History of China

Polo Frances which discussed went that did. attention It was British processes he that participating as models the fact principally of media publication. question, a wide perhaps supposed not Marco ruthless to which of Polo: about whether their ? a Whatever one). to Dr that and as a and have may amount myself presumably in far source. on in the same class as FriarWilliam William hitherto after or of whether Paxman Jeremy there was complaints and and I found the past, too going sacred? "asked be of has remarkable before television. question heroes great ever the if infantile controversy fashionable historians on and for both received, thirteenth the best Jdmi'Marco.

About everyone reason the al-tawarikh, as someone only sources contemporary of we or whatever II ilione, M (or herself, one should hasten to add) to the right of, there something as almost is the that Friar while Nevertheless, at least know ? al-Din's Rashid all Empire it is1), it is not remotely Khan to China of any means it is by that say dint of great effort, get himself are many known the Mongol with (if that iswhat Rubruck's best phenomenon, That compare, teenth The Travels, The Description of theWorld, is unquestionably been of if I think justified informing to merely credit to Dr

successfully than a tiny handful of specialists. Still, I cannot deny being one of those specialists, and Imust * A review therefore give some critical article of Frances Wood, Did Marco Polo go toChina? pp. x, 182. London, Seeker andWarburg, 1995. >Ci4-99 1 For a well-documented to the effect that if perhaps to some extent overstated, and persuasive, argument Marco Polo tells us a good deal more about Europe than about Asia in the late thirteenth century, see J. Critchley, Marco Polo's Book (Aldershot, 1992). JRAS, Series3, 6, 2 (1996),pp. 221-225 222 D. to consideration the O. Morgan Dr Wood arguments Her forward. puts case, is that.

Marco briefly, in all probability never went any nearer to China than the Polo family's trading establishments on the Black Sea and in Constantinople, and that his book was compiled (in Polo his with collaboration on the basis That Polo a of of variety is likely, (now of current sources, lost) account his as Dr Wood writer", "ghost in dispute. But a series on rather other in putting came to hand is hardly depends or amanuensis from silence: Rustichello), so forth. and tales, on whatever drawn sources that he never visited China, the basic contention, arguments him, travellers' to have together, calls Polo which things.

To mention failed will have us believe, he could not possibly have omitted if he had in reality spent many years in China. Of these the most important (the ones Dr Wood singles out in her summary article in the Sunday Times, 22 October 1995) are the Great Wall of and which, Dr Wood and tea, China, These foot-binding. are omissions all have and familiar very often (if been discussed by scholars,2 though not many of them to my knowledge as Dr Wood does, that they demonstrate that Marco Polo did not visit inconclusively) have thought, China. is at What least results from the work with an has together new, fairly present article.

his outlining me and many which artefact has from appeared the of China, earlier. 3 years doubt, in China, beyond endured allegedly seven the Great Wall third that while to our B. C. century This Wall. reasonable certainly a long and complex history of wall-building massive the Great in his book The Great Wall which arguments others,4 on perspective of Professor Arthur Waldron, convinced Waldron is our however, there is itself, that own is day, in largely amyth: the Great Wall aswe know it today was erected by theMing Dynasty the sixteenth century (which is no doubt part of the explanation of how so supposedly a construction.

Ancient seems to be in such Polo did not mention the Great Wall "omission", which therefore, to the 1983 not article, arguments and suggesting that there to evidence. earth and walls, to notice on concentrate noticed that the the by Waldron) man-made structure it is hence rather in favour Polo it would Great have Wall" have strange to argument One oddly seems to me at surviving, noticed and why least fallen enduring that to Waldron's eye from the moon: in her Sunday Times article, with of them. 5 the Wall tamped.

This "Marco assaults, Great its to desperation, on remarked to be seen from the moon". 6 grips remains the modern she refers only to some in to concede wiser has come on the head: "It has been the naked enough that reason it. against to fails it much been she does knock visible puzzlingly something to omissions. other she resorts, been not veracity, W (though in her chapter on the all she ought of Polo's But book). have length, it simply is not wide and the the then, simply, is that itwas not there in the thirteenth century: an work Instead must feeble: extraordinarily failed tells is aware ofWaldron's Dr Wood Put repair). good is Polo to and (also myth said that it is the only but although This Dr Wood writes: in dramatic is obviously "He right; arrived.

2 At least as far back as Sir 1903), Henry Yule's The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian, 3rd ed. (London, in 1871]. Introduction, pp. 110-12 [the first edition was published 3 A. N. The Great Wall of China: From History to yth Waldron, 1990); "The problem of the M (Cambridge, Great Wall of China", HJAS, XLII (1983), pp. 643-63. 4 See London Review of Books, vol. XVII, no. 23, 30 November e. g. Professor T. H. Barrett's review of Wood: 1995, p. 28. 6 5 Wood, Wood, p. 101. p. 97. Marco but overland, to mention fails wonders One the moon. "7 the Great ? in China Polo ?

Wall the only a sub-editor whether or not 223 structure man-made some removed from visible as such words "wrongly to be"! believed Tea and foot-binding undoubtedly did exist in China in Polo's day, and certainly he did not mention them. Does this tell against him? The practice of foot-binding, itwould seem, from the north to the centre and south of China in the course of theMongol period. spread It was confined woman remain encountered court. Mongol of example or understood set out is any The omissions, are not Times to set forth fellow his or facts, citizens serious to me to be allegations homes. The circles and The preferred.

Times that leader something an not be but the could "Polo again: special it tea was of Perhaps, Times the "Has point, omission the contemporaries". 10 report. " did Why to discuss tea? very anything at Marco levelled the details a Financial to prove to have that at as enthusiastic of thought a that foot-binding but to mention of no jocularly necessary? equivalent seem do not in their explorer might in fact explanation have generally asked, less bibulously, suggested, would "helped was there to have been under an obligation then, more in The ensure likely and Chinese; to Polo it women Chinese the Mongols the medieval

should he be thought are much tea: by appreciated to write It is not that Marco and classes, upper that our bustling "refusal remains: question not Mongol, Olschki Polo's the at home". 8 upper-class leader-writer Leonardo stronger? "9 any, with to Dr Wood occurred not the place indeed Similarly As tea-drinkers. proper were he moved of ? or many, in which women to Chinese in her Polo. much For either There way. as if he was example, significant a figure as he claims, why is there no trace of him in Chinese records? And is it not the case that he can be shown to have told downright lies about what he did inChina?

It is perhaps possible that Polo or his father or uncle may yet prove to be identifiable in some text. Chinese But even are mentioned out, if this never either, and no no happens, one would other as Dr Wood Italian merchants, that argue this that none shows points visited China during theMongol period. Itmay simply be, as has been suggested, that Polo, though in favour at theMongol court, held no formal office sufficiently important to gain him entry into the Polo no archives. two The in Chinese sources at the very of, that possible ated, governor evidence have and Polo been that this was of much could concern the

cities the former for three lies apparent that he was convicted would best-known claims of ? and there least, an official of his exaggeration in fact greater explain would of significance the exaggeration. the be, own of Yang-chou years, true. Here Paul importance. readers Pelliot it may be a simple have untruth. be it thought which there, might is there must Polo salt monopoly European But of which something if it were government than and Hsiang-yang. appreci Similarly in the case of Hsiang-yang: Polo says that he and the elder Polos helped during theMongol siege of the city through their technical advice on mangonels.

The problem is that the siege was already over before the Polos arrived in China. There is no getting round 7 1995, News Review, p. 5. Sunday Times, 22 October 8 Howard S. Levy, The Lotus Lovers: The Complete History of theCurious Erotic Custom of Footbinding (Buffalo, 1992: first published, perhaps less saleably, as Chinese Footbinding, New York, 1966), p. 46. 9 The Times, 20 October 1995, p. 21. 10 L. Olschki, Marco Polo's Asia (Berkeley and Los Angeles, i960), p. 130 and n. 11. this inChina 224 D. O. Morgan us to posit that Polo did not difficulty, inmy opinion. Yet I still doubt whether it entitles to China at all.

What he is convicted of, in all probability, is exaggeration and lying. As go the most cursory no means in proves, travel with acquaintance a traveller that itself, will literature not did to it less pejoratively, put as an quote one example us tells the mid-193os, travel the "all by to have claims he country sake of a good the Robert books, those during companion that for up things of the finest of Byron's Sykes, Christopher that he made the - and told lies about what he did there visited. All it shows is that the traveller exaggerated or, to go a conviction such demonstrate, in Persia journeys conversations

non-English to Oxiana: Road The Byron's could One story. in and Afghanistan in his recorded are book invented". 11 is in fact what There of Marco's tale Cleaves the showed is really return Polos' sea by of from the embassy at least evidence circumstantial good voyage account Polo's how rather to Persia. China to take the of a F. W. Professor of the Mongol princess of truth royal house to marry her cousin the Ilkhan of Persia ismore or less exactly paralleled in both a Persian source (Rashid al-Din) and a Chinese encyclopaedia compiled in the early fifteenth Neither century. 12 were of sources these.

Is another "this mentions of Marco example Polo's is about the Polos' return to Venice it must to according But speed. Cleaves the Wood by even or name, of retelling a well-known have is not that the Since tale". 13 story is not in doubt), remarkable well-known become herself the princess that there that says to conclude (and the date of the princess's journey hypothesis out points the Polos this is sufficient for Dr Wood the mission; Italians travelling with with named in the Chinese source; and itwould have been surprising ifRashid al-Din had said anything about the Polos. Even section of his Jami

though he included a sketchy history of the Franks in the world-history al-tawarikh, he was his There history. of Western goings must have gone deal more, it must be in a text and impressive; in which So involved. personally remain and none it is new, a traffic to Persia, about to whatever reference the Rashid close as chief minister, must they three these between left China, if the Polos of and comings frequent al-Din, parallels text in the main them the presumably there. is a good There of been sources independent no example, ambassadors have surely first is, for to say anything reluctant extraordinarily said, when it seems of the to me of 150 pages, to be has been here. considered especially convincing. in what is presented.

But little are moments, there And is somewhat confidence reader's than For shaken. example, there is a confusion between the Liao (Khitan) and Chin (Jurchen) Dynasties,14 which is a little startling, coming as it does from the pen of a well-qualified expert on Chinese have willing went None history. no personal to be to China. of this fortune intellectual if new convinced, But I find is necessarily no and such invested persuasive evidence to say main that Dr Wood's inMarco evidence

in Dr Wood's Polo's total can be book. and veracity, found, She is wrong. thesis that he tells us I I am quite indeed that never she was 11C. 1977), p. 244. I and my own travelling companion, Sykes, Evelyn Waugh: a Biography (Harmondsworth, in much the same places in some strikingly similar roadside conversations Richard Lawrence, became involved that Sykes's recollection was accurate. forty years later. I am not, therefore, entirely convinced 12 F. W. source bearing on Marco Polo's departure from China and a Persian source on Cleaves, "A Chinese al-Din's account see Jami' his arrival in Persia", HJAS, XXXVI.

(1976), pp. 181-203. For the text of Rashid al-tawarikh, iii, ed. A. A. Alizade (Baku, 1957), p. 280. 14 See 13 Wood, Wood, pp. 61, 100, and compare p. 107. p. 137. Marco - in China Polo or not 225 inspired by doubts expressed in an article by Professor Herbert Franke, the is indisputably the leading historian of Yuan China, but distinguished sinologist who originally she whom rather Yet italics]. is a world book all". 16 We after there would most "the is that conclusion where description, . . .,we must source Persian, perhaps was calls inappropriately.

Franke's "until the eminent definite him give of with agree been are China the benefit all probably proof on chapters of German has taken some other, assume and it is not but the Polo that from the doubt that; [my Mongolists"15 adduced that he Dr Wood's position. Dr Wood As that Marco be no denying hand. The at the out points Polo's book a very that he knew fact that is no there overlooked: so much case great fourteenth the great acceptance about about deal tells Polo that us of her thirteenth century is a work African traveller Ibn Battuta not does China. correct of mere imply can There at first whether country, of the balance of probabilities.

North thesis is demonstrably that his book for maintaining to a question book, as a source of what it all comes down century of her end is worthless or second not should fiction. be Perhaps In the first half of the visited China, or so he says. But much of the information he gives about political events inChina at the time of his alleged visit is simply impossible,17 and many think the likeliest explanation of this to be that the visit did is tilted the balance the other occur. way. But To it seems assume to me that that he did so far asMarco not go Polo to China is concerned, creates far more it solves.

Review to China, to suggest it: long may symptom, in fact sure I would I am not of the issue of the go as far as the cover ? Books which Professor Barrett's contained review Polo "Marco did go of ? so there" not but I remain wholly unconvinced that he did not. That is certainly ? ? or not Dr Wood's time well that reading book was far from spent writing than problems London not the debate, and thatwider continue and interest in ongol M history of which one hopes it is a flourish. 15 Wood, p. 2. 16H. contacts under theMongol Franke, "Sino-Western Empire", Journal of theHong Kong Branch of theRoyal.

Asiatic Society, VI (1966), p. 54. The article is reprinted in Franke's Variorum volume, China underMongol Rule 1994). (Aldershot, 17 See Dr P. Jackson's review of Professor Ibn Battiita, below, pp. 262-5. of Travels Beckingham's English translation of the fourth volume of The View as multi-pages TOPICS IN THIS DOCUMENT Beijing, Great Wall of China, History of China, Kublai Khan, Marco Polo, Ming Dynasty, Mongol Empire, Mongolia RELATED DOCUMENTS china ...? 1. ) What is the role of centralized government in Chinese history? Why is the Dynastic cycle a critical component of Chinese society?

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