The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lxiv.

Concerning the City of Siju, and the Great River Caramoran.

When you leave Piju you travel towards the south for two days, through beautiful districts abounding in everything, and in which you find quantities of all kinds of game. At the end of those two days you reach the city of SIJU, a great, rich, and noble city, flourishing with trade and manufactures. The people are Idolaters, burn their dead, use paper-money, and are subjects of the Great Kaan. They possess extensive and fertile plains producing abundance of wheat and other grain.1 But there is nothing else to mention, so let us proceed and tell you of the countries further on.

On leaving Siju you ride south for three days, constantly falling in with fine towns and villages and hamlets and farms, with their cultivated lands. There is plenty of wheat and other corn, and of game also; and the people are all Idolaters and subjects of the Great Kaan.

At the end of those three days you reach the great river CARAMORAN, which flows hither from Prester John’s country. It is a great river, and more than a mile in width, and so deep that great ships can navigate it. It abounds in fish, and very big ones too. You must know that in this river there are some 15,000 vessels, all belonging to the Great Kaan, and kept to transport his troops to the Indian Isles whenever there may be occasion; for the sea is only one day distant from the place we are speaking of. And each of these vessels, taking one with another, will require 20 mariners, and will carry 15 horses with the men belonging to them, and their provisions, arms, and equipments.2

Hither and thither, on either bank of the river, stands a town; the one facing the other. The one is called COIGANJU and the other CAIJU; the former is a large place, and the latter a little one. And when you pass this river you enter the great province of MANZI. So now I must tell you how this province of Manzi was conquered by the Great Kaan.3

NOTE 1. — SIJU can scarcely be other than Su-t’sien (Sootsin of Keith Johnston’s map) as Murray and Pauthier have said. The latter states that one of the old names of the place was Si-chau, which corresponds to that given by Marco. Biot does not give this name.

The town stands on the flat alluvial of the Hwang–Ho, and is approached by high embanked roads. (Astley, III. 524–525.)

[Sir J.F. Davis writes: “From Sootsien Hien to the point of junction with the Yellow River, a length of about fifty miles, that great stream and the canal run nearly parallel with each other, at an average distance of four or five miles, and sometimes much nearer.” (Sketches of China, I. p. 265.)— H.C.]

Illustration: Sketch Map, exhibiting the VARIATIONS of the TWO GREAT RIVERS OF CHINA Within the Period of History

NOTE 2. — We have again arrived on the banks of the Hwang–Ho, which was crossed higher up on our traveller’s route to Karájang.

No accounts, since China became known to modern Europe, attribute to the Hwang–Ho the great utility for navigation which Polo here and elsewhere ascribes to it. Indeed, we are told that its current is so rapid that its navigation is scarcely practicable, and the only traffic of the kind that we hear of is a transport of coal in Shan-si for a certain distance down stream. This rapidity also, bringing down vast quantities of soil, has so raised the bed that in recent times the tide has not entered the river, as it probably did in our traveller’s time, when, as it would appear from his account, seagoing craft used to ascend to the ferry north of Hwai-ngan fu, or thereabouts. Another indication of change is his statement that the passage just mentioned was only one day’s journey from the sea, whereas it is now about 50 miles in a direct line. But the river has of late years undergone changes much more material.

In the remotest times of which the Chinese have any record, the Hwang–Ho discharged its waters into the Gulf of Chih-li, by two branches, the most northerly of which appears to have followed the present course of the Pei-ho below Tien-tsing. In the time of the Shang Dynasty (ending B.C. 1078) a branch more southerly than either of the above flowed towards T’si-ning, and combined with the T’si River, which flowed by T’si-nan fu, the same in fact that was till recently called the Ta-t’sing. In the time of Confucius we first hear of a branch being thrown off south-east towards the Hwai, flowing north of Hwai-ngan, in fact towards the embouchure which our maps still display as that of the Hwang–Ho. But, about the 3rd and 4th centuries of our era, the river discharged exclusively by the T’si; and up to the Mongol age, or nearly so, the mass of the waters of this great river continued to flow into the Gulf of Chih-li. They then changed their course bodily towards the Hwai, and followed that general direction to the sea; this they had adopted before the time of our traveller, and they retained it till a very recent period. The mass of Shan-tung thus forms a mountainous island rising out of the vast alluvium of the Hwang–Ho, whose discharge into the sea has alternated between the north and the south of that mountainous tract. (See Map opposite.)

During the reign of the last Mongol emperor, a project was adopted for restoring the Hwang–Ho to its former channel, discharging into the Gulf of Chih-li; and discontents connected with this scheme promoted the movement for the expulsion of the dynasty (1368).

A river whose regimen was liable to such vast changes was necessarily a constant source of danger, insomuch that the Emperor Kia-K’ing in his will speaks of it as having been “from the remotest ages China’s sorrow.” Some idea of the enormous works maintained for the control of the river may be obtained from the following description of their character on the north bank, some distance to the west of Kai-fung fu:

“In a village, apparently bounded by an earthen wall as large as that of the Tartar city of Peking, was reached the first of the outworks erected to resist the Hwang–Ho, and on arriving at the top that river and the gigantic earthworks rendered necessary by its outbreaks burst on the view. On a level with the spot on which I was standing stretched a series of embankments, each one about 70 feet high, and of breadth sufficient for four railway trucks to run abreast on them. The mode of their arrangement was on this wise: one long bank ran parallel to the direction of the stream; half a mile distant from it ran a similar one; these two embankments were then connected by another series exactly similar in size, height, and breadth, and running at right angles to them right down to the edge of the water.”

In 1851, the Hwang–Ho burst its northern embankment nearly 30 miles east of Kai-fung fu; the floods of the two following years enlarged the breach; and in 1853 the river, after six centuries, resumed the ancient direction of its discharge into the Gulf of Chih-li. Soon after leaving its late channel, it at present spreads, without defined banks, over the very low lands of South–Western Shan-tung, till it reaches the Great Canal, and then enters the Ta-t’sing channel, passing north of T’si-nan to the sea. The old channel crossed by Polo in the present journey is quite deserted. The greater part of the bed is there cultivated; it is dotted with numerous villages; and the vast trading town of Tsing-kiang pu was in 1868 extending so rapidly from the southern bank that a traveller in that year says he expected that in two years it would reach the northern bank.

The same change has destroyed the Grand Canal as a navigable channel for many miles south of Lin-t’sing chau. (J.R.G.S. XXVIII. 294–295; Escayrac de Lauture, Mém. sur la Chine; Cathay, p. 125; Reports of Journeys in China, etc. [by Consuls Alabaster, Oxenham, etc., Parl. Blue Book], 1869, pp. 4–5, 14; Mr. Elias in J.R.G.S. XL. p. 1 seqq.)

[Since the exploration of the Hwang–Ho in 1868 by Mr. Ney Elias and by Mr. H.G. Hollingworth, an inspection of this river was made in 1889 and a report published in 1891 by the Dutch Engineers J.G.W. Fijnje van Salverda, Captain P.G. van Schermbeek and A. Visser, for the improvement of the Yellow River. — H.C.]

NOTE 3. — Coiganju will be noticed below. Caiju does not seem to be traceable, having probably been carried away by the changes in the river. But it would seem to have been at the mouth of the canal on the north side of the Hwang–Ho, and the name is the same as that given below (ch. lxxii.) to the town (Kwachau) occupying the corresponding position on the Kiang.

“Khatai,” says Rashiduddin, “is bounded on one side by the country of Máchín, which the Chinese call MANZI. . . . In the Indian language Southern China is called Mahá-chín, i.e. ‘Great China,’ and hence we derive the word Machin. The Mongols call the same country Nangiass. It is separated from Khatai by the river called KARAMORAN, which comes from the mountains of Tibet and Kashmir, and which is never fordable. The capital of this kingdom is the city of Khingsai, which is forty days’ journey from Khanbalik.” (Quat. Rashid., xci.-xciii.)

MANZI (or Mangi) is a name used for Southern China, or more properly for the territory which constituted the dominion of the Sung Dynasty at the time when the Mongols conquered Cathay or Northern China from the Kin, not only by Marco, but by Odoric and John Marignolli, as well as by the Persian writers, who, however, more commonly call it Máchín. I imagine that some confusion between the two words led to the appropriation of the latter name, also to Southern China. The term Man-tzu or Man-tze signifies “Barbarians” (“Sons of Barbarians”), and was applied, it is said, by the Northern Chinese to their neighbours on the south, whose civilisation was of later date.1 The name is now specifically applied to a wild race on the banks of the Upper Kiang. But it retains its mediaeval application in Manchuria, where Mantszi is the name given to the Chinese immigrants, and in that use is said to date from the time of Kúblái. (Palladius in J.R.G.S. vol. xlii. p. 154.) And Mr. Moule has found the word, apparently used in Marco’s exact sense, in a Chinese extract of the period, contained in the topography of the famous Lake of Hang-chau (infra, ch. lxxvi.-lxxvii.)

Though both Polo and Rashiduddin call the Karamoran the boundary between Cathay and Manzi, it was not so for any great distance. Ho-nan belonged essentially to Cathay.

1 Magaillans says the Southerns, in return, called the Northerns Pe-tai, “Fools of the North”!

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