The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xliv.

Concerning the Province and City of Sindafu.

When you have travelled those 20 days westward through the mountains, as I have told you, then you arrive at a plain belonging to a province called Sindafu, which still is on the confines of Manzi, and the capital city of which is (also) called SINDAFU. This city was in former days a rich and noble one, and the Kings who reigned there were very great and wealthy. It is a good twenty miles in compass, but it is divided in the way that I shall tell you.

You see the King of this Province, in the days of old, when he found himself drawing near to death, leaving three sons behind him, commanded that the city should be divided into three parts, and that each of his three sons should have one. So each of these three parts is separately walled about, though all three are surrounded by the common wall of the city. Each of the three sons was King, having his own part of the city, and his own share of the kingdom, and each of them in fact was a great and wealthy King. But the Great Kaan conquered the kingdom of these three Kings, and stripped them of their inheritance.1

Through the midst of this great city runs a large river, in which they catch a great quantity of fish. It is a good half mile wide, and very deep withal, and so long that it reaches all the way to the Ocean Sea — a very long way, equal to 80 or 100 days’ journey. And the name of the River is KIAN-SUY. The multitude of vessels that navigate this river is so vast, that no one who should read or hear the tale would believe it. The quantities of merchandize also which merchants carry up and down this river are past all belief. In fact, it is so big, that it seems to be a Sea rather than a River!2

Let us now speak of a great Bridge which crosses this River within the city. This bridge is of stone; it is seven paces in width and half a mile in length (the river being that much in width as I told you); and all along its length on either side there are columns of marble to bear the roof, for the bridge is roofed over from end to end with timber, and that all richly painted. And on this bridge there are houses in which a great deal of trade and industry is carried on. But these houses are all of wood merely, and they are put up in the morning and taken down in the evening. Also there stands upon the bridge the Great Kaan’s Comercque, that is to say, his custom-house, where his toll and tax are levied.3 And I can tell you that the dues taken on this bridge bring to the Lord a thousand pieces of fine gold every day and more. The people are all Idolaters.4

When you leave this city you travel for five days across a country of plains and valleys, finding plenty of villages and hamlets, and the people of which live by husbandry. There are numbers of wild beasts, lions, and bears, and such like.

I should have mentioned that the people of Sindu itself live by manufactures, for they make fine sendals and other stuffs.5

After travelling those five days’ march, you reach a province called Tebet, which has been sadly laid waste; we will now say something of it.

NOTE 1. — We are on firm ground again, for SINDAFU is certainly CH’ÊNG-TU FU, the capital of Sze-ch’wan. Probably the name used by Polo was Sindu-fu, as we find Sindu in the G.T. near the end of the chapter. But the same city is, I observe, called Thindafu by one of the Nepalese embassies, whose itineraries Mr. Hodgson has given in the J.A.S.B. XXV. 488.

The modern French missions have a bishop in Ch’eng-tu fu, and the city has been visited of late years by Mr. T.T. Cooper, by Mr. A. Wylie, by Baron v. Richthofen, [Captain Gill, Mr. Baber, Mr. Hosie, and several other travellers]. Mr. Wylie has kindly favoured me with the following note:—“My notice all goes to corroborate Marco Polo. The covered bridge with the stalls is still there, the only difference being the absence of the toll-house. I did not see any traces of a tripartite division of the city, nor did I make any enquiries on the subject during the 3 or 4 days I spent there, as it was not an object with me at the time to verify Polo’s account. The city is indeed divided, but the division dates more than a thousand years back. It is something like this, I should say [see diagram]”.1


“The Imperial City (Hwang Ching) was the residence of the monarch Lew Pé (i.e. Liu Pei of p. 32) during the short period of the ‘Three Kingdoms’ (3rd century), and some relics of the ancient edifice still remain. I was much interested in looking over it. It is now occupied by the Public Examination Hall and its dependencies.”

I suspect Marco’s story of the Three Kings arose from a misunderstanding about this historical period of the San–Kwé or Three Kingdoms (A.D. 222–264). And this tripartite division of the city may have been merely that which we see to exist at present.

[Mr. Baber, leaving Ch’eng-tu, 26th July, 1877, writes (Travels, p. 28): “We took ship outside the East Gate on a rapid narrow stream, apparently the city moat, which soon joins the main river, a little below the An-shun Bridge, an antiquated wooden structure some 90 yards long. This is in all probability the bridge mentioned by Marco Polo. The too flattering description he gives of it leads one to suppose that the present handsome stone bridges of the province were unbuilt at the time of his journey.” Baber is here mistaken.

Captain Gill writes (l.c. II. p. 9): “As Mr. Wylie in recent days had said that Polo’s covered bridge was still in its place, we went one day on an expedition in search of it. Polo, however, speaks of a bridge full half a mile long, whilst the longest now is but 90 yards. On our way we passed over a fine nine-arched stone bridge, called the Chin–Yen-Ch’iao. Near the covered bridge there is a very pretty view down the river.”— H.C.]

Baron Richthofen observes that Ch’eng-tu is among the largest of Chinese cities, and is of all the finest and most refined. The population is called 800,000. The walls form a square of about 3 miles to the side, and there are suburbs besides. The streets are broad and straight, laid out at right angles, with a pavement of square flags very perfectly laid, slightly convex and drained at each side. The numerous commemorative arches are sculptured with skill; there is much display of artistic taste; and the people are remarkably civil to foreigners. This characterizes the whole province; and an air of wealth and refinement prevails even in the rural districts. The plain round Ch’eng-tu fu is about 90 miles in length (S.E. to N.W.), by 40 miles in width, with a copious irrigation and great fertility, so that in wealth and population it stands almost unrivalled. (Letter VII. pp. 48–66.)

Plan of Ch’eng-tu.

Eglises ou Etablissements français des “Missions etrangeres”. Reproduction d’une carte chinoise

[Mr. Baber (Travels, p. 26) gives the following information regarding the population of Ch’eng-tu: “The census of 1877 returned the number of families at about 70,000, and the total population at 330,000 — 190,000 being males and 140,000 females; but probably the extensive suburb was not included in the enumeration. Perhaps 350,000 would be a fair total estimate.” It is the seat of the Viceroy of the Sze-ch’wan province. Mr. Hosie says (Three Years in Western China, p. 86): “It is without exception the finest city I have seen in China; Peking and Canton will not bear comparison with it.” Captain Gill writes (River of Golden Sand, II. p. 4): “The city of Ch’êng-Tu is still a rich and noble one, somewhat irregular in shape, and surrounded by a strong wall, in a perfect state of repair. In this there are eight bastions, four being pierced by gates.”

“It is one of the largest of Chinese cities, having a circuit of about 12 miles.” (Baber, p. 26.) “It is now three and a half miles long by about two and a half miles broad, the longest side lying about east-south-east, and west-north-west, so that its compass in the present day is about 12 miles.” (Captain Gill, II. p. 4.)— H.C.]

NOTE 2. — Ramusio is more particular: “Through the city flow many great rivers, which come down from distant mountains, and run winding about through many parts of the city. These rivers vary in width from half a mile to 200 paces, and are very deep. Across them are built many bridges of stone,” etc. “And after passing the city these rivers unite and form one immense river called Kian,” etc. Here we have the Great River or KIANG, Kian (Quian) as in Ramusio, or KIANG-SHUI, “Waters of the Kiang,” as in the text. So Pauthier explains. [Mr. Baber remarks at Ch’êng-tu (Travels, p. 28): “When all allowance is made for the diminution of the river, one cannot help surmising that Marco Polo must have felt reluctant to call it the Chiang–Sui or ‘Yangtzu waterway.’ He was, however, correct enough, as usual, for the Chinese consider it to be the main upper stream of the Yangtzu.”— H.C.] Though our Geographies give the specific names of Wen and Min to the great branch which flows by Ch’êng-tu fu, and treat the Tibetan branch which flows through northern Yunnan under the name of Kin Sha or “Golden Sand,” as the main river, the Chinese seem always to have regarded the former as the true Kiang; as may be seen in Ritter (IV. 650) and Martini. The latter describes the city as quite insulated by the ramifications of the river, from which channels and canals pass all about it, adorned with many quays and bridges of stone.

The numerous channels in reuniting form two rivers, one the Min, and the other the To–Kiang, which also joins the Yangtzu at Lu-chau.

[In his Introductory Essay to Captain Gill’s River of Golden Sand, Colonel Yule (p. 37) writes: “Captain Gill has pointed out that, of the many branches of the river which ramify through the plain of Ch’êng-tu, no one now passes through the city at all corresponding in magnitude to that which Marco Polo describes, about 1283, as running through the midst of Sin-da-fu, ‘a good half-mile wide, and very deep withal.’ The largest branch adjoining the city now runs on the south side, but does not exceed a hundred yards in width; and though it is crossed by a covered bridge with huxters’ booths, more or less in the style described by Polo, it necessarily falls far short of his great bridge of half a mile in length. Captain Gill suggests that a change may have taken place in the last five (this should be six) centuries, owing to the deepening of the river-bed at its exit from the plain, and consequent draining of the latter. But I should think it more probable that the ramification of channels round Ch’êng-tu, which is so conspicuous even on a small general map of China, like that which accompanies this work, is in great part due to art; that the mass of the river has been drawn off to irrigate the plain; and that thus the wide river, which in the 13th century may have passed through the city, no unworthy representative of the mighty Kiang, has long since ceased, on that scale, to flow. And I have pointed out briefly that the fact, which Baron Richthofen attests, of an actual bifurcation of waters on a large scale taking place in the plain of Ch’êng-tu — one arm ‘branching east to form the To’ (as in the terse indication of the Yü-Kung)— viz. the To Kiang or Chung–Kiang flowing south-east to join the great river at Lu-chau, whilst another flows south to Sü-chau or Swi-fu, does render change in the distribution of the waters about the city highly credible.”] [See Irrigation of the Ch’eng-tu Plain, by Joshua Vale, China Inland Mission in Jour. China Br.R.A.S.Soc. XXXIII. 1899–1900, pp. 22–36. — H.C.]

[Above Kwan Hsien, near Ch’êng-tu, there is a fine suspension bridge, mentioned by Marcel Monnier (Itinéraires, p. 43), from whom I borrow the cut reproduced on this page. This bridge is also spoken of by Captain Gill (l.c. I. p. 335): “Six ropes, one above the other, are stretched very tightly, and connected by vertical battens of wood laced in and out. Another similar set of ropes is at the other side of the roadway, which is laid across these, and follows the curve of the ropes. There are three or four spans with stone piers.”— H.C.]

Illustration: Bridge near Kwan-hsien (Ch’êng-tu).

NOTE 3. —(G.T.) “Hi est le couiereque dou Grant Sire, ce est cilz qe recevent la rente dou Seignor.” Pauthier has couvert. Both are, I doubt not, misreadings or misunderstandings of comereque or comerc. This word, founded on the Latin commercium, was widely spread over the East with the meaning of customs-duty or custom-house. In Low Greek it appeared as [Greek: kommérkion] and [Greek: koumérkion], now [Greek: komérki]; in Arabic and Turkish as [Arabic] and [Turkish] (kumruk and gyumruk), still in use; in Romance dialects as comerchio, comerho, comergio, etc.

NOTE 4. — The word in Pauthier’s text which I have rendered pieces of gold is pois, probably equivalent to saggi or miskáls.2 The G.T. has “is well worth 1000 bezants of gold,” no doubt meaning daily, though not saying so. Ramusio has “100 bezants daily.” The term Bezant may be taken as synonymous with Dínár, and the statement in the text would make the daily receipt of custom upwards of 500l., that in Ramusio upwards of 50l. only.

NOTE 5. — I have recast this passage, which has got muddled, probably in the original dictation, for it runs in the G. text: “Et de ceste cité se part l’en et chevauche cinq jornée por plain et por valée, et treve-l’en castiaus et casaus assez. Les homes vivent dou profit qu’il traient de la terre. Il hi a bestes sauvajes assez, lions et orses et autres bestes. Il vivent d’ars: car il hi se laborent des biaus sendal et autres dras. Il sunt de Sindu meisme.“ I take it that in speaking of Ch’êng-tu fu, Marco has forgotten to fill up his usual formula as to the occupation of the inhabitants; he is reminded of this when he speaks of the occupation of the peasantry on the way to Tibet, and reverts to the citizens in the words which I have quoted in Italics. We see here Sindu applied to the city, suggesting Sindu-fu for the reading at the beginning of the chapter.

Silk is a large item in the produce and trade of Sze-ch’wan; and through extensive quarters of Ch’êng-tu fu, in every house, the spinning, dying, weaving, and embroidering of silk give occupation to the people. And though a good deal is exported, much is consumed in the province, for the people are very much given to costly apparel. Thus silk goods are very conspicuous in the shops of the capital. (Richthofen.)

1 My lamented friend Lieutenant F. Garnier had kindly undertaken to send me a plan of Ch’eng-tu fu from the place itself, but, as is well known, he fell on a daring enterprise elsewhere. [We hope that the plan from a Chinese map we give from M. Marcel Monnier’s Itinéraires will replace the promised one.

It will be seen that Ch’eng-tu is divided into three cities: the Great City containing both the Imperial and Tartar cities. — H.C.

2 I find the same expression applied to the miskál or dinár in a MS. letter written by Giovanni dell’ Affaitado, Venetian Agent at Lisbon in 1503, communicated to me by Signor Berchet. The King of Melinda was to pay to Portugal a tribute of 1500 pesi d’oro, “che un peso val un ducato e un quarto.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59