The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Part iii. — Journey Southward Through Eastern Provinces of Cathay and Manzi.

Chapter lx.

Concerning the Cities of Cacanfu and of Changlu.

Cacanfu is a noble city. The people are Idolaters and burn their dead; they have paper-money, and live by trade and handicrafts. For they have plenty of silk from which they weave stuffs of silk and gold, and sendals in large quantities. [There are also certain Christians at this place, who have a church.] And the city is at the head of an important territory containing numerous towns and villages. [A great river passes through it, on which much merchandise is carried to the city of Cambaluc, for by many channels and canals it is connected therewith.1]

We will now set forth again, and travel three days towards the south, and then we come to a town called CHANGLU. This is another great city belonging to the Great Kaan, and to the province of Cathay. The people have paper-money, and are Idolaters and burn their dead. And you must know they make salt in great quantities at this place; I will tell you how ’tis done.2

A kind of earth is found there which is exceedingly salt. This they dig up and pile in great heaps. Upon these heaps they pour water in quantities till it runs out at the bottom; and then they take up this water and boil it well in great iron cauldrons, and as it cools it deposits a fine white salt in very small grains. This salt they then carry about for sale to many neighbouring districts, and get great profit thereby.

There is nothing else worth mentioning, so let us go forward five days’ journey, and we shall come to a city called Chinangli.

NOTE 1. — In the greater part of the journey which occupies the remainder of Book II., Pauthier is a chief authority, owing to his industrious Chinese reading and citation. Most of his identifications seem well founded, though sometimes we shall be constrained to dissent from them widely. A considerable number have been anticipated by former editors, but even in such cases he is often able to bring forward new grounds.

CACANFU is HO-KIEN FU in Pe Chih-li, 52 miles in a direct line south by east of Chochau. It was the head of one of the Lu or circuits into which the Mongols divided China. (Pauthier.)

NOTE 2. — Marsden and Murray have identified Changlu with T’SANG-CHAU in Pe Chih-li, about 30 miles east by south of Ho-kien fu. This seems substantially right, but Pauthier shows that there was an old town actually called CH’ANGLU, separated from T’sang-chau only by the great canal. [Ch’ang-lu was the name of T’sang-chau under the T’ang and the Kin. (See Playfair, Dict., p. 34.)— H.C.]

The manner of obtaining salt, described in the text, is substantially the same as one described by Duhalde, and by one of the missionaries, as being employed near the mouth of the Yang-tzu kiang. There is a town of the third order some miles south-east of T’sang-chau, called Yen-shan or “salt-hill,” and, according to Pauthier, T’sang-chau is the mart for salt produced there. (Duhalde in Astley, IV. 310; Lettres Edif. XI. 267 seqq.; Biot. p. 283.)

Polo here introduces a remark about the practice of burning the dead, which, with the notice of the idolatry of the people, and their use of paper-money, constitutes a formula which he repeats all through the Chinese provinces with wearisome iteration. It is, in fact, his definition of the Chinese people, for whom he seems to lack a comprehensive name.

A great change seems to have come over Chinese custom, since the Middle Ages, in regard to the disposal of the dead. Cremation is now entirely disused, except in two cases; one, that of the obsequies of a Buddhist priest, and the other that in which the coffin instead of being buried has been exposed in the fields, and in the lapse of time has become decayed. But it is impossible to reject the evidence that it was a common practice in Polo’s age. He repeats the assertion that it was the custom at every stage of his journey through Eastern China; though perhaps his taking absolutely no notice of the practice of burial is an instance of that imperfect knowledge of strictly Chinese peculiarities which has been elsewhere ascribed to him. It is the case, however, that the author of the Book of the Estate of the Great Kaan (circa 1330) also speaks of cremation as the usual Chinese practice, and that Ibn Batuta says positively: “The Chinese are infidels and idolaters, and they burn their dead after the manner of the Hindus.” This is all the more curious, because the Arab Relations of the 9th century say distinctly that the Chinese bury their dead, though they often kept the body long (as they do still) before burial; and there is no mistaking the description which Conti (15th century) gives of the Chinese mode of sepulture. Mendoza, in the 16th century, alludes to no disposal of the dead except by burial, but Semedo in the early part of the 17th says that bodies were occasionally burnt, especially in Sze-ch’wan.

I am greatly indebted to the kindness of an eminent Chinese scholar, Mr. W.F. Mayers, of Her Majesty’s Legation at Peking, who, in a letter, dated Peking, 18th September, 1874, sends me the following memorandum on the subject:—

Colonel Yule’s Marco Polo, II. 97 [First Edition], Burning of the Dead.

“On this subject compare the article entitled Huo Tsang, or ‘Cremation Burials,’ in Bk. XV of the Jih Che Luh, or ‘Daily Jottings,’ a great collection of miscellaneous notes on classical, historical, and antiquarian subjects, by Ku Yen-wu, a celebrated author of the 17th century. The article is as follows:—

“‘The practice of burning the dead flourished (or flourishes) most extensively in Kiang-nan, and was in vogue already in the period of the Sung Dynasty. According to the history of the Sung Dynasty, in the 27th year of the reign Shao-hing (A.D. 1157), the practice was animadverted upon by a public official.’ Here follows a long extract, in which the burning of the dead is reprehended, and it is stated that cemeteries were set apart by Government on behalf of the poorer classes.

“In A.D. 1261, Hwang Chên, governor of the district of Wu, in a memorial praying that the erection of cremation furnaces might thenceforth be prohibited, dwelt upon the impropriety of burning the remains of the deceased, for whose obsequies a multitude of observances were prescribed by the religious rites. He further exposed the fallacy of the excuse alleged for the practice, to wit, that burning the dead was a fulfilment of the precepts of Buddha, and accused the priests of a certain monastery of converting into a source of illicit gain the practice of cremation.”

[As an illustration of the cremation of a Buddhist priest, I note the following passage from an article published in the North–China Herald, 20th May, 1887, p. 556, on Kwei Hua Ch’eng, Mongolia: “Several Lamas are on visiting terms with me and they are very friendly. There are seven large and eight small Lamaseries, in care of from ten to two hundred Lamas. The principal Lamas at death are cremated. A short time ago, a friendly Lama took me to see a cremation. The furnace was roughly made of mud bricks, with four fire-holes at the base, with an opening in which to place the body. The whole was about 6 feet high, and about 5 feet in circumference. Greased fuel was arranged within and covered with glazed foreign calico, on which were written some Tibetan characters. A tent was erected and mats arranged for the Lamas. About 11:30 A.M. a scarlet covered bier appeared in sight carried by thirty-two beggars. A box 2 feet square and 2–1/2 feet high was taken out and placed near the furnace. The Lamas arrived and attired themselves in gorgeous robes and sat cross-legged. During the preparations to chant, some butter was being melted in a corner of the tent. A screen of calico was drawn round the furnace in which the cremator placed the body, and filled up the opening. Then a dozen Lamas began chanting the burial litany in Tibetan in deep bass voices. Then the head priest blessed the torches and when the fires were lit he blessed a fan to fan the flames, and lastly some melted butter, which was poured in at the top to make the whole blaze. This was frequently repeated. When fairly ablaze, a few pieces of Tibetan grass were thrown in at the top. After three days the whole cooled, and a priest with one gold and one silver chopstick collects the bones, which are placed in a bag for burial. If the bones are white it is a sign that his sin is purged, if black that perfection has not been attained.”— H.C.]

And it is very worthy of note that the Chinese envoy to Chinla (Kamboja) in 1295, an individual who may have personally known Marco Polo, in speaking of the custom prevalent there of exposing the dead, adds: “There are some, however, who burn their dead. These are all descendants of Chinese immigrants.

[Professor J.J.M. de Groot remarks that “being of religious origin, cremation is mostly denoted in China by clerical terms, expressive of the metamorphosis the funeral pyre is intended to effect, viz. ‘transformation of man’; ‘transformation of the body’; ‘metamorphosis by fire.’ Without the clerical sphere it bears no such high-sounding names, being simply called ‘incineration of corpses.’ A term of illogical composition, and nevertheless very common in the books, is ‘fire burial.’” It appears that during the Sung Dynasty cremation was especially common in the provinces of Shan-si, Cheh-kiang, and Kiang-su. During the Mongol Dynasty, the instances of cremation which are mentioned in Chinese books are, relatively speaking, numerous. Professor de Groot says also that “there exists evidence that during the Mongol domination cremation also throve in Fuhkien.” (Religious System of China, vol. iii. pp. 1391, 1409, 1410.) — H.C.]

(Doolittle, 190; Deguignes, I. 69; Cathay, pp. 247, 479; Reinaud, I. 56; India in the XVth Century, p. 23; Semedo, p. 95; Rém. Mél. Asiat. I. 128.)

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