What impressed Marco Polo about China

Marco Polo: The eternal traveler

Kublai Khan is impressed by Marco Polo, who is now 21 years old. While father and uncle go about their business, Marco learns one language after another, which are spoken in the Mongol Empire. The ruler entrusts Marco Polo with special missions. As a diplomat and confidante of the Potentate, he will travel through Tibet, through the regions on the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Mekong for the next 17 years. Marco Polo was the first European to reach the interior of Burma and the area of ​​what is now Thailand and Vietnam, possibly also to Siberia. He did not see everything that he later reported with his own eyes. Marco Polo often also writes down what has happened to him. This is how his own and other people's observations mix in his notes.

His favorite city is Hangzhou in China. It was once the flourishing capital of the Song Dynasty and was conquered by the Mongols in 1276. From 1282 to 1285, Marco Polo is governor here. He later wrote that it was “by far the most glamorous city in the world” with “1,600,000 domestic flocks”. He raves about “public, warm baths” in which “a hundred men or a hundred women can comfortably bathe together at the same time”. Marco Polo writes about 20,000 prostitutes in the city and reports with fascination how coal is used for heating.

Towards the end of the 1980s, the khan's health deteriorated. The Chinese resistance against the Mongols is growing. The Venetians want to go home again. After a long hesitation, the ruler agrees. The last job is to bring 17-year-old Kokejin to Persia, who wants to marry Kublai Khan's great-nephew Arghun. The land route is blocked by fighting, so the Venetians have to cross the sea. 14 ships are being equipped, 600 passengers are crowding on board, plus the sailors. In 1292 the fleet set sail from Quanzhou Port. The travelers are stuck on the island of Samudra (Sumatra) for months until favorable winds come. Marco Polo enjoys the “best fish in the world”, the “giant coconuts” and the tuak - a fermented, greenish palm juice that is about as strong as beer - a “tasty wine”. However, Marco Polo also writes in horror: "Believe me: the natives in the mountains eat human flesh."