The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxxvii.

The Kingdom of Taianfu.

After riding then those ten days from the city of Juju, you find yourself in a kingdom called TAIANFU, and the city at which you arrive, which is the capital, is also called Taianfu, a very great and fine city. [But at the end of five days’ journey out of those ten, they say there is a city unusually large and handsome called ACBALUC, whereat terminate in this direction the hunting preserves of the Emperor, within which no one dares to sport except the Emperor and his family, and those who are on the books of the Grand Falconer. Beyond this limit any one is at liberty to sport, if he be a gentleman. The Great Kaan, however, scarcely ever went hunting in this direction, and hence the game, particularly the hares, had increased and multiplied to such an extent that all the crops of the Province were destroyed. The Great Kaan being informed of this, proceeded thither with all his Court, and the game that was taken was past counting.]1

Taianfu2 is a place of great trade and great industry, for here they manufacture a large quantity of the most necessary equipments for the army of the Emperor. There grow here many excellent vines, supplying great plenty of wine; and in all Cathay this is the only place where wine is produced. It is carried hence all over the country.3 There is also a great deal of silk here, for the people have great quantities of mulberry-trees and silk-worms.

From this city of Taianfu you ride westward again for seven days, through fine districts with plenty of towns and boroughs, all enjoying much trade and practising various kinds of industry. Out of these districts go forth not a few great merchants, who travel to India and other foreign regions, buying and selling and getting gain. After those seven days’ journey you arrive at a city called PIANFU, a large and important place, with a number of traders living by commerce and industry. It is a place too where silk is largely produced.4

So we will leave it and tell you of a great city called Cachanfu. But stay — first let us tell you about the noble castle called Caichu.

NOTE 1. — Marsden translates the commencement of this passage, which is peculiar to Ramusio, and runs “E in capo di cinque giornate delle predette dieci,” by the words “At the end of five days’ journey beyond the ten,” but this is clearly wrong.1 The place best suiting in position, as halfway between Cho-chau and T’ai-yuan fu, would be CHENG-TING FU, and I have little doubt that this is the place intended. The title of Ak-Báligh in Turki,2 or Chaghán Balghásun in Mongol, meaning “White City,” was applied by the Tartars to Royal Residences; and possibly Cheng-ting fu may have had such a claim, for I observe in the Annales de la Prop. de la Foi (xxxiii. 387) that in 1862 the Chinese Government granted to the R.C. Vicar–Apostolic of Chihli the ruined Imperial Palace at Cheng-ting fu for his cathedral and other mission establishments. Moreover, as a matter of fact, Rashiduddin’s account of Chinghiz’s campaign in northern China in 1214, speaks of the city of “Chaghan Balghasun which the Chinese call Jintzinfu.” This is almost exactly the way in which the name of Cheng-ting fu is represented in ‘Izzat Ullah’s Persian Itinerary (Jigdzinfu, evidently a clerical error for Jingdzinfu), so I think there can be little doubt that Cheng-ting fu is the place intended. The name of Hwai-luh’ien (see Note 2), which is the first stage beyond Cheng-ting fu, is said to mean the “Deer-lair,” pointing apparently to the old character of the tract as a game-preserve. The city of Cheng-ting is described by Consul Oxenham as being now in a decayed and dilapidated condition, consisting only of two long streets crossing at right angles. It is noted for the manufacture of images of Buddha from Shan-si iron. (Consular Reports, p. 10; Erdmann, 331.)

[The main road turns due west at Cheng-ting fu, and enters Shan-si through what is known among Chinese travellers as the Ku-kwan, Customs’ Barrier. — H.C.]

Between Cheng-ting fu and T’ai-yuan fu the traveller first crosses a high and rugged range of mountains, and then ascends by narrow defiles to the plateau of Shan-si. But of these features Polo’s excessive condensation takes no notice.

The traveller who quits the great plain of Chihli [which terminates at Fu-ch’eng-i, a small market-town, two days from Pao-ting. — H.C.] for “the kingdom of Taianfu,” i.e. Northern Shan-si, enters a tract in which predominates that very remarkable formation called by the Chinese Hwang-tu and to which the German name Löss has been attached. With this formation are bound up the distinguishing characters of Northern Interior China, not merely in scenery but in agricultural products, dwellings, and means of transport. This Löss is a brownish-yellow loam, highly porous, spreading over low and high ground alike, smoothing over irregularities of surface, and often more than 1000 feet in thickness. It has no stratification, but tends to cleave vertically, and is traversed in every direction by sudden crevices, almost glacier-like, narrow, with vertical walls of great depth, and infinite ramification. Smooth as the löss basin looks in a bird’s-eye view, it is thus one of the most impracticable countries conceivable for military movements, and secures extraordinary value to fortresses in well-chosen sites, such as that of Tung-kwan mentioned in Note 2 to chap. xli.

Agriculture may be said in N. China to be confined to the alluvial plains and the löss; as in S. China to the alluvial plains and the terraced hill-sides. The löss has some peculiar quality which renders its productive power self-renewing without manure (unless it be in the form of a surface coat of fresh löss), and unfailing in returns if there be sufficient rain. This singular formation is supposed by Baron Richthofen, who has studied it more extensively than any one, to be no subaqueous deposit, but to be the accumulated residue of countless generations of herbaceous plants combined with a large amount of material spread over the face of the ground by the winds and surface waters.

[I do not agree with the theory of Baron von Richthofen, of the almost exclusive Eolian formation of loess; water has something to do with it as well as wind, and I think it is more exact to say that loess in China is due to a double action, Neptunian as well as Eolian. The climate was different in former ages from what it is now, and rain was plentiful and to its great quantity was due the fertility of this yellow soil. (Cf. A. de Lapparent, Leçons de Géographie Physique, 2’e éd. 1898, p. 566.)— H.C.]

Though we do not expect to find Polo taking note of geological features, we are surprised to find no mention of a characteristic of Shan-si and the adjoining districts, which is due to the löss; viz. the practice of forming cave dwellings in it; these in fact form the habitations of a majority of the people in the löss country. Polo has noticed a similar usage in Badakhshan (I. p. 161), and it will be curious if a better acquaintance with that region should disclose a surface formation analogous to the löss. (Richthofen’s Letters, VII. 13 et passim.)

NOTE 2. — Taianfu is, as Magaillans pointed out, T’AI-YUAN FU, the capital of the Province of Shan-si, and Shan-si is the “Kingdom.” The city was, however, the capital of the great T’ang Dynasty for a time in the 8th century, and is probably the Tájah or Taiyúnah of old Arab writers. Mr. Williamson speaks of it as a very pleasant city at the north end of a most fertile and beautiful plain, between two noble ranges of mountains. It was a residence, he says, also of the Ming princes, and is laid out in Peking fashion, even to mimicking the Coal–Hill and Lake of the Imperial Gardens. It stands about 3000 feet above the sea [on the left bank of the Fen-ho. — H.C.]. There is still an Imperial factory of artillery, matchlocks, etc., as well as a powder mill; and fine carpets like those of Turkey are also manufactured. The city is not, however, now, according to Baron Richthofen, very populous, and conveys no impression of wealth or commercial importance. [In an interesting article on this city, the Rev. G. B. Farthing writes (North China Herald, 7th September, 1894): “The configuration of the ground enclosed by T’ai-yuan fu city is that of a ‘three times to stretch recumbent cow.’ The site was chosen and described by Li Chun-feng, a celebrated professor of geomancy in the days of the T’angs, who lived during the reign of the Emperor T’ai Tsung of that ilk. The city having been then founded, its history reaches back to that date. Since that time the cow has stretched twice. . . . T’ai-yuan city is square, and surrounded by a wall of earth, of which the outer face is bricked. The height of the wall varies from thirty to fifty feet, and it is so broad that two carriages could easily pass one another upon it. The natives would tell you that each of the sides is three miles, thirteen paces in length, but this, possibly, includes what it will be when the cow shall have stretched for the third and last time. Two miles is the length of each side; eight miles to tramp if you wish to go round the four of them.”— H. C.] The district used to be much noted for cutlery and hardware, iron as well as coal being abundantly produced in Shan-si. Apparently the present Birmingham of this region is a town called Hwai-lu, or Hwo-luh’ien, about 20 miles west of Cheng-ting fu, and just on the western verge of the great plain of Chihli. [Regarding Hwai-lu, the Rev. C. Holcombe calls it “a miserable town lying among the foot hills, and at the mouth of the valley, up which the road into Shan-si lies.” He writes (p. 59) that Ping-ting chau, after the Customs’ barrier (Ku Kwan) between Chih-li and Shan-si, would, under any proper system of management, at no distant day become the Pittsburg, or Birmingham, of China. — H.C.] (Richthofen’s Letters, No. VII. 20; Cathay, xcvii. cxiii. cxciv.; Rennie, II. 265; Williamson’s Journeys in North China; Oxenham, u.s. II; Klaproth in J. As. sér. II. tom. i. 100; Izzat Ullah’s Pers. Itin. in J.R.A.S. VII. 307; Forke, Von Peking nach Ch’ang-an, p. 23.)

[“From Khavailu (Hwo-luh’ien), an important commercial centre supplying Shansi, for 130 miles to Sze-tien, the road traverses the loess hills, which extend from the Peking–Kalgan road in a south-west direction to the Yellow River, and which are passable throughout this length only by the Great Central Asian trade route to T’ai-yuan fu and by the Tung–Kwan, Ho-nan, i.e. the Yellow River route. (Colonel Bell, Proc.R.G.S. XII. 1890, p. 59.) Colonel Bell reckons seven days (218 miles) from Peking to Hwo-lu-h’ien and five days from this place to T’ai-yuan fu.”— H.C.]

NOTE 3. — Martini observes that the grapes in Shan-si were very abundant and the best in China. The Chinese used them only as raisins, but wine was made there for the use of the early Jesuit Missions, and their successors continue to make it. Klaproth, however, tells us that the wine of T’ai-yuan fu was celebrated in the days of the T’ang Dynasty, and used to be sent in tribute to the Emperors. Under the Mongols the use of this wine spread greatly. The founder of the Ming accepted the offering of wine of the vine from T’aiyuan in 1373, but prohibited its being presented again. The finest grapes are produced in the district of Yukau-hien, where hills shield the plain from north winds, and convert it into a garden many square miles in extent. In the vintage season the best grapes sell for less than a farthing a pound. [Mr. Theos. Sampson, in an article on “Grapes in China,” writes (Notes and Queries on China and Japan, April, 1869, p. 50): “The earliest mention of the grape in Chinese literature appears to be contained in the chapter on the nations of Central Asia, entitled Ta Yuan Chwan, or description of Fergana, which forms part of the historical records (Sze–Ki) of Sze-ma Tsien, dating from B.C. 100. Writing of the political relations instituted shortly before this date by the Emperor Wu Ti with the nations beyond the Western frontiers of China, the historian dwells at considerable length, but unluckily with much obscurity, on the various missions despatched westward under the leadership of Chang K’ien and others, and mentions the grape vine in the following passage:—‘Throughout the country of Fergana, wine is made from grapes, and the wealthy lay up stores of wine, many tens of thousands of shih in amount, which may be kept for scores of years without spoiling. Wine is the common beverage, and for horses the mu-su is the ordinary pasture. The envoys from China brought back seeds with them, and hereupon the Emperor for the first time cultivated the grape and the mu-su in the most productive soils.’ In the Description of Western regions, forming part of the History of the Han Dynasty, it is stated that grapes are abundantly produced in the country of K’i-pin (identified with Cophene, part of modern Afghanistan) and other adjacent countries, and referring, if I mistake not, to the journeys of Chang K’ien, the same work says, that the Emperor Wu–Ti despatched upwards of ten envoys to the various countries westward of Fergana, to search for novelties, and that they returned with grape and mu-su seeds. These references appear beyond question to determine the fact that grapes were introduced from Western — or, as we term it, Central–Asia, by Chang K’ien.”

Dr. Bretschneider (Botanicon Sinicum, I. p. 25), relating the mission of Chang K’ien (139 B.C. Emperor Wu–Ti), who died about B.C. 103, writes:—“He is said to have introduced many useful plants from Western Asia into China. Ancient Chinese authors ascribe to him the introduction of the Vine, the Pomegranate, Safflower, the Common Bean, the Cucumber, Lucerne, Coriander, the Walnut-tree, and other plants.”— H.C.] The river that flows down from Shan-si by Cheng-ting-fu is called “Putu-ho, or the Grape River.” (J. As. u.s.; Richthofen, u.s.)

[Regarding the name of this river, the Rev. C. Holcombe (l.c. p. 56) writes: “Williamson states in his Journeys in North China that the name of this stream is, properly Poo-too Ho —‘Grape River,’ but is sometimes written Hu-t’ou River incorrectly. The above named author, however, is himself in error, the name given above [Hu-t’o] being invariably found in all Chinese authorities, as well as being the name by which the stream is known all along its course.”

West of the Fan River, along the western border of the Central Plain of Shan-si, in the extreme northern point of which lies T’aï-yuan fu, the Rev. C. Holcombe says (p. 61), “is a large area, close under the hills, almost exclusively given up to the cultivation of the grape. The grapes are unusually large, and of delicious flavour.”— H.C.]

NOTE 4. —+In no part of China probably, says Richthofen, do the towns and villages consist of houses so substantial and costly as in this. Pianfu is undoubtedly, as Magaillans again notices, P’ING-YANG FU.3 It is the Bikan of Shah Rukh’s ambassadors. [Old P’ing yang, 5 Lis to the south] is said to have been the residence of the primitive and mythical Chinese Emperor Yao. A great college for the education of the Mongols was instituted at P’ing-yang, by Yeliu Chutsai, the enlightened minister of Okkodai Khan. [Its dialect differs from the T’aï-yuan dialect, and is more like Pekingese.] The city, lying in a broad valley covered with the yellow löss, was destroyed by the T’ai-P’ing rebels, but it is reviving. [It is known for its black pottery.] The vicinity is noted for large paper factories. [“From T’ai-yuan fu to P’ing-yang fu is a journey of 185 miles, down the valley of the Fuen-ho.” (Colonel Bell, Proc.R.G.S. XII. 1890, p. 61.) By the way, Mr. Rockhill remarks (Land of the Lamas, p. 10): “Richthofen has transcribed the name of this river Fuen. This spelling has been adopted on most of the recent maps, both German and English, but Fuen is an impossible sound in Chinese.” (Read Fen ho.)— H.C.] (Cathay, ccxi.; Ritter, IV. 516; D’Ohsson, II. 70; Williamson, I. 336.)

1 And I see Ritter understood the passage as I do (IV. 515).

2 Báligh is indeed properly Mongol.

3 It seems to be called Piyingfu (miswritten Piyingku) in Mr. Shaw’s Itinerary from Yarkand (Pr.R.G.S. XVI. 253.) We often find the Western modifications of Chinese names very persistent.

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