒,稍就割食之。奉月方田, 尤好出索人,贪得之以祭田神也。” It is obvious that the purpose of cutting one’s head is a form of internal sacrifice to the Goddess “Tian Shen田神” [13] . Thus, we can still explain Marco Polo’s description using the head-hunting practice done by some of the tribes in the Lingnan area (which also includes the Fuzhou Kingdom)[14].

However, what’s worth notion is that the Nan Zhou Yi Wu Zhi was written in the Han dynasty, which was much more earlier than the Yuan control time-period when Marco Polo, accordingly, had travelled to China. While there might still be tribal practices that remained at the time when Marco Polo went to China, Marco’s failure to capture the true practice of head-hunting while at the same time, stating descriptions that are much more exaggerated and general compared to the truth, may contribute to more skepticism towards the authenticity of Marco’s journey. (Rather than witnessing, he probably heard the story from someone else? )





“In this city is the port where all the India ships come, with many commodities and luxuries, with many precious stones of great worth, and with many big, good-quality pearls.27 To this port come all the merchants of Mangi (which totally surrounds it); consequently, such a great abundance of commodities and stones come and go through this port that it’s a marvelous thing to see; and from this city and port, they go throughout the entire province of Mangi. I tell you that for each shipload of pepper going to Alexandria or other places to be carried to Christian lands, a hundred come to this port of Zaytun, for you must know that this is one of the two ports in the world where the most merchandise comes from.” [15]

In Description of the World, Marco Polo had contributed a whole section describing Quanzhou, or Zaytun, as one of the most wealthy cities in the Fuzhou Kingdom. In his words, the Zaytun city was heavily communicative with the Indian merchants, and its economy is mainly based on trading[16]. Meanwhile, in his words, Quanzhou (Zaytun) , through charging heavy tariffs, had become one of the greatest money generator for the Great Khan. Seemingly, the Zaytun port was a highly globalized site at that time, compared to surrounding cities. In Tai Ping Huan Yu Ji太平寰宇记, there was clear address of Quanzhou’s connection with merchants mainly from India and Southern Asian countries. Hugh R. Clark, in his article “Muslims and Hindus in the Culture and Morphology of Quanzhou from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Century” , acknowledged Quanzhou as one of the big ports of China starting from the seventh century[17].

However, with the presence of Guangzhou, the most important harbor cities in Southern China, Quanzhou could not match their size either from its wealth nor from its commerce. It was the early tenth century when Quanzhou had become a alternative and more concentrated with merchants from the Southern Sea, with the promotion of Wang Yanbin 王延彬, who was made “treasure-summoning secretary” (招宝侍郎) of the court[18]. Song scholar Lin Shiqi林世奇 had written in his Collective essays of the Zhuo studio (拙斋文集), that Quanzhou was the “leading” three sites of South Sea commerce. It is clear that starting from the late Yang dynasty until the late Song Dynasty and even the beginning of the Yuan dynasty, Quanzhou as a port city was in great prosperity.

The city, mainly due to its over-dependency on trade and its single economy, had ultimately came to a fall. Richard Von Glahn, in his journal “The Ningbo-Hakata Merchant Network and the Reorientation of East Asian Maritime Trade, 1150-1350”, had revealed the decline of the Quanzhou port[19]. Deprived from So’s Prosperity, Region, and Institution, the revenues starting from the thirteenth century had quickly dropped by nearly 90 percent in the Quanzhou area, while Kubilai’s invasion attempts, for example, conquest to Korya described in David Morgan’s The Mongols, may have contributed to the decrease of foreign trade conducted in the Quanzhou area.




Through a broad comparison and analysis of several details and facts Marco Polo had included in his narration regarding the Fuzhou Kingdom, we conclude that his stories are definitely with certain degree of error, but also several details that had corresponded to the reality. While having successfully addressing some unique and detailed productions in the region, for example, sugar, ginger, saffron-like fruit, or ceramics, Marco has failed to portray the local civilization correctly. Surely, in the evaluation of Marco’s account of the cannibals, we must consider the story-telling style of the book and include probability of exaggeration when describing people from a mysterious country.

However, another huge skepticism lays under Marco’s narration of the wealthiness of the Quanzhou Port. According to So’s book and Von Glahn’s journal, the prosperity of the Quanzhou Port was mainly in the Song Dynasty, and had significantly decreased after the Mongol rule. Logically, Marco Polo shouldn’t have seen such a lively city at the time that he claimed went on his journey. This slight disconnection of the timeline may contribute to the question: did Marco Polo came to Southern China?

Generally saying, we may choose to believe that Marco Polo did get to China, since he have got a number of details correct, those facts are often too detailed that there won’t be any source of story-telling. On the other hand, we doubt the 100% authenticity of Marco Polo’s witness. Since he had made mistakes with cultural and time-wise facts, there are possibility of Marco Polo “knowing” these facts from other merchants.




[1] Story-telling style historical record completed in Song by Bao Shigong鲍士恭

[2] Tai Ping Huan Yu Ji was completed in the Song dynasty.

[3] Kinoshita, Description of the World, 139.

[4]Kinoshita, 140

[5] Kinoshita, 141

[6] Shandong Province, Hunan Province, and Fujian Province

[7] The expression in Chinese of “local product” in the source is “土産“.

[8] Referred as “海舶香藥“.

[9] “They have a fruit that resembles saffron but isn’t; but it’s worth as much as saffron to work with” (Kinoshita, 139)

[10]红花茜草” in modern Chinese.

[11] 《南州异物志》written by Wu Wanzhen吴万震

[12]《发编师公帽与古代岭南习俗》by Mo Zhidong. 2014.

[13] “Tian shen” in Chinese means the God of farmland.

[14] Accordingly, the old definition of the Ling Nan area includes modern day Guangdong Province, the western part of modern day Fujian Province, modern day Guangxi Province, and modern day Yunnan Province.

[15] Kinoshita, 141.

[16] “In this city is the port where all the India ships come, with many commodities and luxuries, with many precious stones of great worth, and with many big, good-quality pearls.” (Kinoshita, 140)

[17] Clark, 58-60.

[18] Clark, “Why does the Tang Song Interregnum Matter?”, 19

[19] Von Glahn, 264



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