The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lxxii.

Concerning the City of Caiju.

Caiju is a small city towards the south-east. The people are subject to the Great Kaan and have paper-money. It stands upon the river before mentioned.1 At this place are collected great quantities of corn and rice to be transported to the great city of Cambaluc for the use of the Kaan’s Court; for the grain for the Court all comes from this part of the country. You must understand that the Emperor hath caused a water-communication to be made from this city to Cambaluc, in the shape of a wide and deep channel dug between stream and stream, between lake and lake, forming as it were a great river on which large vessels can ply. And thus there is a communication all the way from this city of Caiju to Cambaluc; so that great vessels with their loads can go the whole way. A land road also exists, for the earth dug from those channels has been thrown up so as to form an embanked road on either side.2

Just opposite to the city of Caiju, in the middle of the River, there stands a rocky island on which there is an idol-monastery containing some 200 idolatrous friars, and a vast number of idols. And this Abbey holds supremacy over a number of other idol-monasteries, just like an archbishop’s see among Christians.3

Now we will leave this and cross the river, and I will tell you of a city called Chinghianfu.

NOTE 1. — No place in Polo’s travels is better identified by his local indications than this. It is on the Kiang; it is at the extremity of the Great Canal from Cambaluc; it is opposite the Golden Island and Chin-kiang fu. Hence it is KWA-CHAU, as Murray pointed out. Marsden here misunderstands his text, and puts the place on the south side of the Kiang.

Here Van Braam notices that there passed in the course of the day more than fifty great rice-boats, most of which could easily carry more than 300,000 lbs. of rice. And Mr. Alabaster, in 1868, speaks of the canal from Yang-chau to Kwa-chau as “full of junks.”

[Sir J.F. Davis writes (Sketches of China, II. p. 6): “Two . . . days . . . were occupied in exploring the half-deserted town of Kwa-chow, whose name signifies ‘the island of gourds,’ being completely insulated by the river and canal. We took a long walk along the top of the walls, which were as usual of great thickness, and afforded a broad level platform behind the parapet: the parapet itself, about six feet high, did not in thickness exceed the length of a brick and a half, and the embrasures were evidently not constructed for cannon, being much too high. A very considerable portion of the area within the walls consisted of burial-grounds planted with cypress; and this alone was a sufficient proof of the decayed condition of the place, as in modern or fully inhabited cities no person can be buried within the walls. Almost every spot bore traces of ruin, and there appeared to be but one good street in the whole town; this, however, was full of shops, and as busy as Chinese streets always are.”— H.C.]

NOTE 2. — Rashiduddin gives the following account of the Grand Canal spoken of in this passage. “The river of Khanbaligh had,” he says, “in the course of time, become so shallow as not to admit the entrance of shipping, so that they had to discharge their cargoes and send them up to Khanbaligh on pack-cattle. And the Chinese engineers and men of science having reported that the vessels from the provinces of Cathay, from Machin, and from the cities of Khingsai and Zaitún, could no longer reach the court, the Kaan gave them orders to dig a great canal into which the waters of the said river, and of several others, should be introduced. This canal extends for a distance of 40 days’ navigation from Khanbaligh to Khingsai and Zaitún, the ports frequented by the ships that come from India, and from the city of Machin (Canton). The canal is provided with many sluices . . . and when vessels arrive at these sluices they are hoisted up by means of machinery, whatever be their size, and let down on the other side into the water. The canal has a width of more than 30 ells. Kúblái caused the sides of the embankments to be revetted with stone, in order to prevent the earth giving way. Along the side of the canal runs the high road to Machin, extending for a space of 40 days’ journey, and this has been paved throughout, so that travellers and their animals may get along during the rainy season without sinking in the mud. . . . Shops, taverns, and villages line the road on both sides, so that dwelling succeeds dwelling without intermission throughout the whole space of 40 days’ journey.” (Cathay, 259–260.)

The canal appears to have been [begun in 1289 and to have been completed in 1292. — H.C.] though large portions were in use earlier. Its chief object was to provide the capital with food. Pauthier gives the statistics of the transport of rice by this canal from 1283 to the end of Kúblái’s reign, and for some subsequent years up to 1329. In the latter year the quantity reached 3,522,163 shi or 1,247,633 quarters. As the supplies of rice for the capital and for the troops in the Northern Provinces always continued to be drawn from Kiang-nan, the distress and derangement caused by the recent rebel occupation of that province must have been enormous. (Pauthier, p. 481–482; De Mailla, p. 439.) Polo’s account of the formation of the canal is exceedingly accurate. Compare that given by Mr. Williamson (I. 62).

NOTE 3. —“On the Kiang, not far from the mouth, is that remarkably beautiful little island called the ‘Golden Isle,’ surmounted by numerous temples inhabited by the votaries of Buddha or Fo, and very correctly described so many centuries since by Marco Polo.” (Davis’s Chinese, I. 149.) The monastery, according to Pauthier, was founded in the 3rd or 4th century, but the name Kin–Shan, or “Golden Isle,” dates only from a visit of the Emperor K’ang-hi in 1684.

The monastery contained one of the most famous Buddhist libraries in China. This was in the hands of our troops during the first China war, and, as it was intended to remove the books, there was no haste made in examining their contents. Meanwhile peace came, and the library was restored. It is a pity now that the jus belli had not been exercised promptly, for the whole establishment was destroyed by the T’ai-P’ings in 1860, and, with the exception of the Pagoda at the top of the hill, which was left in a dilapidated state, not one stone of the buildings remained upon another. The rock had also then ceased to be an island; and the site of what not many years before had been a channel with four fathoms of water separating it from the southern shore, was covered by flourishing cabbage-gardens. (Gützlaff in J.R.A.S. XII. 87; Mid. Kingd. I. 84, 86; Oliphant’s Narrative, II. 301; N. and Q. Ch. and Jap. No. 5, p. 58.)

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