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Pri mary Source Document

wi th Questi ons ( DBQs)




E X C E R P T S F R O M T H E B O O K O F S E R M A R C O P O L O : T H E V E N E T I A N
C O N C E R N I N G K I N G D O M S A N D M A R V E L S O F T H E E A S T



I ntroducti on

Marco Polo (1254-1324) was born in Venice, an Italian city-state, to a powerful merchant family with extensive trade
contacts. Marco Polo had the standard education for a young gentleman of his timeknowledge of classical authors
and the basic beliefs of the Catholic church, a good grasp of French and Italian, and skills in accounting.

In 1260, Marco Polos father and uncle traveled through the Mongol empire, all the way to its capital in China. There
they requested trade and missionary contacts. Tradition has it that on a second trip, taken in 1271, on which they
carried messages from the Pope, the elder Polos took along young Marco, who was then seventeen. Many years later,
Marco Polo, with the assistance of a romance novel writer, composed a book entitled The Travels of Marco Polo, or, A
Description of the World. If the book is to be believed, Marco Polo spent seventeen years in China, during which time
he not only conducted business, but also was hired by the Mongol Yuan emperor to serve as the governor of
Yangzhou, a large southern Chinese port city.

The veracity of Marco Polos account is hotly debated among scholars. Some uphold Polos claim to have been to
China, while others argue that he simply picked up tales of China from Arab traders and compiled them into a book.
None dispute, however, that the book does contain descriptions of Yuan-dynasty China, albeit with the
embellishments and inaccuracies that one would expect from text that has been copied and recopied since the
thirteenth century.

In the excerpts that follow, Marco Polo (or his Arab sources) describes the cities and urban life of Yuan-dynasty China.



Sel ected Document Excerpts wi th Questi ons
From The Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, Volumes I and II, translated and
edited by Colonel Sir Henry Yule (London: John Murray, 1903).


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You musl knov lhal il is lhe grealesl aIace lhal ever vas. . The roof is very Iofly, and
lhe vaIIs of lhe IaIace are aII covered vilh goId and siIver. They are aIso adorned vilh
reresenlalions of dragons |scuIlured and giIlj, beasls and birds, knighls and idoIs, and
sundry olher sub|ecls. And on lhe ceiIing loo you see nolhing bul goId and siIver and ainling.
|On each of lhe four sides lhere is a greal marbIe slaircase Ieading lo lhe lo of lhe marbIe vaII,
and forming lhe aroach lo lhe aIace.j
Pri mary Source Document wi th Questi ons ( DBQs) on
EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK OF SER MARCO POLO:
THE VENETI AN CONCERNI NG KI NGDOMS AND MARVELS OF THE EAST

Asi a f or Educators l Col umbi a Uni versi ty l http: //af e. easi a. col umbi a. edu Page 2 of 3
The HaII of lhe IaIace is so Iarge lhal il couId easiIy dine 6000 eoIe, and il is quile a
marveI lo see hov many rooms lhere are besides. The buiIding is aIlogelher so vasl, so rich, and
so beaulifuI, lhal no man on earlh couId design anylhing suerior lo il. .

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Il is a facl lhal aII over lhe counlry of Calhay lhere is a kind of bIack slone exisling in
beds in lhe mounlains, vhich lhey dig oul and burn Iike firevood. If you suIy lhe fire vilh
lhem al nighl, and see lhal lhey are veII kindIed, you viII find lhem sliII aIighl in lhe morning,
and lhey make such fine fueI lhal no olher is used lhroughoul lhe counlry. Il is lrue lhal lhey
have Ienly of vood aIso, bul lhey do nol burn il, because lhose slones burn beller and cosl Iess.
|Moreover vilh lhe vasl number of eoIe and lhe number of balhs lhey mainlainfor
every one has such a balh al Ieasl lhree limes a veek, and in vinler if ossibIe every day, vhiIsl
every nobIeman and man of veaIlh has a rivale balh for his ovn uselhe vood vouId nol
suffice for lhe urose.j

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Su|u is a very greal and nobIe cily. The eoIe are IdoIalers, sub|ecls of lhe Greal Kaan,
and have aer money. They ossess siIk in greal quanlilies, from vhich lhey make goId
brocade and olher sluffs, and lhey Iive by lheir manufaclures and lrade.
The cily is assing greal, and has a circuil of some 60 miIes, il halh merchanls of greal
veaIlh and an incaIcuIabIe number of eoIe. Indeed, if lhe men of lhis cily and of lhe resl of
Manzi
2
had bul lhe siril of soIdiers lhey vouId conquer lhe vorId, bul lhey are no soIdiers al
aII, onIy accomIished lraders and mosl skiIIfuI craflsmen. There are aIso in lhis cily many greal
hiIosohers and Ieeches, diIigenl sludenls of nalure.

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When you have Iefl lhe cily of Changan and have lraveIIed for lhree days lhrough a
sIendid counlry, assing a number of lovns and viIIages, you arrive al lhe mosl nobIe cily of
Kinsay, a name vhich is as much as lo say in our longue The Cily of Heaven, as I loId you
before.

1
Suzhou
2
Soulh China
3
Hangzhou
4
See foolnole 2.
Pri mary Source Document wi th Questi ons ( DBQs) on
EXCERPTS FROM THE BOOK OF SER MARCO POLO:
THE VENETI AN CONCERNI NG KI NGDOMS AND MARVELS OF THE EAST

Asi a f or Educators l Col umbi a Uni versi ty l http: //af e. easi a. col umbi a. edu Page 3 of 3
And since ve have gol lhilher I viII enler inlo arlicuIars aboul ils magnificence, and
lhese are veII vorlh leIIing, for lhe cily is beyond disule lhe finesl and lhe nobIesl in lhe
vorId. In lhis ve shaII seak according lo lhe vrillen slalemenl vhich lhe Queen of lhis ReaIm
senl lo ayan lhe conqueror of lhe counlry for lransmission lo lhe Greal Kaan, in order lhal he
mighl be avare of lhe surassing grandeur of lhe cily and mighl be moved lo save il from
deslruclion or in|ury. .
Iirsl and foremosl, lhen, lhe documenl slaled lhe cily Kinsay lo be so greal lhal il halh
an hundred miIes of comass. And lhere are in il lveIve lhousand bridges of slone, for lhe mosl
arl so Iofly lhal a greal fIeel couId ass benealh lhem. .
The documenl aforesaid aIso venl on lo slale lhal lhere vere in lhis cily lveIve guiIds of
lhe differenl crafls, and lhal each guiId had 12,000 houses in lhe occualion of ils vorkmen. .
The documenl aforesaid aIso slaled lhal lhe number and veaIlh of lhe merchanls, and
lhe amounl of goods lhal assed lhrough lheir hands, vas so enormous lhal no man couId form
a |usl eslimale lhereof. .
Inside lhe cily lhere is a Lake vhich has a comass of some 30 miIes: and aII around il
are erecled beaulifuI aIaces and mansions, of lhe riches and mosl exquisile slruclures lhal you
can imagine, beIonging lo lhe nobIes of lhe cily. There are aIso on ils shores many abbeys and
churches of lhe IdoIalers. In lhe middIe of lhe Lake are lvo IsIands, on each of vhich slands a
rich, beaulifuI and sacious edifice, furnished in such slyIe as lo seem fil for lhe aIace of an
Imeror. And vhen any one of lhe cilizens desired lo hoId a marriage feasl, or lo give any
olher enlerlainmenl, il used lo be done al one of lhese aIaces. And everylhing vouId be found
lhere ready lo order, such as siIver Iale, lrenchers, and dishes |nakins and labIe-cIolhsj, and
vhalever eIse vas needfuI. The King made lhis rovision for lhe gralificalion of his eoIe, and
lhe Iace vas oen lo every one vho desired lo give an enlerlainmenl. |Somelimes lhere vouId
be al lhese aIaces an hundred differenl arlies, some hoIding a banquel, olhers ceIebraling a
vedding, and yel aII vouId find good accommodalion in lhe differenl aarlmenls and
aviIions, and lhal in so veII ordered a manner lhal one arly vas never in lhe vay of anolher.j


Questi ons:

1. As you read these descriptions, what can you conclude about the degree of
sophistication and wealth of the author and his native land as compared to
the sophistication and wealth of the land that he describes?
2. What seems most impressive to the author? Why?
3. Compare Marco Polos descriptions of urban life in China (including his
description of The Great City of Kinsay, i.e. Hangzhou) with a Chinese
authors description of Hangzhou written somewhat earlier, during the Song
dynasty (The Attractions of the Capital: This primary source document can be
found under the Economy section of main page listing resources on China,
1000-1450). What similarities and differences do you find? How does the
Chinese description differ from that of the foreigner (be it Marco Polo or an
Arab source that Polo drew on)?