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Marco polo never went to china

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32485.  Fri Nov 18, 2005 5:42 pm Reply with quote

Dear Qi elves,
I was just watching your lovely program when I heard that Marco Polo was the first dalmatian to go to China.
I'm not very sure of that. Some time ago I read about this being one of the great myths that surround us. According to that information no evidence has been found to prove this, all we have is his word for it. The thing is he didn't report many of very important aspects of chinese culture, and he reported others which were completely ficticious. The chinese burocrats, known for their meticulosity, didn't mention his visit either.
So what's the truth then?

32488.  Fri Nov 18, 2005 5:48 pm Reply with quote

Well, kanai, perhaps you can nail it one way or another.

What was the book you read about him?

32503.  Fri Nov 18, 2005 6:09 pm Reply with quote

The book that suggested this was the imaginatively titled 'Did Marco Polo Go To China' by Frances Wood. The argument goes that because of a large number of omissions on the subject of Chinese culture that O'Polo made, together with the fact that there is no record of him by the Chinese, then he didn't go. The suggestion is that O'Polo went to some trading posts on the Black Sea that were owned by his family and concocted the story after reading some Persian and Arabic books on China.

32545.  Sat Nov 19, 2005 4:29 am Reply with quote

Thank you, djgordy.

And what's the general view of this oeuvre, do you know?

32549.  Sat Nov 19, 2005 4:40 am Reply with quote

I thought there was quite a lot to go on actually. (For Polo having gone to China)

Polo first went to China with his father and uncle, who both had already been once, in 1266.

He described dining with Kublai Kahn and the incredible ghosts of the Gobi desert - which turned out to be the shifting dunes.

I have heard that there are theories suggesting that Polo made it all up, as much of what he wrote is about unicorns and so on. But I read that Polo not only wrote what he saw, but was told by the locals.

He wrote, for example, about a giant elephant bird on Madagascar, who was so large its eggs were said to be the size of houses. Called the Elephant bird because that is what it fed on. Sinbad the sailor was said to of had his ship sunk by one.

Now Polo recorded this because it is what he was told by locals. In this case I do think he recorded it as myth. But the point is the legend of the elephant bird did have a basis, and David Attenborough dedicated an entire episode of ZOO QUEST to Madagascar on it.

32553.  Sat Nov 19, 2005 4:57 am Reply with quote

Going against my cut and paste principles, this is wikipedia has to say:

According to a famous story, a priest begged Marco on his deathbed to confess that he had lied in his stories. Marco refused, insisting, "I have not told half of what I saw!". This anecdote is an example of the skepticism that welcomed Marco's tales during his life.

In recent times, while most historians believe Marco Polo did reach China, some have proposed he did not get that far and only retold information he had heard from others. Those skeptics point out that among other omissions, his account fails to mention Chinese writing, chopsticks, tea, foot binding or the Great Wall. Also, Chinese records of the time do not mention him, despite the fact that he claimed to have served as a special emissary for Kublai Khan—which is puzzling, given the careful record-keeping in China at that time.

On the other hand, Marco describes other aspects of Far Eastern life in much detail: paper money, the Grand Canal, the structure of a Mongol army, tigers, the Imperial postal system. He also refers to Japan by its Chinese name "Zipang" or Cipangu. This is usually considered the first mention of Japan in Western literature. However, it is possible that Marco heard of these things from Arab silk road traders. Trade between the Middle East and Far East was flourishing and travellers are often happy to retell stories of their ventures in great detail.

In his defense, much of what he did not mention is circumstantial and there are no known arguments today to refute any of the descriptions he wrote about.

Marco Polo is also believed to have described a bridge that later was the site of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, a battle that marked the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

Benedict Allen claims, in his Faber book of Exploration, that nearly two hundred years after the death of Polo, Christopher Columbus used Polo's description of Cipangu as a precise goal in his voyage.

Mostly Harmless
32556.  Sat Nov 19, 2005 5:04 am Reply with quote


Last edited by Mostly Harmless on Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:19 am; edited 1 time in total

32557.  Sat Nov 19, 2005 5:08 am Reply with quote

He was born in Curzola, Venetian Dalmatia - now Kor?ula, Croatia.

re: the wikipedia article, Polo not mentioning tea

I think he didn't mention tea in his book becuase it was available in in the middle east and India already. So there was nothing particularly new about it.

32558.  Sat Nov 19, 2005 5:15 am Reply with quote

JumpingJack wrote:
Thank you, djgordy.

And what's the general view of this oeuvre, do you know?

Most historians seem sceptical though I haven't seen anywhere that anybody can prove that Marc O'Polo was actually somewhere else during the years he was supposedly in China.

Relying on omissions can be a bit problematical because it assumes that everybody considers the same things as significant.

33096.  Sun Nov 20, 2005 9:19 pm Reply with quote

There a loads of sites supporting Marco

I've done a quick google but can't find when the empire visited by Mr Polo started to be called China, could be a good pitfall question

33382.  Tue Nov 22, 2005 5:34 am Reply with quote

Carl wrote:

I've done a quick google but can't find when the empire visited by Mr Polo started to be called China, could be a good pitfall question

The Chinese name for China is (depending on how it is translated into latin characters) Chung Kuo or Zhongguo. It means the Middle Kingdom or Middle Country. The name dates from about 1,000 BC when it designated the Chou empire that was located on the North China plain. The Chinese believed that they were in the middle of the world surrounded by barbarians.


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