The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xl.

Concerning the Great River Caramoran and the City of Cachanfu.

When you leave the castle, and travel about 20 miles westward, you come to a river called CARAMORAN,1 so big that no bridge can be thrown across it; for it is of immense width and depth, and reaches to the Great Ocean that encircles the Universe — I mean the whole earth. On this river there are many cities and walled towns, and many merchants too therein, for much traffic takes place upon the river, there being a great deal of ginger and a great deal of silk produced in the country.2

Game birds here are in wonderful abundance, insomuch that you may buy at least three pheasants for a Venice groat of silver. I should say rather for an asper, which is worth a little more.3

[On the lands adjoining this river there grow vast quantities of great canes, some of which are a foot or a foot and a half (in girth), and these the natives employ for many useful purposes.]

After passing the river and travelling two days westward you come to the noble city of CACHANFU, which we have already named. The inhabitants are all Idolaters. And I may as well remind you again that all the people of Cathay are Idolaters. It is a city of great trade and of work in gold-tissues of many sorts, as well as other kinds of industry.

There is nothing else worth mentioning, and so we will proceed and tell you of a noble city which is the capital of a kingdom, and is called Kenjanfu.

NOTE 1. — Kará-Muren, or Black River, is one of the names applied by the Mongols to the Hwang Ho, or Yellow River, of the Chinese, and is used by all the mediaeval western writers, e.g. Odoric, John Marignolli, Rashiduddin.

The River, where it skirts Shan-si, is for the most part difficult both of access and of passage, and ill adapted to navigation, owing to the violence of the stream. Whatever there is of navigation is confined to the transport of coal down-stream from Western Shan-si, in large flats. Mr. Elias, who has noted the River’s level by aneroid at two points 920 miles apart, calculated the fall over that distance, which includes the contour of Shan-si, at 4 feet per mile. The best part for navigation is above this, from Ning-hia to Chaghan Kuren (in about 110° E. long.), in which Captain Prjevalski’s observations give a fall of less than 6 inches per mile. (Richthofen, Letter VII. 25; Williamson, I. 69; J.R.G.S. XLIII. p. 115; Petermann, 1873, pp. 89–91.)

[On 5th January, 1889, Mr. Rockhill coming to the Yellow River from P’ing-yang, found (Land of the Lamas, p. 17) that “the river was between 500 and 600 yards wide, a sluggish, muddy stream, then covered with floating ice about a foot thick. . . . The Yellow River here is shallow, in the main channel only is it four or five feet deep.” The Rev. C. Holcombe, who crossed in October, says (p. 65): that “it was nowhere more than 6 feet deep, and on returning, three of the boatmen sprang into the water in midstream and waded ashore, carrying a line from the ferry-boat to prevent us from rapidly drifting down with the current. The water was just up to their hips.”— H.C.]

NOTE 2. — It is remarkable that the abundance of silk in Shan-si and Shen-si is so distinctly mentioned in these chapters, whereas now there is next to no silk at all grown in these districts. Is this the result of a change of climate, or only a commercial change? Baron Richthofen, to whom I have referred the question, believes it to be due to the former cause: “No tract in China would appear to have suffered so much by a change of climate as Shen-si and Southern Shan-si.” [See pp. 11–12.]

NOTE 3. — The asper or akché (both meaning “white”) of the Mongols at Tana or Azov I have elsewhere calculated, from Pegolotti’s data (Cathay, p. 298), to have contained about 0s. 2.8d. worth of silver, which is less than the grosso; but the name may have had a loose application to small silver coins in other countries of Asia. Possibly the money intended may have been the 50 tsien note. (See note 1, ch. xxiv. supra.)

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24