Mongol Group D4



It remains debatable whether Marco Polo has come to China, especially southern China where he called “Mangi”. In the book Marco Polo come to China[1], the author mentions some queries of scholar Frances Wood who deduces that Marco Polo had never been to China for Marco Polo’s missing description of the famous tea and Great Wall in China. Additionally, there are no text records show that Marco Polo has come to China. It is unusual, considering the identity of Marco Polo, who was the first group of Europeans who came to China in the Middle Ages (35). In this section, I will take the book The Description of the World[2] as the main primary source and compare it with other primary and secondary Chinese historical sources to analyze whether Marco Polo has been to Hangzhou[3] in China. The examination of whether Marco Polo has been to Hangzhou is important because Marco Polo spent a huge space in his book describing the nobility and prosperity of Hangzhou, the custom of local people, and geographic information about Hangzhou. The verification of Marco Polo’s presence in Hangzhou will contribute a lot to the question of Marco Polo’s presence in China.



At the beginning of chapter 4, The Description of the World, Marco Polo first mentions the king of southern China, Facfur. In part 139, Marco Polo describes Facfur as a king who “took pleasure in women and was good to poor people”(123). On page 124 Marco Polo gives a detailed example: “Know that each year he fed some 20,000 little children, and I will tell you how. In this province they discard the child as soon as it is born: poor women who cannot feed it do this. The king had them all taken up, and had it recorded under what sign and which planet he was born. Then he had him fed in many places, for there are nurses in great abundance.” In Marco Polo’s description, King Facfur spent lots of his time settling and educating orphans and children who got nowhere to go. If we take look at other historical sources, we can find corresponding records. In the 《宋史》卷一百七十八《食货上六》[4], it mentions “孤貧小兒可教者,令入小學聽讀,其衣襴於常平頭子錢內給造,仍免入齋之用。遺棄小兒,雇人乳養,仍聽宮觀、寺院養為童行”. This sentence says that lonely and poor children were taken into a school called “童行”, where the children were fed and educated. This evidence in Chinese historical resource 《宋史》shows the same characteristic of Facfur as Marco Polo described in The Description of the World. If Marco Polo never came to China, it is hard for him to provide such detailed and accurate information about Hangzhou regarding education policy and the characteristic of King Facfur.



As for the geographic description of Hangzhou, Marco Polo states that “for I tell you that this city is all on the water and is surrounded by water, and therefore it is fitting that there be many bridges for getting around the whole city (133).” I took a screenshot from google map. From the picture below we can see that the West Lake, also called Xihu in the picture, is the one in the west part of Hangzhou, the Qiantang River is on the east of Hangzhou. It nearly fits what Marco Polo described as “surrounded by water”.

Moreover, Marco Polo also mentions that the Ocean Sea is 25 miles away from this city, between the northeast and east (152). And we can tell from the picture below that Marco Polo was referring to the Qiantang River, which is connected to the Ocean from the northeast and north.

Marco Polo mentions West Lake in The Description of the World: “ I also tell you that toward the south there is a lake, a good 30 miles around (134)”. In the Chinese resource 《梦粱录》[5]卷十二,the book mentioned “杭城之西,有湖曰西湖,旧名钱塘。湖周围三十余里,自古迄今,号为绝景”, the “”here is the same as “”which corresponds to the miles as Marco Polo used in The Description of the World. As a result, the geographic information, including the location of Hangzhou corresponding to Qiantang River and West lake, the direction where the sea and Qiangtang river are connected, and the size of the West Lake, provided by Marco Polo is accurate and concrete.



In part 152, Marco Polo focuses on the prosperity and populous of people in Quinsai. As he mentions in The Description of the World: “It also said that this city had 12 crafts [arç], one for each profession [mestier]. Each craft had 12 stations, that is to say 12,000 houses; and in each station there were at least (in some 15, in some 20, in some 30, and in some 40) men (133).” From the description of Marco Polo, we can tell that Hangzhou was populous. As recorded in Chinese historical resource 《梦粱录》卷十六, “杭州城内外,户口浩繁,州府广阔,遇坊巷桥门及隐僻去处,俱有铺席买卖”, “杭州人烟稠密,城内外不下数十万户,百十万口,每日街市食米,除府第、官舍、宅舍、富室,及诸司有该俸人外,细民所食,每日城内外不下一二千余石,皆需之铺家”, the Chinese resource describes that the houses of Hangzhou were at least ten thousand, which matches the data 12,000 per craft provided by Marco Polo. Moreover, the text also mentions that both inside and outside Hangzhou city, there were markets and business. This sentence certificates the prosperity Marco Polo described Hangzhou. In a word, the Chinese historical text testifies the statement Marco Polo makes about the populous and prosperous scene of Hangzhou.



Marco Polo carefully records the dietary of the local people. As he describs in the book “They eat all kinds of meat: dogs and all other brute beasts and animals that no Christian would eat for anything in the world (134)”. In《梦粱录》卷十六, “杭城内外,肉铺不知其几,皆装饰肉案,动器新丽。每日各铺悬挂成边猪,不下十余边。如冬年两节,各铺日卖数十边”. This historical text mentions that both inside and outside Hangzhou city, there were countless meat markets. This description shows the prosperity of the meat shops. And in the context below, it mentions different kinds of meat, including fish, pork, crab, goose, as well as all kinds of body parts of the animals. This confirms what Marco Polo has described in The Description of the World about the eating habits of local people. Only in the presence of Hangzhou city himself, can Marco Polo obtain such detailed eating habits of local people.

Marco Polo describes the customs of people in Hangzhouin detail, especially the bath and funeral. As Marco Polo mentions in The Description of the World page 134, “I also tell you that in this city there are a good 3,000 baths—that is, bathhouses—where men take great pleasure in going several times a month, for they keep their bodies very clean”. We can find similar record in Chinese resource 《梦粱录》卷十三, it states that “开浴堂者名香水行”, which means that people considered the bath as a way of making themselves smell good. This certificates the statement that Marco Polo makes about “making their bodies very clean”.




In conclusion, Marco Polo provides a large number of details about the King Facfur, geographic information of Hangzhou, record of customs and habit of local people, extent of the prosperity of the market. These information also matches with the Chinese historical resource 《梦粱录》 and 《宋史》. By examining the accuracy and matching degree with other primary sources, we can conclude that Marco Polo has been to Hangzhou (Quinsai).




[1] Igor de Rachewiltz, Marco Polo went to China

[2] Marco Polo, The Description of the World, part 152

[3] Also called Quinsai

[4]《宋史》historical records of Song Dynasty

[5] 《梦粱录》historical records of Southern Song cities and Lin’an city



Igor de Rachewiltz, Marco Polo went to China, Request Date: 2006 08 21 Accessed December 20th

Polo, Marco. The Description of the World. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., pp.124-136, Kindle Edition. Accessed December 20th

吴自牧《梦粱录》, 1274, Accessed December 20th

《梦粱录》全集在线阅读_史书典籍_诗词名句网 (

脱脱阿鲁图 《宋史》, 1343 Accessed December 20th

宋史_《宋史》_宋史 (