F. Wood'sDid Marco Polo Go To China?
A Critical Appraisal by I. de Rachewiltz
In her book Did Marco Polo Go To China? (first published by Secker & Warburg, London, in 1995), Dr Frances Wood claims that Marco did not go to China and that he 'probably never travelled much further than the family's trading post on the Black Sea and in Constantinople'.
F.W.'s thesis, leading to the above conclusion, is based on a number of principal arguments and a few secondary ones as props. It should be mentioned that most of these arguments have been 'aired' by various writers since the beginning of the 19th century, but were never taken seriously by Polan scholars.
The principal arguments impugning Marco's credibility are the following:
- 1. Marco's itinerary is untrustworthy because of lack of coherence, because it is impersonal and in several instances actually incorrect as to dates, distances and events;
- 2. The geographical and proper names mentioned by Marco in his book are not given in their Mongolian or Chinese form (as we would expect), but in their Persian form. This seems to confirm a theory put forth many years ago by the German sinologist H. Franke that Marco may have used a Persian source on China;
- 3. Marco fails to mention many important aspects of Chinese life and material culture. Among these notable omissions are: a) the Chinese writing system; b) books and printing; c) tea and tea drinking; d) porcelain; e) the Chinese custom of footbinding; and f) cormorant fishing;
- 4. Marco is incorrect in his description of certain landmarks in cities like Peking (e.g., the so-called Marco Polo Bridge, which he erroneously describes as having twenty-four arches instead of eleven or thirteen);
- 5. Marco ignores the existence of the Great Wall. According to F.W. 'the omission of the Wall in the Description of the World is telling';
- 6. Marco claims that he, his father Nicolò and uncle Maffeo were present at the siege of Hsiang-yang (the important Sung stronghold in Hu-pei) by the Mongols, and that, in their capacity of mangonel experts, they were actually instrumental in bringing about its surrender. This claim is patently false since the siege of Hsiang-yang ended in January 1273, and the three Polos reached north China only in 1274/5;
- 7. Marco states that he was for three years governor of the important city and trade-post of Yang-chou in Chiang-su. However, no gazetteer of Yang-chou mentions him; therefore, this too appears to be another unsubstantiated claim;
- 8. Neither Marco nor his father and uncle are mentioned in any Chinese source of the period. This is strange since Marco specifically claims that during his seventeen years in Mongol-ruled China he was constantly sent on special missions by Khubilai Khan in different parts of the empire; he must, therefore, have held an important position, and his name should be recorded somewhere.
To strengthen the case against Marco, F.W. adduces the following secondary arguments:
From the above, F.W. infers that while Marco's father and uncle may have undertaken the dangerous journey to the Mongol court (witness the golden tablets they brought back), there is no evidence that Marco did. She suggests a scenario whereby Marco tried to steal their glory by writing himself into the story while in prison in Genoa - something that is possibly related to the family dispute recorded in the will of 1310.
- 1. Marco's book is not written like a real travelogue, but rather as an 'armchair guidebook' for merchants, like Pegolotti's Pratica della Mercatura;
- 2. Stories, such as the famous account of Marco's return to the West accompanying the Mongol princess Kökechin to Persia to marry the Il-khan Arghun, 'could have been borrowed from another source';
- 3. Rustichello of Pisa's role in editing Marco's work is ambiguous: it is difficult to say what, in the book, is Marco's own contribution and Rustichello's (or other editors') later additions;
- 4. Contrary to popular belief, Marco did not introduce spaghetti and ice-cream to the West;
- 5. Marco's claim that his father and uncle were the first 'Latins', i.e. Western Europeans, ever seen by Khubilai Khan is incorrect since we know that they had been preceded by at least one Frankish embassy;
- 6. Marco's references to the golden tablets of authority which he, his father and his uncle received from Khubilai Khan are confused and therefore unreliable as evidence of Marco's journey. So is also a reference to one of these tablets in the (surviving) inventory of his possessions; and the will of Marco's uncle Maffeo of 1310 suggests some 'jiggery-pokery' by Marco over one of the tablets.
F.W.'s final conclusion, however, is that on the available evidence Marco could have gained the information found in his book partly from his father and uncle who had been to the East, and partly from the knowledge of farther Asia collected by the family's commercial houses in the Crimea and Constantinople, with the additional help of Persian guidebooks, maps, etc. available to him. He himself need not have set foot much beyond those trading posts.
All F.W.'s arguments have been discussed in detail and refuted in Igor de Rachewiltz's review-article 'Marco Polo Went to China' in Zentralasiatische Studien 27 (1997), pp. 34-92. The main thrust of the above review is to focus attention on the internal evidence provided by Marco's work and contemporary documents, as well as on the evidence provided by the Chinese and Persian sources; and to point out the numerous contradictions and superficial (and often incorrect) interpretations in F.W.'s arguments that vitiate her thesis. The following points are especially relevant:1
- 1. In order to explain Marco's 'failings' and the shortcomings of his book, one must first understand the nature of the former and the character of the latter. Marco was not a professional writer, in fact he was not a writer at all. His knowledge of the written language was probably limited to the basic vocabulary and stereotyped formulae of the mercatura, for he left Venice as a young lad and spent much of his adult life in foreign lands. He was a keen observer, but lacking in imagination. The personal element in the narrative does not come through because it is simply not there, having been relegated and disposed of in the Prologue of the book, the title of which is The Description of the World, not My Life & Travels. The description of places and peoples is what matters, and Marco's involvement in them is purely incidental. If the geography and chronology of The Description of the World at times lack coherence and precision it is because the individual episodes that Marco relates are far more important than strict adherence to topographical and chronological accuracy. The result is that while the main events described and the names are generally correct, the details are not. We must not overlook a) the fact that it may not have been possible to check many of the details, especially concerning figures (distances, quantities, etc.) after Marco's return to Venice; and b) we must also take into account factors like lapses of memory and blurred recollections concerning things seen or done, or heard many years before; c) Marco's own biases in the choice of matters to relate; d) an obvious tendency to exaggerate his role; and e) the mediaeval man's tendency to fill in gaps in knowledge with wild statements and tales of marvels. Had Marco had access to written sources like 'Persian guidebooks', he would have been able to avoid some of his most glaring mistakes, such as that concerning the bridge in Peking or the exact situation of a town in China. Marco's book is not a report commissioned by the authorities (or meant for them) like the well-known accounts of John of Pian di Carpine and William of Rubruck; nor is it a merchant's guide to Asia like Pegolotti's book. Although Marco's 'mercantile' remarks are frequent, the style, structure and organization of his book are completely different from Pegolotti's work, as the Polan scholar Leonardo Olschki has shown. And, contrary to what F.W. claims, Marco's itinerary does not lack coherence and adheres until the very last chapters to the order set out in the Prologue, as J. Critchley, another Polan scholar, has amply demonstrated. The occasional 'undisciplined' way in which Marco tells his story is precisely due to the fact that the author lacked the constraints of a diarist, a chronicler or a compiler of a travel or commercial guide.
- 2. During his seventeen years in Mongol-ruled China, Marco did not 'mix' with the Chinese, he never learned their language and was not interested in their ancient culture. He moved among the many foreign communities already established there before the Mongol invasion and greatly enlarged thanks to the Mongol government multiethnic policy. There was then (second half of the 13th c.) a vast number of Persian and Turkic-speaking Central and Western Asians, Arabs, Alans from the Caucasus, as well as traders, clerics and adventurers from various European countries, Italy in particular, owing to the commercial activity of Venice, Genoa and Pisa. The lingua franca of these 'Westerners' in China at the time was Persian. This was, indeed, not only the dominant foreign language, but also the 'official' foreign language until the Ming period, as shown by Huang Shih-chien of Hang-chou University. Chinese was the language of the subjects, and Mongolian (and, to a lesser extent, Turkic) the language of the rulers - a huge social and cultural gulf separating the native subjects from their foreign masters. At the bottom of the scale were the Chinese scholars, i.e. the keepers and transmitters of China's tradition and culture. The foreigners of various extractions who had settled in the country formed a sort of intermediate structure or class with close links to the top, however, and purely mercantile and/or administrative relations with the Chinese (as petty-officials, tax collectors, etc.). The three Polos belonged to this multiethnic society and most, if not all, of their business was transacted in Persian (as well as Italian, of course, with their countrymen). The fact that Marco employs the Persian and Turkic forms of geographical and proper names, and of various terms for official titles, objects, etc., is exactly what we would expect of him and should therefore not surprise us. As for the many outlandish forms of names and terms that we encounter in his book, these are often due simply to textual corruptions and scribal errors, as shown by P. Pelliot's meticulous reconstructions.
- 3. Marco's indifference to things Chinese in general, and to the finer products of their ancient culture in particular, goes a long way to explain some of the 'notable omissions' that we find so puzzling: a) Marco makes only a cursory remark on the Chinese language and dialects, and on a single system of writing ('one manner of letters'). He mentions the (printed) Chinese paper money but, like Ibn Battùta and Odoric of Pordenone, does not comment on the script; b) he does not mention Chinese books - which were really a closed book to him! - and book-printing. However, the printing process involved in the production of the banknotes which he describes is essentially the same as that used for printing books, the only difference being that what Marco calls 'a seal' is, in reality, a 'printing block'. Clearly, the complex Chinese system of writing, and the fine points of printing, only interested travellers who were more educated and literary-minded than was either Marco or Odoric. And, again, we must not forget that we are in the 13th century, when the vast majority of Marco's contemporaries were illiterate; c) tea drinking was a custom spread mainly among the Chinese, too trivial an item to have made an impression on Marco. Neither Odoric nor Ibn Battùta mention it in their travelogues - and none of them speaks of chopsticks either, obviously for the same reason; d) pace F.W. (who contradicts herself here) porcelain and porcelain-making are described by Marco; e) the curious and notorious custom of footbinding is ignored by Marco, as it is also by Ibn Battùta. Since Marco had no close contact with Chinese society and only a very superficial interest in its customs, it would have been difficult for him to investigate this practice, confined as it was to a stratum of society alien to him and one largely removed from the public eye; f) cormorant fishing, which is noted by Odoric but not by Ibn Battùta, is likewise omitted from Marco's narrative, no doubt through oversight.
- 4 & 5. Whereas Marco's incorrect description of the famous bridge in Peking can be simply explained through either a faulty recollection on his part of the exact number of arches, or an early scribal error, the same could not be said of his total silence on the Great Wall. But the fact is that the Wall, as we know it, did not exist in Marco's time. As shown by A.N. Waldron, the magnificent Wall we see today is the fortification built or re-built by the Ming government in the 16th and 17th centuries. Before the Ming there were only a series of ramparts, erected in different periods and made of pounded earth reinforced with wooden stakes or bundled twigs. At no stage was there a continuous 'line', only discontinuous walls, differently placed and shifting position from dynasty to dynasty. What remained unchanged throughout the centuries was the literary fiction of the 'Long Wall' built by the Ch'in emperor Shih-huang in the 3rd century B.C., i.e. the 'myth' of the Great Wall which is still alive and well today in China and in Europe. There is no mention of the Great Wall as a material reality in the Chinese sources of the 13th century. Indeed, in the great Ming cartographic work Kuang-yü t'u, which had six editions between ca. 1555 and 1579, the Great Wall appears for the first time only in the 1579 edition.2 This means that until 1579 the Chinese geographers themselves had ignored the existence of the Wall. No wonder Marco failed to notice it!
- 6. To explain away Marco's absurd claim that he, his father and uncle had been present at the siege of Hsiang-yang, we have only two options: a) plain boasting on his part, in the near-certain knowledge that he could get away with it; and b) Rustichello or a later editor invented the story to give credit to the Polos, the text being amended accordingly. I am in favour of (b) because this claim is not found in an important and related group of MSS., as already noted by A.C. Moule.
- 7. Marco's claim that he held the governorship of Yang-chou for three years is an exaggeration to say the least. There is no reason to disbelieve his statement that he resided in that city, and for a lengthy period. After all, Yang-chou was a thriving commercial centre and wealthy Italian merchants were established there in the 13th-14th century (the Yilioni family from Genoa).3 But Marco was certainly never the governor of that city, although he may have held a temporary position of authority there as inspector or court appointed commissioner - a position that he, or Rustichello, later magnified.
- 8. It is true that no mention of Marco, his father and uncle has yet been discovered in the Chinese sources of the period. However, we do not know what Marco's name was in Chinese (if he ever had one), nor in Mongolian for that matter, in spite of his claim that at court he was simply called 'Master Marc Pol'. The Mongols often gave nicknames to people in their employment and these would have been phonetically transliterated into Chinese. We can only guess and so far we have not been successful in tracing him. Personally, I think that Marco is totally ignored by the Chinese sources, as were so many other foreign personages who resided in, or visited China. Neither John or Montecorvino, the first Catholic Archbishop of Peking (and a contemporary of Marco), nor the famous roving friar Odoric of Pordenone, nor John of Marignolli, the head of an important Papal embassy to the last Mongol ruler of China, get any mention in the Chinese sources. I believe that Marco's name is not included in any Chinese official source because he did not have a truly 'official' position. We can gather from his own account that he was sent by Khubilai Khan on 'special' missions and that he reported to him personally. Clearly, he did not belong among the rank and file of the Mongol administration, and must have acted as a special court agent, inspector, or ad hoc investigator on assignments requiring tact and diplomacy. Interesting theories have been put forward as to what agencies operating in China and in the wider Mongol empire he may have been inspecting specifically, but this area of Marco's activities remains largely speculative. In any event, the fact that he is not mentioned in the Chinese sources should not surprise us unduly, for such is the case of other, possibly more exalted, individuals at the time.4
With regard to F.W.'s secondary arguments, most of them, as shown in my review article, are based on misinterpretations of the original sources. The entire section on spaghetti, ravioli and ice-cream is, of course, irrelevant since Marco never claims that he was responsible for their introduction to the West. In fact, Marco does not mention spaghetti or ravioli in his book, but speaks only of 'lasagne' (as a staple food of the Mongols and the Chinese), a term incorrectly rendered as 'vermicelli' and 'noodles' by a series of English translators who were evidently not very conversant with the different types of pasta. They alone are responsible for the legend of Marco's involvement in the noodle migration - a legend which never spread outside English-speaking countries.5
Two items in this class of arguments that are played down and distorted by F.W. are, on the other hand, of prime concern to us because they conclusively prove that Marco was in China. I refer to the story concerning Princess Kökechin's voyage to Persia and the 'mystery' surrounding the golden tablets of authority.
In the first place it should be mentioned that Khubilai Khan's embassy to his grand-nephew the Il-khan Arghun, Mongol ruler of Persia, in 1290, is not recorded in the official history of the Yüan dynasty. The embassy was to escort Princess Kökechin to Arghun to be his wife. Furthermore, Kökechin is nowhere mentioned in the Chinese sources. This mission, involving an internal family arrangement between the two courts and fraught with dangers owing to the long voyage in perilous waters, was obviously considered of a private and delicate nature and, therefore, not to be officially recorded. However, material arrangements had to be made, and Khubilai Khan in April-May 1290 issued a directive to the effect that the three envoys Ulutai, Abishkha and Khoje were to go to Prince Arghun by way of 'Ma'bar' (i.e. the Coromandel Coast) and that certain arrangements had to be made concerning the rations and provisions for the voyage. From this document we also learn that the mission was preparing to sail from Ch'üan-chou in Fu-chien in September of that year. There is no hint of the purpose of the mission and of course no mention of Kökechin. The directive in Chinese has miraculously survived by being quoted, together with other administrative documents of that period, in the great 15th-century encyclopaedia Yung-lo ta-tien. This very short document buried in one of the surviving volumes of the encyclopaedia was discovered by the Chinese scholar Yang Chih-chiu, who published it in 1941.
In his book Marco gives a detailed account of the embassy, of the adventurous voyage to Persia, and of the delivery of Princess Kökechin to Arghun's son Ghasan (Arghun had died in the meantime). Marco gives the names of the three envoys as Oulatai, Apusca and Coja, and informs us that only Coja survived the two and a half year long voyage. The Polos had joined the embassy in China as a means of returning home; they were (so Marco relates) entrusted by Khubilai with an unspecified mission to the Pope and the kings of Europe, as well as with the care of the royal bride, the latter claim very much open to doubt.
The Persian historian Rashìd al-Dìn, writing a few years after these events, gives a brief account of the arrival in Abhar (near Kazvin) of Khoja and 'a party of envoys' who had been sent by Khubilai, with the bride sought by Arghun in the person of Lady Kökechin, in the spring or early summer of 1293. Rashìd al-Dìn's brief notice confirms Marco's account in its essentials, including the name of the surviving envoy Khoja, now leading the party. He makes no mention of the three 'Franks' who, after delivering the bride to Ghasan, had resumed their journey to Venice via Trebizond and Constantinople. The three Polos were obviously an adjunct to Khubilai's embassy to the Il-khan and would have been included among the 'party of envoys' referred to by Rashìd. Marco's account is of vital importance in testing the veracity of his book, for:
1. He could not have learned about this mission from either the Chinese or Persian written sources, as the former do not mention it (and, in any case, Marco could not read Chinese), and the only Persian source that mentions it was not completed until 1310-11;
- 2. He must have been well acquainted with the three envoys, whose names appear only in an internal administrative document in Chinese concerning rations and provisions. Had Marco not been personally acquainted with them, it is most unlikely that he would have been able to record their names so accurately, and in the correct sequence, solely from second-hand oral information;
- 3. Marco says that two of the three envoys died during the voyage and only the third, Coja/Khoja, survived. Rashìd al-Dìn confirms this fact indirectly by mentioning Khoja in his account;
- 4. It is, in fact, thanks to Marco's own account that we can reconcile the partial references in the Chinese and Persian sources and thus complete the picture. At the same time this is also a test of the veracity of the story since the basic facts and the chronology corroborate each other.
Pelliot, one of the leading Polan scholars, wrote that Marco's very detailed account about the sending of the embassy to Arghun 'is to be entirely trusted', and Yang Chih-chiu, certainly the leading Polan scholar in China today, regards the entire Kökechin episode as the definitive proof that Marco was in China.6 Indeed, the likelihood of Marco's reconstructing the whole episode in Genoa (from memory) or in Venice (from notes) on the basis of second-hand information that he had previously obtained from an unknown informant in the Crimea or in Constantinople is so remote as to be safely dismissed.
But there is more. We know that in a conversation with the famous physician and astrologer Petrus de Abano (1250-1316) which took place some time before 1303, Marco made certain astronomical observations, illustrating them with a sketch in his own hand. These observations, together with Marco's drawing, are reproduced in Petrus' work Conciliator (published in 1303), but are not found in Marco's book. Through a close analysis of these observations and of data found in the latter, J. Jensen has conclusively shown in an article published in 1997 that Marco went to Sumatra and that he must have done so by way of the South China Sea. His conclusion in answer to F.W.'s question is 'Yes, Marco Polo did go to China'.7
Last, but not least, the vexed question of the golden tablets of the Great Khan, i.e. of the tablets of authority. These were given as laissez-passer by Khubilai to the Polos to facilitate their journeys. They were usually oblong, made of gold or silver, and about 30x9cm. The gold paizas (as they are usually called from their Chinese name, p'ai-tzu) were in the shape of a tiger or a gerfalcon at the top, or were just plain. They are described in detail by Marco who also notes the ones he, his father and uncle were granted in the course of their travels. In F.W.'s book there is an attempt at confusing the issue and downplaying the role of the paizas by casting doubts on their number and by connecting them with some dubious business dealings involving Marco and his relatives.
There is, however, no doubt about the total number of paizas received at various times by the three Polos: they were seven, as a careful reading of the book will reveal. There was also no 'jiggery-pokery' over these gold tablets and no family dispute, as I have shown in my review article: they are all products of F.W.'s misreading of the original documents and of her fertile imagination. But having led the reader into a maze of doubts and uncertainties about both the tablets' record and the part they played in an imaginary family quarrel, she ably steers him/her away from the one vital bit of information concerning these precious (in more ways than one) laissez-passer. The evidence in question is contained in the will of Marco's uncle Maffeo dated 6 February 1310 in which there is a reference to certain arrangements concerning a jewel and 'the three tablets of gold which were from the magnificent Chan of the Tartars'. As a corollary to this revealing piece of evidence we have the list of Marco's possessions made after his death in 1324. One of the items in this list is 'a large gold tablet of command'. We do not know what happened to the rest of the paizas (they were probably melted), but at least one of them was still in existence in Marco's household in 1324. The provenance of the former is clearly stated in the will, a document whose authenticity is not in question: they came from the 'magnificent Chan of the Tartars', i.e. from Khubilai Khan himself.
Now, assuming that only Marco's father and uncle had gone to the Mongol court as suggested by F.W., they would have received one tablet each for their return journey. Then how do we account for the third one? And why should Maffeo (not Marco!) gratuitously lie about their provenance in his last will and testament.
F.W.'s thesis is so full of holes as to be untenable from whichever angle we look at it. One of its cornerstones is the 'Persian guidebook' hypothesis extrapolated from a casual remark made several decades ago by H. Franke. In a letter to me dated 28 July 1998, Professor Franke writes: 'Yesterday I received your article ... on F. Wood's misleading book on Marco Polo. I am pleased that you pointed out how she misquoted what I had said, very provisionally, in 1965. I think that you have definitely laid to rest her theory.'
There are, of course, still unresolved problems relating to the manuscript tradition of Marco's text, and the precise role of Rustichello and others in editing the same. Scholars in several countries are investigating these problems at present and we must wait for the results of their research. This is highly specialized work, and I do not think that F.W. can take much comfort for her theory (or theories) from the data published so far on the subject by B. Wehr of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, and others.
In conclusion, an examination of F.W.'s book reveals once more the fundamental weakness of the argumentum e silentio. Marco's book, with its immense wealth of information, speaks for itself. Had Marco, as F.W. claims, obtained so much varied and detailed intelligence about most of 13th-century Asia (including, beside China, Iraq, Persia, Central Asia, Mongolia, continental Southeast Asia, Java, Sumatra, Malacca, the Nicobar Islands, Ceylon, Southern India and the coasts and islands of the Indian Sea) - not to speak of his insider's description of the Mongol court - without actually going there, this in itself would have been an even greater feat than that of compiling a genuine eyewitness account of the magnitude of The Description of the World. But, as we have seen, this was not the case: Marco was there all right.
Dr Igor de Rachewiltz
Division of Pacific And Asian History
The Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200
- 1/ Most of the arguments presented in this paper are discussed in detail (with supporting references) in my review article in Zentralasiatische Studien 27 (1997). A short list of Additions and Corrections appeared in Zentralasiatische Studien 28 (1998), p. 177. Bibliographical and other references for the additional arguments included in the present paper are given in the following notes. Many of the criticisms I make have already been made by other reviewers and commentators in the past years, but not (to my knowledge) in a thorough and systematic way.
- 2/ The six editions in question are those of ca. 1555, 1558, 1561, 1566, 1572 and 1579. A seventh edition was published in the Ch'ing period under the Chia-ch'ing emperor (1799). See W. Fuchs, The "Mongol Atlas" of China by Chu Ssu-pen and the Kuang-yü-t'u, Monumenta Serica Monograph VIII, Peiping, 1946, pp. 15-24. The reference to the Great Wall is on p. 21.
- 3/ On the Genoese Yilioni (= Ilioni) family, see R.S. Lopez, 'Trafegando in partibus Catagii: altri genovesi in Cina nel Trecento', in Su e giù per la storia di Genova, Genoa, 1975, pp. 184-5. Cf. L. Petech, Selected Papers on Asian History, Is. M.E.O.: Serie Orientale Roma LX, Rome, 1988, pp. 168-9. I wish to thank Prof. L. Petech of Rome for kindly supplying the references cited in nn. 2 and 3. (The statement concerning the 'Vilioni' family of Venice in my article 'Marco Polo Went to China', p. 40, must be amended accordingly.)
- 4/ In a letter to me of 5 August 1998, Prof. G. Stary of Venice wrote: 'It is no wonder that the Chinese sources are silent on Marco Polo. Similar cases can be quoted regarding the activity of the Jesuits at the Ch'ing court. You will recall the famous report of [Fr. Ferdinand] Verbiest [1623-88] on K'ang-hsi's journey to Manchuria in 1682: a foreigner accompanying the emperor - something sensational, but only in Europe and for the Europeans! Kao Shih-ch'i [1645-1703], who was close to the emperor and likewise accompanied him on that tour, makes no mention of Verbiest's presence in his diary [the Hu-ts'ung tung-hsün jih-lu] although this was an extraordinary or at least unusual event in the circumstances. No mention either of Verbiest's presence in the Shih-lu and Chi-chü-chu: in both these works Verbiest is mentioned but only because he had been conferred an honorific title in Peking!...One has the impression that for the Chinese/Mongols/Manchus, the few Europeans who resided in China were so insignificant as to be hardly worth mentioning in their official documents. It is we who, as usual, overestimate ourselves ...'. (My translation - I.R.) Perhaps the best illustration of the eastern and western attitudes towards such cultural 'encounters' is the report on the papal embassy to the Mongol court led by John of Marignolli in 1342. Whereas Marignolli's report contains a detailed and florid description of the audience with Emperor Toghon Temür (Shun-ti, r. 1333-67), the Chinese annals merely record the gift of 'a remarkable horse' from the Kingdom of the Franks, describing its unusual physical features. Such was the impression that this equine wonder made on the emperor that the court painter Chou Lang was commissioned to make a portrait of it and the leading academician was instructed to compose an 'Ode to the Heavenly Horse' in its honour. No mention, however, even in passing of the pope, his envoy and the aim of the embassy. See I. de Rachewiltz, Papal Envoys to the Great Khans, Faber & Faber, London, 1971, pp. 193-5.
- 5/ For the history of noodles in Central and East Asia, see P.D. Buell, E.N. Anderson and C. Perry, A Soup for the Qan: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Szu-hui's Yin-shan Cheng-yao, Kegan Paul International, London, 1998, pp. 617-38 (forthcoming). Cf. also by the same author, 'Mongol Empire and Turkicization: the Evidence of Food and Foodways', in R. Amitai-Preiss and D.O. Morgan (eds), The Mongol Empire and its Legacy, Brill, Leiden-Boston-Köln, 1999, pp. 209ff.
- 6/ Paul Pelliot (1878-1945), the leading French sinologist and savant who devoted much of his life to the study of Marco Polo's Description of the World and related problems, and whose commentary to the text was published posthumously in 1959-63, never doubted the authenticity of Marco's account. See his Notes on Marco Polo, I-II, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris, 1959-63, passim. The same can be said of Prof. Yang Chih-chiu and other leading Polan scholars in China.
- 7/ See J. Jensen, 'The World's Most Diligent Observer', Asiatische Studien. Études Asiatiques 51.3 (1997), pp. 719-26.