The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xliii.

Concerning the Province of Acbalec Manzi.

After you have travelled those 20 days through the mountains of CUNCUN that I have mentioned, then you come to a province called ACBALEC MANZI, which is all level country, with plenty of towns and villages, and belongs to the Great Kaan. The people are Idolaters, and live by trade and industry. I may tell you that in this province, there grows such a great quantity of ginger, that it is carried all over the region of Cathay, and it affords a maintenance to all the people of the province, who get great gain thereby. They have also wheat and rice, and other kinds of corn, in great plenty and cheapness; in fact the country abounds in all useful products. The capital city is called ACBALEC MANZI [which signifies “the White City of the Manzi Frontier”].1

This plain extends for two days’ journey, throughout which it is as fine as I have told you, with towns and villages as numerous. After those two days, you again come to great mountains and valleys, and extensive forests, and you continue to travel westward through this kind of country for 20 days, finding however numerous towns and villages. The people are Idolaters, and live by agriculture, by cattle-keeping, and by the chase, for there is much game. And among other kinds, there are the animals that produce the musk, in great numbers.2

NOTE 1. — Though the termini of the route, described in these two chapters, are undoubtedly Si-ngan fu and Ch’êng-tu fu, there are serious difficulties attending the determination of the line actually followed.

The time according to all the MSS., so far as I know, except those of one type, is as follows:

In the plain of Kenjanfu. . . . . 3 days.
In the mountains of Cuncun. . . . 20 ”
In the plain of Acbalec. . . . . 2 ”
In mountains again. . . . .. 20 ”
——
45 days.

[From Si-ngan fu to Ch’êng-tu (Sze-ch’wan), the Chinese reckon 2300 li (766 miles). (Cf. Rockhill, Land of the Lamas, p. 23.) Mr. G.F. Eaton, writing from Han-chung (Jour. China Br.R.A.S. xxviii. p. 29) reckons: “From Si-ngan Fu S.W. to Ch’êng-tu, via K’i-shan, Fung-sien, Mien, Kwang-yuan and Chao-hwa, about 30 days, in chairs.” He says (p. 24): “From Ch’êng-tu via Si-ngan to Peking the road does not touch Han-chung, but 20 li west of the city strikes north to Pao-ch’eng. The road from Han-chung to Ch’êng-tu made by Ts’in Shi Hwang-ti to secure his conquest of Sze-ch’wan, crosses the Ta-pa-shan.”— H.C.]

It seems to me almost impossible to doubt that the Plain of Acbalec represents some part of the river-valley of the Han, interposed between the two ranges of mountains called by Richthofen T’sing-Ling–Shan and Ta-pa-Shan. But the time, as just stated, is extravagant for anything like a direct journey between the two termini.

The distance from Si-ngan fu to Pao-ki is 450 li, which could be done in 3 days, but at Polo’s rate would probably require 5. The distance by the mountain road from Pao-ki to the Plain of Han-chung, could never have occupied 20 days. It is really a 6 or 7 days’ march.

But Pauthier’s MS. C (and its double, the Bern MS.) has viii. marches instead of xx., through the mountains of Cuncun. This reduces the time between Kenjanfu and the Plain to 11 days, which is just about a proper allowance for the whole journey, though not accurately distributed. Two days, though ample, would not be excessive for the journey across the Plain of Han-chung, especially if the traveller visited that city. And “20 days from Han-chung, to Ch’êng-tu fu would correspond with Marco Polo’s rate of travel.” (Richthofen).

So far then, provided we admit the reading of the MS. C, there is no ground for hesitating to adopt the usual route between the two cities, via Han-chung.

But the key to the exact route is evidently the position of Acbalec Manzi, and on this there is no satisfactory light.

For the name of the province, Pauthier’s text has Acbalec Manzi, for the name of the city Acmalec simply. The G.T. has in the former case Acbalec Mangi, in the latter “Acmelic Mangi qe vaut dire le une de le confine dou Mangi.” This is followed literally by the Geographic Latin, which has “Acbalec Mangi et est dictum in lingua nostra unus ex confinibus Mangi.” So also the Crusca; whilst Ramusio has “Achbaluch Mangi, che vuol dire Città Bianca de’ confini di Mangi.” It is clear that Ramusio alone has here preserved the genuine reading.

Klaproth identified Acbalec conjecturally with the town of Pe-ma-ching, or “White–Horse-Town,” a place now extinct, but which stood like Mien and Han-chung on the extensive and populous Plain that here borders the Han.

It seems so likely that the latter part of the name Pe-MACHING (“White Maching”) might have been confounded by foreigners with Máchín and Manzi (which in Persian parlance were identical), that I should be disposed to overlook the difficulty that we have no evidence produced to show that Pemaching was a place of any consequence.

It is possible, however, that the name Acbalec may have been given by the Tartars without any reference to Chinese etymologies. We have already twice met with the name or its equivalent (Acbaluc in ch. xxxvii. of this Book, and Chaghan Balghasun in note 3 to Book I. ch. lx.), whilst Strahlenberg tells us that the Tartars call all great residences of princes by this name (Amst. ed. 1757, I. p. 7). It may be that Han-chung itself was so named by the Tartars; though its only claim that I can find is, that it was the first residence of the Han Dynasty. Han-chung fu stands in a beautiful plain, which forms a very striking object to the traveller who is leaving the T’sing-ling mountains. Just before entering the plains, the Helung Kiang passes through one of its wildest gorges, a mere crevice between vertical walls several hundred feet high. The road winds to the top of one of the cliffs in zigzags cut in the solid rock. From the temple of Kitau Kwan, which stands at the top of the cliff, there is a magnificent view of the Plain, and no traveller would omit this, the most notable feature between the valley of the Wei and Ch’êng-tu-fu. It is, moreover, the only piece of level ground, of any extent, that is passed through between those two regions, whichever road or track be taken. (Richthofen, MS. Notes.)

[In the China Review (xiv. p. 358) Mr. E.H. Parker, has an article on Acbalec Manzi, but does not throw any new light on the subject. — H.C.]

NOTE 2. — Polo’s journey now continues through the lofty mountainous region in the north of Sze-ch’wan.

The dividing range Ta-pa-shan is less in height than the T’sing-ling range, but with gorges still more abrupt and deep; and it would be an entire barrier to communication but for the care with which the road, here also, has been formed. But this road, from Han-chung to Ch’êng-tu fu, is still older than that to the north, having been constructed, it is said, in the 3rd century B.C. [See supra.] Before that time Sze-ch’wan was a closed country, the only access from the north being the circuitous route down the Han and up the Yang-tz’u. (Ibid.)

[Mr. G.G. Brown writes (Jour. China Br. R. As. Soc. xxviii. p. 53): “Crossing the Ta-pa-shan from the valley of the Upper Han in Shen-si we enter the province of Sze-ch’wan, and are now in a country as distinct as possible from that that has been left. The climate which in the north was at times almost Arctic, is now pluvial, and except on the summits of the mountains no snow is to be seen. The people are ethnologically different. . . . More even than the change of climate the geological aspect is markedly different. The loess, which in Shen-si has settled like a pall over the country, is here absent, and red sandstone rocks, filling the valleys between the high-bounding and intermediate ridges of palaeozoic formation, take its place. Sze-ch’wan is evidently a region of rivers flowing in deeply eroded valleys, and as these find but one exit, the deep gorges of Kwei-fu, their disposition takes the form of the innervations of a leaf springing from a solitary stalk. The country between the branching valleys is eminently hilly; the rivers flow with rapid currents in well-defined valleys, and are for the most part navigable for boats, or in their upper reaches for lumber-rafts. . . . The horse-cart, which in the north and north-west of China is the principal means of conveyance, has never succeeded in gaining an entrance into Sze-ch’wan with its steep ascents and rapid unfordable streams; and is here represented for passenger traffic by the sedan-chair, and for the carriage of goods, with the exception of a limited number of wheel-barrows, by the backs of men or animals, unless where the friendly water-courses afford the cheapest and readiest means of intercourse.”— H.C.]

Martini notes the musk-deer in northern Sze-ch’wan.

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