The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lxxxi.

Concerning the Greatness of the City of Fuju.

Now this city of Fuju is the key of the kingdom which is called CHONKA, and which is one of the nine great divisions of Manzi.1 The city is a seat of great trade and great manufactures. The people are Idolaters and subject to the Great Kaan. And a large garrison is maintained there by that prince to keep the kingdom in peace and subjection. For the city is one which is apt to revolt on very slight provocation.

There flows through the middle of this city a great river, which is about a mile in width, and many ships are built at the city which are launched upon this river. Enormous quantities of sugar are made there, and there is a great traffic in pearls and precious stones. For many ships of India come to these parts bringing many merchants who traffic about the Isles of the Indies. For this city is, as I must tell you, in the vicinity of the Ocean Port of ZAYTON,2 which is greatly frequented by the ships of India with their cargoes of various merchandize; and from Zayton ships come this way right up to the city of Fuju by the river I have told you of; and ’tis in this way that the precious wares of India come hither. [NOTE 3]

The city is really a very fine one and kept in good order, and all necessaries of life are there to be had in great abundance and cheapness.

NOTE 1. — The name here applied to Fo-kien by Polo is variously written as Choncha, Chonka, Concha, Chouka. It has not been satisfactorily explained. Klaproth and Neumann refer it to Kiang–Ché, of which Fo-kien at one time of the Mongol rule formed a part. This is the more improbable as Polo expressly distinguishes this province or kingdom from that which was under Kinsay, viz. Kiang–Ché. Pauthier supposes the word to represent Kien–Kwé “the Kingdom of Kien,” because in the 8th century this territory had formed a principality of which the seat was at Kien-chau, now Kien-ning fu. This is not satisfactory either, for no evidence is adduced that the name continued in use.

One might suppose that Choncha represented T’swan-chau, the Chinese name of the city of Zayton, or rather of the department attached to it, written by the French Thsiuan-tchéou, but by Medhurst Chwanchew, were it not that Polo’s practice of writing the term tchéu or chau by giu is so nearly invariable, and that the soft ch is almost always expressed in the old texts by the Italian ci (though the Venetian does use the soft ch).1

It is again impossible not to be struck with the resemblance of Chonka to “CHUNG-KWÉ” “the Middle Kingdom,” though I can suggest no ground for the application of such a title specially to Fo-kien, except a possible misapprehension. Chonkwé occurs in the Persian Historia Cathaica published by Müller, but is there specially applied to North China. (See Quat. Rashid., p. lxxxvi.)

The city of course is FU-CHAU. It was visited also by Friar Odoric, who calls it Fuzo, and it appears in duplicate on the Catalan Map as Fugio and as Fozo.

I used the preceding words, “the city of course is Fu-chau,” in the first edition. Since then Mr. G. Phillips, of the consular staff in Fo-kien, has tried to prove that Polo’s Fuju is not Fu-chau (Foochow is his spelling), but T’swan-chau. This view is bound up with another regarding the identity of Zayton, which will involve lengthy notice under next chapter; and both views have met with an able advocate in the Rev. Dr. C. Douglas, of Amoy.2 I do not in the least accept these views about Fuju.

In considering the objections made to Fu-chau, it must never be forgotten that, according to the spelling usual with Polo or his scribe, Fuju is not merely “a name with a great resemblance in sound to Foochow” (as Mr. Phillips has it); it is Mr. Phillips’s word Foochow, just as absolutely as my word Fu-chau is his word Foochow. (See remarks almost at the end of the Introductory Essay.) And what has to be proved against me in this matter is, that when Polo speaks of Fu-chau he does not mean Fu-chau. It must also be observed that the distances as given by Polo (three days from Quelinfu to Fuju, five days from Fuju to Zayton) do correspond well with my interpretations, and do not correspond with the other. These are very strong fences of my position, and it demands strong arguments to level them. The adverse arguments (in brief) are these:

(1.) That Fu-chau was not the capital of Fo-kien (“chief dou reigne”).

(2.) That the River of Fu-chau does not flow through the middle of the city (“por le mi de cest çité”), nor even under the walls.

(3.) That Fu-chau was not frequented by foreign trade till centuries afterwards.

The first objection will be more conveniently answered under next chapter.

As regards the second, the fact urged is true. But even now a straggling street extends to the river, ending in a large suburb on its banks, and a famous bridge there crosses the river to the south side where now the foreign settlements are. There may have been suburbs on that side to justify the por le mi, or these words may have been a slip; for the Traveller begins the next chapter —“When you quit Fuju (to go south) you cross the river.”3

Touching the question of foreign commerce, I do not see that Mr. Phillips’s negative evidence would be sufficient to establish his point. But, in fact, the words of the Geog. Text (i.e. the original dictation), which we have followed, do not (as I now see) necessarily involve any foreign trade at Fu-chau, the impression of which has been derived mainly from Ramusio’s text. They appear to imply no more than that, through the vicinity of Zayton, there was a great influx of Indian wares, which were brought on from the great port by vessels (it may be local junks) ascending the river Min.4

Illustration: Scene on the Min River, below Fu-chau. (From Fortune.)

“E sachiés che por le mi de ceste cité vait un grant fluv qe bien est large un mil, et en ceste cité se font maintes nés lesquelz najent por cel flum.”

[Mr. Phillips gives the following itinerary after Unguen: Kangiu = Chinchew = Chuan-chiu or Ts’wan-chiu. He writes (T. Pao, I. p. 227): “When you leave the city of Chinchew for Changchau, which lies in a south-westerly, not a south-easterly direction, you cross the river by a handsome bridge, and travelling for five days by way of Tung-an, locally Tang-oa, you arrive at Changchau. Along this route in many parts, more especially in that part lying between Tang-oa and Changchau, very large camphor-trees are met with. I have frequently travelled over this road. The road from Fuchau to Chinchew, which also takes five days to travel over, is bleak and barren, lying chiefly along the sea-coast, and in winter a most uncomfortable journey. But few trees are met with; a banyan here and there, but no camphor-trees along this route; but there is one extremely interesting feature on it that would strike the most unobservant traveller, viz.; the Loyang bridge, one of the wonders of China.” Had Polo travelled by this route, he would certainly have mentioned it. Pauthier remarks upon Polo’s silence in this matter: “It is surprising,” says he, “that Marco Polo makes no mention of it.”— H.C.]

NOTE 2. — The G.T. reads Caiton, presumably for Çaiton or Zayton. In Pauthier’s text, in the following chapter, the name of Zayton is written Çaiton and Çayton, and the name of that port appears in the same form in the Letter of its Bishop, Andrew of Perugia, quoted in note 2, ch. lxxxii. Pauthier, however, in this place reads Kayteu which he develops into a port at the mouth of the River Min.5

NOTE 3. — The Min, the River of Fu-chau, “varies much in width and depth. Near its mouth, and at some other parts, it is not less than a mile in width, elsewhere deep and rapid.” It is navigable for ships of large size 20 miles from the mouth, and for good-sized junks thence to the great bridge. The scenery is very fine, and is compared to that of the Hudson. (Fortune, I. 281; Chin. Repos. XVI. 483.)

1 Dr. Medhurst calls the proper name of the city, as distinct from the Fu, Chinkang (Dict. of the Hok-keen dialect). Dr. Douglas has suggested Chinkang, and T’swan-kok, i.e. “Kingdom of T’swan” (chau), as possible explanations of Chonka.

2 Mr. Phillips’s views were issued first in the Chinese Recorder (published by Missionaries at Fu–Chau) in 1870, and afterwards sent to the R. Geo. Soc., in whose Journal for 1874 they appeared, with remarks in reply more detailed than I can introduce here. Dr. Douglas’s notes were received after this sheet was in proof, and it will be seen that they modify to a certain extent my views about Zayton, though not about Fu-chau. His notes, which do more justice to the question than Mr. Phillips’s, should find a place with the other papers in the Geog. Society’s Journal.

3 There is a capital lithograph of Fu-chau in Fortune’s Three Years’ Wanderings (1847), in which the city shows as on a river, and Fortune always speaks of it; e.g. (p. 369): “The river runs through the suburbs.” I do not know what is the worth of the old engravings in Montanus. A view of Fu-chau in one of these (reproduced in Astley, iv. 33) shows a broad creek from the river penetrating to the heart of the city.

4 The words of the G.T. are these: “Il hi se fait grant mercandies de perles e d’autres pieres presiose, e ce est por ce que les nés de Yndie hi vienent maintes con maint merchaant qe usent en les ysles de L’ndie, et encore voz di que ceste ville est pres au port de Caiton en la mer Osiani; et illuec vienent maintes nes de Indie con maintes mercandies, e puis de cest part vienent les nes por le grant flum qe je voz ai dit desoure jusque à la cité de Fugui, et en ceste mainere hi vienent chieres cousse de Indie.

5 It is odd enough that Martini (though M. Pauthier apparently was not aware of it) does show a fort called Haiteu at the mouth of the Min; but I believe this to be merely an accidental coincidence. The various readings must be looked at together; that of the G.T. which I have followed is clear in itself and accounts for the others.

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