An Italian drawing of Marco Polo's caravan from 1375.
For 300 years, historians have argued that Marco Polo did not really visit China, but had fabricated his journeys based on the information from his trips to the Black Sea, Constantinople and Persia and from talking to merchants. Now University of Tübingen Sinologist Hans Ulrich Vogel says he believes Polo.
In his new book, Marco Polo was in China: New Evidence from Currencies, Salts and Revenues, Vogel presents a comprehensive review of the arguments for and against, and follows it up with evidence from relevant Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French, German and Spanish literature. The result is compelling: despite a few, well-known problems with Marco Polo’s writings, they are supported by an overwhelming number of verified accounts about China containing unique information given over centuries.
According to Archaeology News Network:
Professor Vogel examines an area so complex and which requires such a high level of historical expertise that it has largely been neglected – Marco Polo’s descriptions of currency, salt production and revenues from the salt monopoly. Vogel concludes that no other Western, Arab, or Persian observer reported in such accurate and unique detail about the currency situation in Mongol China.
The Venetian traveler is the only one to describe precisely how paper for money was made from the bark of the mulberry tree. He not only details the shape and size of the paper, he also describes the use of seals and the various denominations of paper money. He reports on the monopolizing of gold, silver, pearls and gems by the state – which enforced a compulsory exchange for paper money – and the punishment for counterfeiters, as well as the 3% exchange fee for worn-out notes and the widespread use of paper money in official and private transactions.
Marco Polo is also the only one among his contemporaries to explain that paper money was not in circulation in all parts of China. It was used primarily in the north and in the regions along the Yangtze, but not in Fujian and certainly not in Yunnan, where according to Polo, cowries, salt, gold and silver were the main currencies.
This and similar information is confirmed by Chinese sources and by archaeological evidence, Vogel contends. Most of these sources were collated or translated long after Marco Polo’s time, so he could not have drawn on them.
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