China was a powerful country in the 13th
century. At that time, merchants and travelers from all over the world came to
China to do business and to travel. Among them was the famous amateur, Marco
Polo from Venice, Italy. He lived in China for 17 years.
Marco Polo was born in Venice, Italy
in the year 1254. He had an education of different skills in accounting, foreign
languages, and knowledge of the Christian Church. His background in business and
culture and his love for nature made Marco Polo very observant of humans,
animals, and plants.
In 1260, when Marco Polo was still a little
child, his father and uncle who were Venetian merchants Nicolo and Matteo Polo
traveled east from Europe. In 1265, they arrived at Kaifeng, the capital of
Kublai Khan's (also known as the Great Khan) Mongol Empire. In 1269, the
brothers returned to Europe with a request from Khan for the Pope to send one
hundred missionaries to the Mongol Empire.
Upon arriving in
Venice, Nicolo discovered that his wife had died, leaving the son, Marco (born in 1254 and thus
fifteen years old) to his care. In 1271, the two brothers and Marco began to
trek eastward with the reply of the Pope.
In the year 1275, Marco Polo, at the age of
19, arrived in China together with his father and uncle after four years'
traveling and met the Great Khan. The emperor at the time of Marco's visit, Yuan
Shizu, liked him very much and frequently dispatched him to all parts of the
country as well as other countries on errands. He quickly grasped Mongolian and
Chinese, and traveled to almost every city in China. He kept a traveling journal
that recorded everything wherever he was.
Marco served in several high-level
government positions, including as ambassador and as the governor of the city of
Yangzhou. Seventeen years passed, the three Polos missed their homeland very
much and made a request to go back home to the emperor, and the emperor agreed.
In the Spring of 1292, the Great Khan eventually consented to allow them to
leave the Empire, as long as they would escort a princess who was scheduled to
wed a Persian king.
The three Polos had been away from Venice
for about 24 years and all the citizens thought they had already been dead. When
their relatives saw that they came back after so many years, they were shocked
and excited. And of course, they were astonished by the treasures the three
Polos brought back with them.
Upon his return to Italy, Marco Polo told of
his findings of jade, porcelain, silk, ivory, and other riches of Asia. He
described the festival of the Emperor's birthday in which everything from
clothing to ornaments was laced in gold. He also explained how he saw people
using black stones for fuel (later known as coal).
In the year 1298, Marco Polo was put into
prison during the war between Venice and Genoa. Marco Polo dictated his story to
the writer, Rustichello of Pisa, who shared the same prison. Shortly thereafter,
The Travels of Marco Polo was published in French as Description of
the World. It told of and paid tribute to the prosperity and civilization of
China, and had detailed descriptions of the sceneries of Beijing, Yangzhou,
Suzhou, Hangzhou. China had matured in the arts, both fine and practical, beyond
anything found in Europe. Literature was greatly respected. Paper had already
been invented; books of philosophy, religion, and politics could be found and a
large Encyclopedia had been printed under the supervision of the Emperor.
Mechanical devices were not lacking and paper money was the accepted currency in
many sections of the empire.
The publishing of the book spread through
Europe, and aroused the longing for the Chinese civilization among Europeans.
And because of this very book, Mask Polo became famous. In the year 1299, he was
From then on, communications between China
and Europe and Arabia became more frequent. The compass, printing and gunpowder
were introduced to Europe.