MARCO POLO, 1253-1324, III


Tso-cheu—Tai-yen-fou—Pin-yang-fou—The Yellow River—Signan-fou—Szu-tchouan—Ching-tu-fou—Thibet—Li-kiang-fou—Carajan—Yung-tchang—Mien—Bengal—Annam—Tai-ping—Cintingui—Sindifoo—Té-cheu—Tsi-nan-fou—Lin-tsin-choo—Lin-sing—Mangi—Yang-tcheu-fou—Towns on the coast—Quin-say or Hang-tcheou-foo—Fo-kien.

When Marco Polo had been at Cambaluc some time, he was sent on a mission that kept him absent from the capital for four months. Ten miles southwards from Cambaluc, he crossed the fine river Pe-ho-nor (which he calls the Pulisanghi), by a stone bridge of twenty-four arches, and 300 feet in length, which was then without parallel in the world. Thirty miles further on he came to the town of Tso-cheu, where a large trade in sandal-wood is carried on; at ten days' journey from hence he came to the modern town of Tai-yen-fou, which was once the seat of an independent government. All the province of Shan-si seemed rich in vines and mulberry-trees; the principal industry in the towns was the making of armour for the emperor's use.

A fine bridge of stone built on twenty-four arches
A fine bridge of stone built on twenty-four arches.

Seven days' journey further on they came to the beautiful commercial city of Pianfou, now called Pin-yang-foo, where the manufacture of silk was carried on. He soon afterwards came to the banks of the Yellow River, which he calls Caramoran or Black River, probably on account of its waters being darkened by the aquatic plants growing in them; at two days' journey from hence he came to the town of Cacianfu, whose position is not now clearly defined. He found nothing remarkable in this town, and leaving it he rode across a beautiful country, covered with towns, country-houses, and gardens, and abounding in game.

In eight days he reached the fine city of Quangianfoo, the ancient capital of the Tâng dynasty, now called Signanfoo, and the capital of Shensi; here reigned Prince Mangalai, the emperor's son, an upright and amiable prince, much loved by his people. He lived in a magnificent palace outside the town, built in the midst of a park, of which the battlemented wall cannot have been less than five miles in circumference.

From Signanfoo, the traveller went towards Thibet, across the modern province of Szu-tchouan, a mountainous country intersected by deep valleys, where lions, bears, lynxes, &c., abounded, and after twenty-eight days' march he found himself on the borders of the great plain of Acmelic-mangi. This is a fertile country and produces all kinds of vegetation; ginger is especially cultivated; there is sufficient to supply all the province of Cathay, and so fertile is the soil that according to a French traveller, M. E. Simon, an acre is now worth 15,000 francs, or three francs the metre. In the thirteenth century this plain was covered with towns and country-houses, and the inhabitants lived upon the fruits of the ground, and the produce of their flocks and herds, while the large quantity of game furnished hunters with abundant occupation.

Marco Polo next visited the town of Sindafou (now Tching-too-foo), the capital of the province of Se-tchu-an, whose population at the present day exceeds 1,500,000 souls. Sindafu, measuring at that time twenty miles round, was divided into three parts, each surrounded with its own wall, and each part had a king of its own before Kublaï-Khan took possession of the town. The great river Kiang ran through the town: it contained large quantities of fish, and from its size resembled a sea more than a river; its waters were covered by a vast number of vessels. Five days after leaving this busy, thriving town Marco Polo reached the province of Thibet, which he says "is very desolate, for it has been destroyed by the war."

Thibet abounds in lions, bears, and other savage animals, from which the travellers would have much difficulty in defending themselves had it not been for the quantity of large thick canes that grow there, which are probably bamboos: he says, "the merchants and travellers passing through these countries at night collect a quantity of these canes and make a large fire of them, for when they are burning they make such a noise and crackle so much, that the lions, bears, and other wild beasts take flight to a distance, and would not approach these fires on any account; thus both men, horses, and camels are safe. In another way, too, protection is afforded by throwing a number of these canes on a wood fire, and when they become heated and split, and the sap hisses, the sound is heard at least ten miles off. When any one is not accustomed to this noise, it is so terrifying that even the horses will break away from their cords and tethers; so their owners often bandage their eyes and tie their feet together to prevent their running away." This method of burning canes is still used in countries where the bamboo grows, and indeed the noise may be compared to the loudest explosion of fire-works.

According to Marco Polo, Thibet is a very large province, having its own language; and its inhabitants, who are idolaters, are a race of bold thieves. A large river, the Khin-cha-kiang, flows over auriferous sands through the province; a quantity of coral is found in it which is much used for idols, and for the adornment of the women. Thibet was at this time under the dominion of the great khan.

The traveller took a westerly direction when he left Sindafou, and crossing the kingdom of Gaindu he must have come to Li-kiang-foo, the capital of the country that is now called Tsi-mong. In this province he visited a beautiful lake which produces pearl-oysters; the fishing is the emperor's property; he also found great quantities of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and other spices under cultivation.

After leaving the province of Gaindu, and crossing a large river, probably the Irrawaddy, Marco Polo took a south-easterly course to the province of Carajan, which probably forms the north-western part of Yunnan. According to his account all the inhabitants of this province, who are mostly great riders, live on the raw flesh of fowls, sheep, buffaloes, and oxen; the rich seasoning their raw meat with garlic sauce and good spices. This country is infested with great adders, and serpents, "hideous to look upon." These reptiles, probably alligators, were ten feet long, had two legs armed with claws, and with their large heads and great jaws could at one gulp swallow a man.

Five days' journey west of Carajan, Marco Polo took a new route to the south, and entered the province of Zardandan, whose capital Nocian, is the modern town of Yung-chang. All the inhabitants of the city had teeth of gold; that is to say, they covered their teeth with little plates of gold which they removed before eating. The men of this province employed themselves only in hunting, catching birds, and making war, the hard work all devolving upon the women and slaves. These Zardanians have neither idols nor churches, but they each worship their ancestor, the patriarch of the family. Their tradesmen carry their goods about on barrows like the bakers in France. They have no doctors, but only enchanters, who jump, dance, and play musical instruments around the invalid's bed till he either dies or recovers.

Marco Polo in the midst of the forests
Marco Polo in the midst of the forests.

Leaving these people with gilded teeth, Marco Polo took the great road which conveys all the traffic between India and Indo-China, and passed by Bhamo, where a market is held three times a week, which attracts merchants from the most distant countries. After riding for fifteen days through forests filled with elephants, unicorns, and other wild animals, he came to the great city of Mien; that is to say, to that part of Upper Burmah, of which the present capital, of recent erection, is called Amarapura. This city of Mien, which may be, perhaps, the old town of Ava now in ruins, or the old town of Paghan situated on the Irrawaddy, possessed a veritable architectural marvel, in two towers, one built of fine stone, and entirely covered with a coating of gold about an inch in thickness, and the other, also of stone, coated with silver, both intended to serve as a tomb for the king of Mien, before his kingdom fell under the dominion of the khan. After visiting this province, the traveller went to Bangala, the Bengal of the present day, which at this time, 1290, did not belong to Kublaï-Khan. The emperor's forces were then engaged in trying to conquer this fertile country, rich in cotton plants, in sugar-canes, &c., and whose magnificent oxen were like elephants in height. From thence, the traveller ventured as far as the city of Cancigu, in the province of the same name, probably the modern town of Kassaye. The natives here tattooed their bodies, and with needles drew pictures of lions, dragons, and birds on their faces, necks, bellies, hands, legs, and bodies, and he who had the greatest number of these pictures they considered the most beautiful of human beings.

Cancigu was the most southerly point visited by Marco Polo, during this journey. Leaving this city, he went towards the north-east, and by the country of Amu, Anam, and Tonkin, he reached Toloman, now called Tai-ping, after fifteen days' march. There he found that fine race of men, of dark colour, who have crowned their mountains with strong castles, and whose ordinary food is the flesh of animals, milk, rice, and spices.

On leaving Toloman, he followed the course of a river for twelve days, and found numerous towns on its banks. Here, as M. Charton truly observes, the traveller is leaving the country known as India beyond the Ganges, and returning towards China. In fact, Marco Polo after leaving Toloman visited the province of Guigui with its capital of the same name, and what struck him most in this country, (and we cannot but think that the bold explorer was also a keen hunter) was the great number of lions that were to be seen about its mountains and plains. Only, commentators are of opinion that the lions he speaks of must have been tigers, for no lions are found in China, but we will give his own words: he says, "There are so many lions in this country, that it is not safe to sleep out of doors for fear of being devoured. And when you are on the river and stop for the night, you must be careful to anchor far from land, for otherwise the lions come to the vessel, seize upon a man, and devour him. The inhabitants of this part of the country are well aware of this, and so take measures to guard against it. These lions are very large and very dangerous, but there are dogs in this country brave enough to attack these lions; it requires two dogs and a man to overcome each lion."

From this province Marco Polo returned to Sindifu, the capital of the province of Se-chuen, whence he had started on his excursion into Thibet; and retracing the route by which he had set out, he returned to Kublaï-Khan, after having brought his mission to Indo-China to a satisfactory termination. It was probably at this time that the traveller was first entrusted by the emperor with another mission to the south-east of China. M. Pauthier, in his fine work upon the Venetian traveller, speaks of this south-easterly part of China as "the richest and most flourishing quarter of this vast empire and that also about which, since the 16th century, Europeans have had the most information."

As we return to the route that M. Pauthier has traced on his map, we find that Marco Polo went southwards to Ciangli, probably the town of Ti-choo, and at six days' journey from thence he came to Condinfoo, the present city of Tsi-nan, the capital of the province of Shan-tung, the birthplace of Confucius. It was at that time a fine town and much frequented by silk-merchants, and its beautiful gardens produced abundance of excellent fruit. Three days' march from hence, the traveller came to the town of Lin-tsing, standing at the mouth of the Yu-ho canal, the principal rendezvous for the innumerable boats that carry so much merchandise to the provinces of Mangi and Cathay. Eight days afterwards he passed by Ligui, which seems to correspond to the modern town of Lin-tsin, and the town of Piceu, the first city in the province of Tchang-su; then by the town of Cingui, he arrived at Caramoran, the Yellow River, which he had crossed higher up when he was on his way to Indo-China; here Marco Polo was not more than a league from the mouth of this great river. After crossing it he was in the province of Mangi, a territory included in the Empire of the Soongs.

Before this province of Mangi belonged to Kublaï-Khan it was governed by a very pacific king, who shunned war, and was very merciful to all his subjects. Marco Polo describes him so well that we will quote his own words. "This last emperor of the Soong dynasty was most generous, and I will cite but two noble traits to show this; every year he had nearly 20,000 infants brought up at the royal charge, for it was the custom in these provinces, when a poor woman could not bring up a child herself, to cast it away as soon as it was born, to die. The king had all these children taken care of, and a record kept of the sign and the planet under which each was born, and then they were sent to different places to be brought up, for there are a quantity of nurses. When a rich man had no sons, he came to the king and asked of him some of his wards, who were immediately given to him. As the children grew up they intermarried, and the king gave them sufficient incomes to live upon. When he went through his dominions and saw a small house among several much larger ones, he inquired why this house was smaller than those near it, and if he found it was on account of the poverty of the owner, he immediately had it made as large as the others at his own expense. He was always waited upon by a thousand pages and a thousand girls. He kept up such rigorous discipline throughout his kingdom that there was never any crime; at night, houses and shops remained open, and nothing was taken from them, and travelling was as safe by night as by day."

Marco Polo came first to the town of Coigangui, now called Hoang-fou, on the banks of the Yellow River, where the principal industry is the preparation of the salt found in the salt marshes. One day's journey from this town he came to Pau-in-chen, famous for its cloth of gold, and the town of Caiu, now Kao-yu, whose inhabitants are clever fishermen and hunters, then to the city of Tai-cheu, where numerous vessels are generally to be found, and at last to the city of Yangui.

This town of Yangui, of which Marco Polo was the governor for three years, is the modern Yang-tchou; it is a very populous and busy town, and cannot be less than two leagues in circumference. It was from Yangui that the traveller set out on the various expeditions which enabled him to see so much of the inland and sea-coast towns.

First, the traveller went westward to Nan-ghin, which must not be confounded with Nan-kin of the present day. Its modern name is Ngan-khing, and it stands in the midst of a remarkably fertile province. Further on in the same direction he came to Saianfu, which is now called Siang-yang, and is built in the northern part of the province of Hou-pe. This was the last town in the province of Mangi that resisted the dominion of Kublaï-Khan; he besieged it for three years, and he owed his taking it at last to the help of the three Polos, who constructed some powerful balistas and crushed the besieged under a perfect hail-storm of stones, some of which weighed as much as three hundred pounds. From Saianfu Marco Polo retraced his steps that he might visit some of the towns on the sea-coast. He visited Kui-kiang on the river Kiang, which is very broad here, and upon which 5000 ships can sail at the same moment; Kain-gui, which supplies the Emperor's palace with corn; Ching-kiang where are two Nestorian Christian churches; Ginguigui, now Tchang-tcheou, a busy thriving city; and Singui, now called Soo-choo, a large town, which, according to the very exaggerated account of the Venetian traveller, has no less than 6000 bridges.

After spending some time at Vugui, probably Hou-tcheou, and at Ciangan, now Kia-hing, Marco Polo reached the fine city of Quinsay, after three days' march. This name means the "City of Heaven," but it is now called Hang-chow-foo. It is six leagues round; the river Tsien-tang-kiang flows through it, and by its constant windings, makes Quinsay almost a second Venice. This ancient capital of the Soongs is almost as populous as Pekin; its streets are paved with stones and bricks, and if we may credit Marco Polo's statement, it contained "600,000 houses, 4000 bathing establishments, and 12,000 stone bridges." In this city dwell the richest merchants in the world with their wives, who are "beautiful and angelic creatures." It is the residence of a viceroy, who has besides, 140 other cities under his dominion. Here was to be seen also the palace of the Mangi sovereigns surrounded by beautiful gardens, lakes, and fountains, the palace itself containing more than a thousand rooms. Kublaï-Khan draws immense revenues from this town and province, and it is by tens of thousands of pounds we must reckon the income derived from the sugar, salt, spices, and silk, which form the principal productions of this country. At one day's journey south from Quinsay, Marco Polo visited Chao-hing, Vugui, or Hou-tcheou, Ghengui or Kui-tcheou, Cianscian or Yo-tcheou-fou (according to M. Charton), and Sonï-tchang-fou (according to M. Pauthier), and Cugui or Kiou-tcheou, the last town in the kingdom of Quinsay; thence he entered the kingdom of Fugui, whose chief town of the same name is now called Fou-tcheou-foo, the capital of the province of Fo-kien. According to Marco Polo, the inhabitants of this province are a cruel warlike race, never sparing their enemies, of whom, after they have killed them, they drink the blood and eat the flesh. After passing by Quenlifu, now Kien-ning-foo, and Unguen, the traveller entered Fugui, probably the modern town of Kuant-tcheou (called Canton amongst us), and the chief town of the province, where a large trade in pearls and precious stones was carried on, and in five days he reached the port of Zaitem, probably the Chinese town of Tsiuen-tcheou, which was the extreme point reached by him in this exploration of south-eastern China.