Hi, kiddos! I'm sorry we missed the last class but we can still learn, right?
Everyone go find a map of China.
Now, look at the western part of the country and find Kashgar. This is were we left Marco, his father and his uncle last week. (Anyone remember his father and uncle's names?) This week we will follow them 2,600 miles from the deserts of the Xinjiang region all the way to Shangdu (also known as Xanadu). Then we will see some of what Marco saw during the almost 2 decades he stayed in China.
The picture to the left is slightly blurry but on the map you can see Kashgar and the red line shows their path. Marco wrote about their journey through the desert "nothing is found to eat" and "you must always go a day and a night before you find water."
The Taklimakan Desert is said to be a haunted place. The Chinese have many stories of the spirits who live there. Most people who travel that route see mirages.
Stop right here and go look up the word mirage in the dictionary and write the definition on some notebook paper.
Marco wrote of spirits that could "lure away a straggler, calling him by name in voices that sounded like companions." He also said "It often seems to you that you hear many instruments sounding and especially drums."
The Polos stopped in Nanhu, a town on the edge the desert. They had made it through the desert! They left Nanhu and traveled to Shazhou. Marco wrote of the idolaters and the many idols they worshipped. Even today there is a cliff side that is crammed full of nearly 500 idols.
Some people wonder why Marco didn't write about the Great Wall or the Han Wall. Maybe it was because the parts of the Great Wall that we know weren't built until after the Mongols in the Ming Dynasty. Or maybe it was because every city in Europe also had walls and he saw nothing amazing or interesting about them. No one really knows.
Kublai Khan heard of their approach and sent messengers and guards to meet them when they were still 40 days away from the capital. They escorted the Polos into the throne room of the Khan. Kublai Khan was very excited to see them. He greeted them warmly and asked about the 100 wise men (missionaries) he had asked for from the Pope. He was greatly disappointed to find that none came. After studying about Hudson Taylor, think about and write down at least three things that would have been different if missionaries had come with Marco Polo.
When Marco first arrived in Shangdu, Kublai was almost done building his new capital of Daidu. Daidu is now in the very center of modern day Shangai. Find Shanghai on your map. Their homes were heated by "black stones which burn like logs"... he was talking about COAL! He was amazed at their paper money. There was nothing like it in Europe.
Both the old capital and the new were beautiful. Their streets were wide and straight. Their buildings had glazed tile roofs that Marco said were "red and green and blue and yellow and are bright like crystal, so that they shine very far."
Daidu is where the Polos lived mainly until they returned to Europe. According to Marco's book, Kublai gave him the job of a courier. One ironic thing about him is that although he lived in China for 17 years, he never learned to speak Chinese. He learned Mongolian and Persian because those were the rulers of the lands he traveled through. During the Khan dynasty, Chinese was not widely spoken.
One people group that Marco lived among where most likely the Dai people of Yunnan. He told of a people who have gold teeth, tattoos and eat raw meat. That is still done among the Dai people today. Marco wrote about their religious healing practices, customs and how they used shells and salt as money. The Dai people use Chinese money nowadays but they still have gold teeth and tattoos. They only eat raw pork on special occasions like weddings.
Marco claimed to have been the ruler of the city of Yangzhou, but some scholars say this can't be proven. One of Marco's favorite cities was Hangzhou. He wrote of Hangzhou as a heavenly city that was the best that is in all this world. He described public baths, ships, wealth and jewels. To Hangzhou came ships from India, Persia, Java and elsewhere, bringing spices, pearls, and jewels.
Find and circle Yangzhou and Hangzhou on your map.
The Polos stayed in China for 17 years. They worked with and for the Kublai during that time. When the Kublai was in his 70s, the Polos could see trouble ahead. He was not in good health and he was an alcoholic. They began to try to take their leave but the Kublai refused. What were they to do?
Three emissaries came to Kublai Khan from Persia. It seemed that his great-nephew needed a wife. Kublai gave them a 17 year old princess to take to him but they needed escorts. Fighting had broken out in some of the Mongol Empire and it was no longer safe to travel back over land. Nicolo and Mafeo had traveled the route by sea before and offered to escort them. The Kublai reluctantly agreed.
The Polos made their preparations to leave....
And that's where our story ends today! Merry Christmas!
Almost all of what is written in this blog post came directly from National Geographic. More specifically, the June 2001 magazine. Assistant Editor Mike Edwards followed the path of Marco Polo. It's a super interesting article with really amazing pictures by Michael Yamashita. Check it out!