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Did Marco Polo Go to China? [Paperback]

Frances Wood
2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 34.00 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Dec 19 1997
We all “know” that Marco Polo went to China, served Ghengis Khan for many years, and returned to Italy with the recipes for pasta and ice cream. But Frances Wood, head of the Chinese Department at the British Library, argues that Marco Polo not only never went to China, he probably never even made it past the Black Sea, where his family conducted business as merchants.Marco Polo’s travels from Venice to the exotic and distant East, and his epic book describing his extraordinary adventures, A Description of the World, ranks among the most famous and influential books ever published. In this fascinating piece of historical detection, marking the 700th anniversary of Polo’s journey, Frances Wood questions whether Marco Polo ever reached the country he so vividly described. Why, in his romantic and seemingly detailed account, is there no mention of such fundamentals of Chinese life as tea, foot-binding, or even the Great Wall? Did he really bring back pasta and ice cream to Italy? And why, given China’s extensive and even obsessive record-keeping, is there no mention of Marco Polo anywhere in the archives?Sure to spark controversy, Did Marco Polo Go to China? tries to solve these and other inconsistencies by carefully examining the Polo family history, Marco Polo’s activities as a merchant, the preparation of his book, and the imperial Chinese records. The result is a lucid and readable look at medieval European and Chinese history, and the characters and events that shaped this extraordinary and enduring myth.

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Product Description

From Library Journal

Wood (A Companion to China, LJ 4/1/90), the head of the Chinese department at the British Library, presents a revisionist view of Marco Polo, arguing that he may not have made the fabulous journey described in his book, A Description of the World. Not really an itinerary, according to Wood, Polo's book is a general geography of Asia containing information that could have been gleaned from the works of other travelers, including Polo's father and uncle, who had visited the Mongol capital Karakorum. Polo's work was dictated to a ghost writer named Rusticello, who, Wood suspects, padded Polo's original tale with any information about Asia that he and Polo could locate. Wood is not dogmatic in her examination and in fact presents all sides of the scholarship fairly. Still, her argument falls apart, since she doesn't say where Polo was if not in China (he could have been a minor civil servant and thus not mentioned in the records of the day). Given the importance of Polo's book to European expansion, it almost seems irrelevant to ask if he actually reached China. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.?Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., Minn.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Frances Wood is head of the Chinese Department at the British Library and author of A Companion to China and The Blue Guide to China, among many other scholarly works.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Something to think about Nov. 3 2002
Format:Paperback
Frances Wood provides a semi-revisionist view on the travels of Messer Marco Polo. Wood offers a number of contentions (chopsticks, the Great Wall, cormorant fishing, Chinese writing, paper, tea, foot binding, not being mentioned in Mongolian and Chinese historical records, not learning Chinese, and the who invented ice cream/spaghetti debate) that make it seem highly unlikely that Polo actually went as far east as China. I will list each of Woods main arguments and then offer my own explanation.
Chopsticks: this is a good argument, however, there are many people in Central Asia that use chopsticks. In the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China for example, most if not all Uighurs use chopsticks when eating noodles and dumplings. Perhaps Polo would have been surprised to see people in Central Asia using chopsticks at first, but by the time he traveled all the way eastward to China he had become accustomed to seeing the use of chopsticks and so this was not such an exciting thing. And what about the Middle East where people eat with their right hand and wipe with their left? Why is'nt this mentioned by Polo?
The Great Wall: another decent argument. However, there is absolutely no way to verify the exact route Polo took and so how can we discern if he ever had the chance to actually see the wall or not? Many travelers have tried to trace his route but none have succeeded. Wood describes the Wall as being made of yellow sand and mud. If you have ever been to China, you will see how well the old original parts of the wall blends in with the countryside. Only now can we really make out the wall with all of its brick renovations/restorations. It would be like someone coming to visit New York City and seeing the Empire State Building. Impressive? Yes.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading -- but in balance June 26 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Marco Polo, whose very name is a byword for travel and adventure, is worth reconsidering; but the case Frances Wood builds against him is primarily negative: Polo didn't mention the Great Wall, or cormorant fishing, or binding women's feet. All these matters are more than adequately answered in John Larner's MARCO POLO AND THE DISCOVERY OF THE WORLD, a book I recommend for balance. The thesis of Marco Polo not going to China is compelling, and Wood's style is fast-paced and keeps at a high level. But she seems to rebut her own argument in some places -- for instance, even mentioning a name close to "Polo" where Marco was said to have been, but dismissing it just as quickly by saying it couldn't have been him (the answer comes in a later chapter, but by the time you reach it, the author has made the argument look specious).
Marco Polo may indeed have exaggerated his own importance. Instead of being ruler of a province, being a major player in the salt business, on the face of it, was probably more likely his position. But Marco was a businessman brought up in a mercantile family. Unlike the author's idea, a seventeen year old in the thirteenth century was not considered a "boy" -- in fact, he was coming up on half his life expectancy. Even if the "great wall" of that day was the wall we see today (it wasn't, the impressive brick facade came later), we can hardly expect boyish wonder.
Without positive evidence, Frances Wood runs across the problem of those who believe Shakespeare didn't write his plays, or that he didn't exist. They can only argue from negative evidence, and a negative can't be proven.
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1.0 out of 5 stars I disagree with the author Oct. 13 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
About Frances Wood's Did Marco Polo Go To China?
In 1995 Dr Frances Wood published a book titled Did Marco Polo Go To China?, which became Marco Polo Did Not Go To China in the German version. This book, purporting to unmask Marco Polo as a fraud, has enjoyed considerable attention - which it fully merited as an entertaining piece of light reading. Unfortunately, Wood's argument appears to have been taken at face value in some academic circles, so much so that a word of warning now seems appropriate: Wood's story is neither original, nor is it scholarly. The gist of Wood's argument has been commonplace through the ages and, especially, in the 19th century. In its present form it was suggested in a lighthearted way some years ago by the eminent German sinologist Herbert Franke who now categorically rejects Wood's thesis. As for the scholarship of Wood's book, it is impugned on a series of counts, notably in an exhaustive study published in 1997 by Igor de Rachewiltz of the Australian National University wherein Wood's arguments are discussed one by one, not infrequently on the basis of documents that the author overlooked, or even deliberately ignored as inimical to her story. One case in point shall suffice here to cripple Wood's thesis. It concerns the accounts in a 15th century Chinese encyclopaedia (publ. in 1941 by Yang Chih-chiu) and in the Persian historian Rashid al-Din's Collection of Histories (discussed by F.W. Cleaves in 1976) of the 1291-3 naval expedition conveying the Mongol princess Kokecin from China to Persia - of which Marco Polo bears detailed witness as a participant. It really should be incumbent on authors in Dr Wood's position, as a matter of intellectual correctness, clearly to signal the distinction between historical fancy and the reporting of serious research. Canberra, Australia
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