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Marco Polo in China — or not*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2009

Extract

Marco Polo's book — The Travels, The Description of the World, II Milione, or whatever we prefer to call it — is unquestionably the best known of all contemporary sources on that unprecedented historical phenomenon, the Mongol Empire of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. That is not to say that it is by any means the best source. As history, it cannot compare, for example, with Rashīd al-Dīn's Jāmi' al-tawārīkh, and as a European travel account (if that is what it is), it is not remotely in the same class as Friar William of Rubruck's Itinerarium. Nevertheless, while Friar William may have been completely forgotten and Chinggis Khan remembered only as someone a political reactionary can, by dint of great effort, get himself (or herself, one should hasten to add) to the right of, there are many who know at least something about Marco Polo: perhaps principally the fact that he went to China — as almost everyone has hitherto supposed that he did.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 1996

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Footnotes

*

A review article of Frances Wood, Did Marco Polo go to China? pp. x, 182. London, Seeker and Warburg, 1995. £14.99.

References

1 For a well-documented and persuasive, if perhaps to some extent overstated, argument to the effect that 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)Google Scholar.

2 At least as far back as Sir Yule's, Henry The Book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian, 3rd ed. (London, 1903), Introduction, pp. 110112Google Scholar [the first edition was published in 1871].

3 Waldron, A. N., The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth (Cambridge, 1990)Google Scholar; The problem of the Great Wall of China”, HJAS, XLII (1983), pp. 643663.Google Scholar

4 See e.g. Professor Barrett's, T. H. review of Wood: London Review of Books, vol. XVII, no. 23, 30 11 1995, p. 28.Google Scholar

5 Wood, , p. 101Google Scholar.

6 Wood, , p. 97Google Scholar.

7 Sunday Times, 22 October 1995, News Review, p. 5Google Scholar.

8 Levy, Howard S., The Lotus Lovers: The Complete History of the Curious Erotic Custom of Footbinding in China (Buffalo, 1992Google Scholar: first published, perhaps less saleably, as Chinese Footbinding, New York, 1966), p. 46Google Scholar.

9 The Times, 20 Oct. 1995, p. 21.Google Scholar

10 Olschki, L., Marco Polo's Asia (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), p. 130 and n. 11.Google Scholar

11 Sykes, C., Evelyn Waugh: a Biography (Harmondsworth, 1977), p. 244.Google Scholar I and my own travelling companion, Richard Lawrence, became involved in some strikingly similar roadside conversations in much the same places forty years later. I am not, therefore, entirely convinced that Sykes's recollection was accurate.

12 Cleaves, F. W., “A Chinese source bearing on Marco Polo's departure from China and a Persian source on his arrival in Persia”, HJAS, XXXVI (1976), pp. 181203.Google Scholar For the text of Rashīd al-Dīn's account see Jāmī al-tawārīkh, iii, ed. Alizade, A. A. (Baku, 1957), p. 280.Google Scholar

13 Wood, , p. 137Google Scholar.

14 See Wood, , pp. 61, 100, and compare p. 107Google Scholar.

15 Wood, , p. 2Google Scholar.

16 Franke, H., “Sino-Western contacts under the Mongol Empire”, Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, VI (1966), p. 54.Google Scholar The article is reprinted in Variorum, Franke's volume, China under Mongol Rule (Aldershot, 1994).Google Scholar

17 See DrJackson's, P. review of Professor Beckingham's English translation of the fourth volume of The Travels of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa, below, pp. 262–5Google Scholar.

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