The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lxxv.

Of the Noble City of Suju.

Suju is a very great and noble city. The people are Idolaters, subjects of the Great Kaan, and have paper-money. They possess silk in great quantities, from which they make gold brocade and other stuffs, and they live by their manufactures and trade.1

The city is passing great, and has a circuit of some 60 miles; it hath merchants of great wealth and an incalculable number of people. Indeed, if the men of this city and of the rest of Manzi had but the spirit of soldiers they would conquer the world; but they are no soldiers at all, only accomplished traders and most skilful craftsmen. There are also in this city many philosophers and leeches, diligent students of nature.

And you must know that in this city there are 6,000 bridges, all of stone, and so lofty that a galley, or even two galleys at once, could pass underneath one of them.2

In the mountains belonging to this city, rhubarb and ginger grow in great abundance; insomuch that you may get some 40 pounds of excellent fresh ginger for a Venice groat.3 And the city has sixteen other great trading cities under its rule. The name of the city, Suju, signifies in our tongue, “Earth,” and that of another near it, of which we shall speak presently, called Kinsay, signifies “Heaven;” and these names are given because of the great splendour of the two cities.4

Now let us quit Suju, and go on to another which is called VUJU, one day’s journey distant; it is a great and fine city, rife with trade and manufactures. But as there is nothing more to say of it we shall go on and I will tell you of another great and noble city called VUGHIN. The people are Idolaters, &c., and possess much silk and other merchandize, and they are expert traders and craftsmen. Let us now quit Vughin and tell you of another city called CHANGAN, a great and rich place. The people are Idolaters, &c., and they live by trade and manufactures. They make great quantities of sendal of different kinds, and they have much game in the neighbourhood. There is however nothing more to say about the place, so we shall now proceed.5

NOTE 1. — SUJU is of course the celebrated city of SU-CHAU in Kiang-nan — before the rebellion brought ruin on it, the Paris of China. “Everything remarkable was alleged to come from it; fine pictures, fine carved-work, fine silks, and fine ladies!” (Fortune, I. 186.) When the Emperor K’ang-hi visited Su-chau, the citizens laid the streets with carpets and silk stuffs, but the Emperor dismounted and made his train do the like. (Davis, I. 186.)

[Su-chau is situated 80 miles west of Shang-hai, 12 miles east of the Great Lake, and 40 miles south of the Kiang, in the plain between this river and Hang-chau Bay. It was the capital of the old kingdom of Wu which was independent from the 12th to the 4th centuries (B.C.) inclusive; it was founded by Wu Tzu-su, prime minister of King Hoh Lü (514–496 B.C.), who removed the capital of Wu from Mei-li (near the modern Ch’ang-chau) to the new site now occupied by the city of Su-chau. “Suchau is built in the form of a rectangle, and is about three and a half miles from North to South, by two and a half in breadth, the wall being twelve or thirteen miles in length. There are six gates.” (Rev. H.C. Du Bose, Chin. Rec., xix. p. 205.) It has greatly recovered since the T’ai-P’ing rebellion, and its recapture by General (then Major) Gordon on the 27th November 1863; Su-chau has been declared open to foreign trade on the 26th September 1896, under the provisions of the Japanese Treaty of 1895.

“The great trade of Soochow is silk. In the silk stores are found about 100 varieties of satin, and 200 kinds of silks and gauzes. . . . The weavers are divided into two guilds, the Nankin and Suchau, and have together about 7000 looms. Thousands of men and women are engaged in reeling the thread.” (Rev. H.C. Du Bose, Chin. Rec., xix. pp. 275–276.)— H.C.]

Illustration: CITY OF SUCHAU Reduced to 1/10 the scale from a Rubbing of a PLAN incised on MARBLE AD MCCXLVII, & preserved in the GREAT TEMPLE of CONFUCIUS at SUCHAU

NOTE 2. — I believe we must not bring Marco to book for the literal accuracy of his statements as to the bridges; but all travellers have noticed the number and elegance of the bridges of cut stone in this part of China; see, for instance, Van Braam, II. 107, 119–120, 124, 126; and Deguignes I. 47, who gives a particular account of the arches. These are said to be often 50 or 60 feet in span.

[“Within the city there are, generally speaking, six canals from North to South, and six canals from East to West, intersecting one another at from a quarter to half a mile. There are a hundred and fifty or two hundred bridges at intervals of two or three hundred yards; some of these with arches, others with stone slabs thrown across, many of which are twenty feet in length. The canals are from ten to fifteen feet wide and faced with stone.” (Rev. H.C. Du Bose, Chin. Rec., xix., 1888, p. 207). — H.C.]

Illustration: South–West Gate and Water–Gate of Su-chau; facsimile on half the scale from a mediaeval Map, incised on Marble, A.D. 1247.

NOTE 3. — This statement about the abundance of rhubarb in the hills near Su-chau is believed by the most competent authorities to be quite erroneous. Rhubarb is exported from Shang-hai, but it is brought thither from Hankau on the Upper Kiang, and Hankau receives it from the further west. Indeed Mr. Hanbury, in a note on the subject, adds his disbelief also that ginger is produced in Kiang-nan. And I see in the Shang-hai trade-returns of 1865, that there is no ginger among the exports. [Green ginger is mentioned in the Shang-hai Trade Reports for 1900 among the exports (p. 309) to the amount of 18,756 piculs; none is mentioned at Su-chau. — H.C.]. Some one, I forget where, has suggested a confusion with Suh-chau in Kan-suh, the great rhubarb mart, which seems possible.

[“Polo is correct in giving Tangut as the native country of Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) but no species of Rheum has hitherto been gathered by our botanists as far south as Kiang–Su, indeed, not even in Shan-tung.” (Bretschneider, Hist. of Bot. Disc., I. p. 5.)— H.C.]

NOTE 4. — The meanings ascribed by Polo to the names of Su-chau and King-szé (Hang-chau) show plainly enough that he was ignorant of Chinese. Odoric does not mention Su-chau, but he gives the same explanation of Kinsay as signifying the “City of Heaven,” and Wassáf also in his notice of the same city has an obscure passage about Paradise and Heaven, which is not improbably a corrupted reference to the same interpretation.1 I suspect therefore that it was a “Vulgar Error” of the foreign residents in China, probably arising out of a misunderstanding of the Chinese adage quoted by Duhalde and Davis:—

Shang yeu t’ien t’ang, Hia yeu SU HANG!”

“There’s Paradise above ’tis true,

But here below we’ve HANG and SU!”

These two neighbouring cities, in the middle of the beautiful tea and silk districts, and with all the advantages of inland navigation and foreign trade, combined every source of wealth and prosperity, and were often thus coupled together by the Chinese. Both are, I believe, now recovering from the effects of devastation by T’ai-P’ing occupation and Imperialist recapture; but neither probably is one-fifth of what it was.

The plan of Su-chau which we give is of high interest. It is reduced (1/10 the scale) from a rubbing of a plan of the city incised on marble measuring 6’ 7” by 4’ 4”, and which has been preserved in the Confucian Temple in Su-chau since A.D. 1247. Marco Polo’s eyes have probably rested on this fine work, comparable to the famous Pianta Capitolina. The engraving on page 183 represents one of the gates traced from the rubbing and reduced to half the scale. It is therefore an authentic representation of Chinese fortification in or before the 13th century.2

[“In the southern part of Su-chau is the park, surrounded by a high wall, which contains the group of buildings called the Confucian Temple. This is the Dragon’s head; — the Dragon Street, running directly North, is his body, and the Great Pagoda is his tail. In front is a grove of cedars. To one side is the hall where thousands of scholars go to worship at the Spring and Autumn Festivals — this for the gentry alone, not for the unlettered populace. There is a building used for the slaughter of animals, another containing a map of the city engraved in stone; a third with tablets and astronomical diagrams, and a fourth containing the Provincial Library. On each side of the large courts are rooms where are placed the tablets of the 500 sages. The main temple is 50 by 70 feet, and contains the tablet of Confucius and a number of gilded boards with mottoes. It is a very imposing structure. On the stone dais in front, a mat-shed is erected for the great sacrifices at which the official magnates exercise their sacerdotal functions. As a tourist beheld the sacred grounds and the aged trees, she said: ‘This is the most venerable-looking place I have seen in China.’ On the gateway in front, the sage is called ‘The Prince of Doctrine in times Past and Present.’” (Rev. H.C. Du Bose, Chin. Rec., xix. p. 272). — H.C.]

NOTE 5. — The Geographic Text only, at least of the principal Texts, has distinctly the three cities, Vugui, Vughin, Ciangan. Pauthier identifies the first and third with HU-CHAU FU and Sung-kiang fu. In favour of Vuju’s being Hu-chau is the fact mentioned by Wilson that the latter city is locally called WUCHU.3 If this be the place, the Traveller does not seem to be following a direct and consecutive route from Su-chau to Hang-chau. Nor is Hu-chau within a day’s journey of Su-chau. Mr. Kingsmill observes that the only town at that distance is Wukiang-hien, once of some little importance but now much reduced. WUKIANG, however, is suggestive of VUGHIN; and, in that supposition, Hu-chau must be considered the object of a digression from which the Traveller returns and takes up his route to Hang-chau via Wukiang. Kiahing would then best answer to Ciangan, or Caingan, as it is written in the following chapter of the G.T.

1 See Quatremère’s Rashid., p. lxxxvii., and Hammer’s Wassáf, p. 42.

2 I owe these valuable illustrations, as so much else, to the unwearied kindness of Mr. A. Wylie. There were originally four maps: (1) The City, (2) The Empire, (3) The Heavens, (4) no longer known. They were drawn originally by one Hwan Kin-shan, and presented by him to a high official in Sze-ch’wan. Wang Che-yuen, subsequently holding office in the same province, got possession of the maps, and had them incised at Su-chau in A.D. 1247. The inscription bearing these particulars is partially gone, and the date of the original drawings remains uncertain. (See List of Illustrations.)

3 The Ever Victorious Army, p. 395

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