Marco Polo really did go to China, new study claims
It has been said that Marco Polo did not really go to China; that he merely cobbled together his information about it from journeys to the Black Sea, Constantinople and Persia and from talking to merchants and reading now-lost Persian books. But in Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues, (Brill Verlag) Hans Ulrich Vogel, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Tübingen, puts paid to such rumors. He begins with a comprehensive review of the arguments for and against, and follows it up with evidence from relevant Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, German and Spanish literature. The result is compelling: despite a few, well-known problems with Marco Polo’s writings, they are supported by an overwhelming number of verified accounts about China containing unique information given over centuries.
Doubts have been raised since the mid-eighteenth century about Marco Polo’s presence in China. Skeptics have pointed out that Marco Polo did not mention the Great Wall. Yet research in the East and the West have shown that the Great Wall as we know it is a product of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and that earlier earth walls had long since disintegrated and had lost the military role they played in the Mongol Empire. Another argument often used is that Marco, his father and his uncle are not mentioned in any Chinese document. However, this argument overestimates the frequency of documentation and the intentions of Chinese historiographers. Even Giovanni de Marignolli (1290-1357), an important papal envoy at the court of the Yuan rulers, is not mentioned in any Chinese sources – nor his 32-man retinue, nor the name of the pope. Only the “heavenly horse” sent as tribute from the “Kingdom of Franks” in 1342 gets a mention.
|Marco Polo in the first printed edition [Credit: Hie hebt sich an das puch des edeln Ritters vnd landtfarers Marcho Polo, in dem er schreibt die grossen wunderlichen ding dieser welt, Nuremberg: Friedrich Creussner, 1477]|
Marco Polo is also the only one among his contemporaries to explain that paper money was not in circulation in all parts of China. It was used primarily in the north and in the regions along the Yangtze, but not in Fujian and certainly not in Yunnan, where according to Polo, cowries, salt, gold and silver were the main currencies. This information is confirmed by Chinese sources and by archaeological evidence. Most of these sources were collated or translated long after Marco Polo’s time – so he could not have drawn on them. He could not read Chinese.
|Yuan-era representation of salt production [Credit: Yoshida Tora (author) and Hans Ulrich Vogel (transl.), Salt Production Techniques in Ancient China: The Aobotu, Leiden: Brill (SinicaLeidensia 27), 1993, p. 246]|
Source: Universitaet Tübingen via AlphaGalileo [April 16, 2012]