Volume 1, Chapter 12, Sections 11-15 -- Travels of Oderic of Portenau, into China and the East, in 1318: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 11 -- Of the City of Fuko, or Foquien.

Continuing my journey still farther to the east, I came to the city of Foquien, which is thirty miles in circuit. The poultry here are very large, and as white as snow, but have wool like sheep instead of feathers. This is a stately and most beautiful city, and standeth on the sea. Travelling onwards for eighteen days, I passed through many provinces and cities; and in my way, I passed over a certain great mountain, on one side of which all living creatures were quite black, whereas, on the other side, all were as white as snow; and the inhabitants of the two sides of the mountain differed exceedingly from each other, in their manners and customs. In these parts, all the married women wear a large tire or cap of horn, like a small barrel, on their heads, as a mark that they have husbands.

Journeying onwards for other eighteen days, I came to a city on a large river, over which there is a prodigiously great bridge. The host with whom I lodged in that city, willing to amuse me, carried me along with him to this bridge, taking with him in his arms certain diving birds bound to poles, and he tied a thread about every one of their necks, lest they might swallow the fish they were to catch. He carried likewise three large baskets to the river side. He then loosed his divers from the poles, on which they went into the water, and in less than an hour, they caught as many fish as filled the three baskets. Mine host then untied the threads from their necks, and sent them again into the water, where they fed themselves with fish. And, when satisfied, they returned to their master, allowing themselves to be fastened to the poles as before. I ate of these fish, and found them very good.

Travelling thence many days, I came to another city named Canasia,[1] which signifies in their language the city of Heaven. I never saw so great a city, for it is an hundred miles in circumference, and every part of it is thoroughly inhabited, yea, many of its houses are ten or even twelve stories high. It has many large suburbs, which contain more inhabitants than even the city itself. There are twelve principal gates; and at the distance of about eight miles from every one of these there is a large city, each of them larger, in my opinion, than Venice or Padua. The city of Canasia is situated among waters or lakes, which are always stagnant, without flux or reflux, and it is defended against the violence of the wind in the same manner as Venice. In this city there are more than 10,000 bridges,[2] many of which I counted and passed over; and on every one of these, there stand certain watchmen, constantly keeping guard for the great khan, or emperor of Cathay. The people of the country informed me that they have to pay, as tribute to their lord, one balis for every fire. Now one balis consists of five pieces of silken paper, which are worth one florin and a half of our coin. Ten or twelve households are counted as one fire, and only pay accordingly. All these tributary fires amount to eighty-five tomans, besides four tomans of the Saracens, making in all eighty-nine tomans; and one toman contains 10,000 fires.[3] The residue of the people consist of some Christians, some merchants, and some who travel through the country. I marvelled how it were possible for such an infinite number of people to live together, and get food; yet there is great abundance of provisions, such as bread and wine, and other necessaries, especially hogs' flesh.

[1] Cansai, Quinzay, or Quinsay.--Hakluyt.
[2] In the Italian copy, published by Ramusio, the number of bridges is extended to 11,000.--Hakluyt.
[3] This enumeration would give 890,000 fires, or almost ten millions of households; which at four persons to each, would produce an aggregate population of 39 millions of people for Quinsay alone. The tribute, as stated by Oderic, amounts to 6,675,000 florins.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 12 -- Of a Monastery, having many different kinds of Animals, on a certain Hill.

In this city of Quinsay, four of our friars had converted a powerful man to the Christian faith, in whose house I abode all the time I remained in that place. This man once addressed me, by the name of Ara or father, asking me to visit the city. Embarking in a boat, he carried me to a certain monastery, where he spoke to one of the priests of his acquaintance, saying, "this Raban, or religious man of the Francs, coming from the western parts of the earth, is on his way to Cambalu to pray for the life of the great khan, and you must shew him some rare thing, that he may be able to say on his return to his own country, what strange and novel sights he has beheld in our city of Quinsay." Then the priest took two great baskets full of broken victuals, and led me to a small walled inclosure, of which he had the key, the door of which he unlocked, and we went into a pleasant green plot, in which stood a small hillock like a steeple, all adorned with fragrant herbs and trees. He then beat upon a cymbal, at the sound of which many animals of various kinds came down, from the mount, some like apes, some like cats, others like monkeys, and some having human faces, which gathered around him to the number of four thousand, and placed themselves in seemly order. He set down the broken victuals for them to eat; and when they had eaten, he rung again upon his cymbal, and they all returned to their places of abode. Wondering greatly at this strange sight, this man informed me that these creatures were animated by the souls of departed persons of rank, and that they were fed by him and his brethren out of love for the God that governs the world. He added, that, when a man was noble in this life, his soul entered, after death, into the body of some excellent beast, while the souls of the deceased common rude people, possess the bodies of vile animals. I then endeavoured to refute that gross error, but my arguments were all in vain, as he could not believe that any soul could exist without a body.

From Quinsay I went to the city of Chilenso, which is forty miles round, and contains 360 stone bridges, the fairest I ever saw. This place is well inhabited, has a vast number of ships, and abundance of provisions and commodities. From thence I went to a great river called Thalay, which is seven miles broad where narrowest, and it runs through the midst of the land of the Pigmies, whose chief city is Kakam, one of the finest of the world. These Pigmies are only three spans in height, yet they manufacture larger and better cloths of cotton and silk, than any other people. Passing that river, I came to the city of Janzu, in which there is a house for the friars of our order, and there are also three churches belonging to the Nestorians. This Janzu is a great and noble city, having forty-eight tomans of tributary fires, and abounds in all manner of victuals, flesh, fish, and fowl. The lord of this city has fifty tomans of balis in yearly revenue from salt alone; and as every bali is worth a florin and a half of our money, one toman is worth 15,000 florins, and the salt revenue of this city is 750,000 florins. This lord has been known to forgive 200 tomans of arrears at one time to his people, or three millions of florins, lest they should be reduced to distress. There is a strange fashion in this city, when anyone inclines to give a banquet to his friends: He goes about to certain taverns or cooks shops, informing each of the landlords, that such and such of his friends are to come there for entertainment in his name, and that he will allow a certain sum for the banquet. By this means his friends are better entertained in divers places, than if all had been collected into one. Ten miles from the city of Janzu, and at the mouth of the river Thalay, there is another city named Montu, which has a greater number of ships than I ever saw in any part of the world. All the ships are white as snow, and have banquetting houses in them; and there are many other rare and wonderful things, that no one would give credit to, unless he were to see them with his own eyes.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 13 -- Of the city of Cambalu.

Travelling eight days farther, through divers provinces and cities, I came by fresh water to a city called Lencyn, on the river Karamoran, which pervades the middle of Cathay, and does much injury when it breaks its banks and overflows the land. Passing from thence many days journey to the eastwards, and within sight of many different cities, I came to the city of Sumakoto, which abounds more in silk than any city of the earth; insomuch that silk is reckoned scarce and dear, when the price of forty pounds weight amounts to four groats. It likewise abounds in all kinds of merchandize and provisions. Journeying still towards the east past many cities, I arrived at length at the great and renowned city of Cambalu, or Cambaleth, which is of great antiquity, and is the capital of Cathay. Being taken by the Tartars, they built a new city at the distance of half a mile, which they named Caido, which has twelve gates, each two miles distant from the other. The space also between the two cities is thoroughly built upon, and inhabited; so that the whole is as one city, and is forty miles in circuit. In this city the great khan or emperor has his palace, the walls of which are four miles in circuit; and near to the imperial palace there are many other houses and palaces of the nobles who belong to the court. Within the precincts of the imperial palace, there is a most beautiful mount, all set over with trees, called the Green Mount, having a sumptuous palace on the top, in which the khan mostly resides. On one side of the mount is a great lake, abounding in geese and ducks, and all manner of water fowl, and having a most magnificent bridge; and the wood upon the mount is stored with all kinds of beasts and land birds. Hence when the khan is inclined to take the diversion of hunting or hawking, he needs not to quit his palace.

The principal palace in which the khan resides is very large, and contains fourteen pillars of gold, and all the walls are hung with red skins, which are reckoned the most costly in the world.[1] In the midst of this palace, there is a cistern two yards high, all of a precious stone called merdochas, which is wreathed round with gold, having the golden image of a serpent at each corner, as it were furiously menacing with their heads. This cistern is farther ornamented by a rich net-work of pearls; and, by means of certain pipes and conduits, it continually supplies certain kinds of drink that are used at the court of the emperor.[2] Around this there stand many golden vessels, so that all who choose may drink abundantly. There are likewise many golden peacocks; and when any of the Tartars drink to the prosperity of their lord, and the guests clap their hands from mirth and joy, the golden peacocks spread their wings and expand their trains, and appear to dance. This, I presume, is occasioned by magic art, or perhaps by means of some secret machinery below ground.

[1] These red skins, in the Latin of Hakluyt, pelles rubes, are probably the zaphilines pelles, or sables, of other travellers; converted into red skins by some strange blunder.--E.
[2] This fountain of four drinks, seems copied from honest Rubruquis; but with corrections and amendments.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 14 -- Of the Magnificence of the Great Khan.

When the great khan sits upon his imperial throne of state, his queen or empress sits upon his left hand; and on another and lower seat two women are seated, who accompany the emperor in the absence of his spouse; and underneath them all the other ladies of the imperial family are placed. All the married ladies wear ornaments on their heads, shaped like a man's foot, a cubit and a half long,[1] ornamented with cranes feathers, and richly set with large oriental pearls. The eldest son and heir apparent of the emperor, is seated on the right hand of the throne, and below him sit all the nobles of the imperial race. There are likewise four secretaries, who write down every word spoken by the emperor. The barons and others of the nobility stand all around, with numerous trains of their followers, and all preserve the most profound silence, unless permitted to speak by the emperor; except his jesters and stage-players, nor even they but as they are ordered. Certain barons are appointed to keep the palace gate, to prevent all who pass from treading on the threshold.

When the khan holds a solemn feast, he is attended upon by about 14,000 barons, who have their heads ornamented by circlets or coronets of gold, and who minister to him in all things; and they are all richly dressed in cloth of gold, ornamented with precious stones, the dress and ornaments of each being worth 10,000 florins.[2] His court is kept in the most perfect order, the immense multitude of attendants being regularly arranged under officers of tens, hundreds, and thousands, so that every one perfectly knows his own place and performs his duty. I, friar Oderic, was personally at Cambalu for three years, and was often present at the royal banquets; for we of the minorite order have a habitation appointed for us in the emperors court, and are enjoined to go frequently into the presence, that we may bestow our blessing on the emperor. I inquired from some of the attendants at court concerning the numbers in the imperial establishment, who assured me that, of stage-players, musicians, and such like, there were at least eighteen tomans, and that the keepers of dogs, beasts, and fowls, were fifteen tomans.[3] There are four hundred physicians of the body to the emperor, eight of whom are Christians, and one Saracen. The whole of these attendants are supplied with all manner of apparel, victuals, and necessaries, from the palace.

When the khan makes a progress from one country to another, there are four troops of horsemen appointed, having orders to keep each at the distance of a days journey from the presence; one in advance, one in the rear, and one on either hand, like a cross, the emperor being in the middle; and each troop has its regular day's journey appointed for it, that all may keep in due order, and be regularly supplied with provisions. The great khan is carried in a chariot, having two wheels, on which a splendid throne is built of aloes wood, magnificently adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls; and this moving throne is drawn by four elephants, richly caparisoned; before which, four war horses, in magnificent housings, are led for his particular use. Close to the chariot, and keeping hold of it, eight barons attend on either side, to prevent all persons from approaching too near, or from incommoding the emperor. Two milk-white ger-falcons are carried in the chariot along with the emperor, that he may fly them at any game that comes in the way. No one dare come within a stone's throw of the chariot in which the emperor rides, except those who are expressly appointed. The number of his own followers, and of those who attend the empress, and on his eldest son, would appear quite incredible to any person who had not seen the same, and is therefore omitted. The whole empire is divided into twelve great provinces, one only of which has 2000 great cities within its bounds; and the whole is so extensive, that one may travel continually for six months in any one direction, besides the islands under his dominion, which are at least 5000 in number.

[1] In the plates of La Monarchie Francaise, by Pere Montfaucon, the French ladies of the fourteenth century are represented as wearing conical caps on their heads, at least one third of their own height.--E.
[2] One hundred and forty millions of florins, as the value of the dresses of the nobles of the imperial court! It seems that most writers concerning China are apt entirely to forget the power of numbers, in the fervour of their admiration.--E.
[3] Odericus, or his Bolandist biographer, seems to have forgot that thirty-three tomans make 330,000 useless ministers of luxury and folly. I strongly suspect the Minorites, for the honour of Oderic, have ignorantly borrowed and exaggerated from Marco Polo, to decorate the legend of the favourite Saint of Udina.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 15 -- Of the Inns established over the whole Empire, for the use of Travellers.

That travellers may have all things necessary throughout the whole empire, the emperor has caused certain inns to be provided in sundry places upon the highways, where all kinds of provisions are in continual readiness. When any intelligence is to be communicated to him, his messengers ride post on horses or dromedaries; and when themselves and their beasts are weary, they blow their horns, and the people at the next inn provide a man and horse in readiness to carry forward the dispatch. By this means, intelligence, which would take thirty days in the ordinary way of travelling, is transmitted in one day, and he is consequently immediately informed of any important matter which may occur in the most distant parts of his dominions.

About twenty days journey from Cambalu, there is a forest of six days' journey in circuit, containing an incredible number of different kinds of beasts and birds, to which the khan usually goes for hunting, once in three or four years, attended by his whole train. The attendants environ the whole forest, and, with the assistance of dogs, drive all the lions, stags, and other beasts before them, into a beautiful open plain in the midst of the forest. Then the khan, mounted on a throne, carried by three elephants, rides forwards to the throng of animals, and shoots five arrows among the herd; and after him, all his barons in succession, and the rest of his courtiers and family attendants, discharge their arrows in like manner. Then all the surviving beasts are allowed to go away into the forest, and all the people go among those beasts which are slain, and each person knows by the particular marks on their own arrows, which of the beasts he has right to.


 -- *Index of Part One* -- *Glossary*-- *Robert Kerr index page* -- *FWP's main page* --