The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxxi.

How the Great Kaan Causes Stores of Corn to Be Made, to Help His People Withal in Time of Dearth.

You must know that when the Emperor sees that corn is cheap and abundant, he buys up large quantities, and has it stored in all his provinces in great granaries, where it is so well looked after that it will keep for three or four years.[NOTE 1]

And this applies, let me tell you, to all kinds of corn, whether wheat, barley, millet, rice, panic, or what not, and when there is any scarcity of a particular kind of corn, he causes that to be issued. And if the price of the corn is at one bezant the measure, he lets them have it at a bezant for four measures, or at whatever price will produce general cheapness; and every one can have food in this way. And by this providence of the Emperor’s, his people can never suffer from dearth. He does the same over his whole Empire; causing these supplies to be stored everywhere, according to calculation of the wants and necessities of the people.

NOTE 1. —“Le fait si bien estuier que il dure bien trois ans ou quatre” (Pauthier): “si bien estudier” (G.T.). The word may be estiver (It. stivare), to stow, but I half suspect it should be estuver in the sense of “kiln-dry,” though both the Geog. Latin and the Crusca render it gubernare.1 Lecomte says: “Rice is always stored in the public granaries for three or four years in advance. It keeps long if care be taken to air it and stir it about; and although not so good to the taste or look as new rice, it is said to be more wholesome.”

The Archbishop of Soltania (A.D. 1330) speaks of these stores. “The said Emperor is very pitiful and compassionate . . . and so when there is a dearth in the land he openeth his garners, and giveth forth of his wheat and his rice for half what others are selling it at.” Kúblái Kaan’s measures of this kind are recorded in the annals of the Dynasty, as quoted by Pauthier. The same practice is ascribed to the sovereigns of the T’ang Dynasty by the old Arab Relations. In later days a missionary gives in the Lettres Edifiantes an unfavourable account of the action of these public granaries, and of the rascality that occurred in connection with them. (Lecomte, II. 101; Cathay, 240; Relat. I. 39; Let. Ed. xxiv. 76.)

[The Yuen-shi in ch. 96 contains sections on dispensaries (Hui min yao kü), granary regulations (Shi ti), and regulations for a time of dearth (Chen Sü). (Bretschneider, Med. Res. I. p. 187.)— H. C.]

1 Marsden observes incidentally (Hist. of Sumatra, 1st edition, p. 71) that he was told in Bengal they used to dry-kiln the rice for exportation, “owing to which, or to some other process, it will continue good for several years.”

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12