Volume 1, Chapter 17 -- Travels of the Ambassadors of Mirza Shah Rokh, King of Persia, from Herat to Khanbalek in Kathay, in 1419.
*Section 1* -- The Journey of the Ambassadors from Herat to Khanbalek, and their reception at the Court of the Emperor of Kathay
*Section 2* -- The several Audiences of the Ambassadors, their Entertainments, Presents, and Return



This curious embassy, sent by Mirza Shah Rokh one of the sons of Timur, or Timour the Great, better known in Europe by the name of Tamerlane, travelled from Herat, in Persia, the residence of their sovereign, to Khanbalek, Cambalu, or Peking, the imperial city of Kathay, Khatay, Kitay, or Northern China, where Yong-lo, or Ching-tsu, the third emperor of the race of Ming then kept his court. Yong-lo began to reign, in 1404, and died in 1425, the year in which the ambassadors returned to Persia. The race of Ming, a Chinese dynasty, was founded in 1368, fifty-one years before the present embassy, by Hoang-vu, who had expelled the Mongol khans, the degenerate and enervated descendants of Gingis or Zengis. This journey was described by the famous Persian historian, Emir-Khond, or Emir-Khovand, usually known by the name of Mirchond, in his performance, entitled, "Of the Wonders of the World." Nicolas Witsen,[2] a learned burgomaster of Amsterdam, has inserted this curious journey, in his curious work, "Of North and East Tartary," having translated it for that purpose from the Persian into Dutch. The singularly excellent work of Witsen is extremely rare, and very seldom to be met with, as the author suppressed the work, from motives which are now unknown. The library of the university of Goettingen formerly possessed a copy which had belonged to the library of the Empress of Russia, and which was purchased at the sale of the effects of the late Mr Thunnman for eighty-six dollars. These travels are contained in the fourth volume of the French collection by Thevenot; who says that it was written in Persian, in twelve pages, without notes or explanation. He makes no mention of the translator, but probably borrowed the article from Witsen, without acknowledgment. The present edition is taken from Astley's collection, and is enriched by several notes and elucidations by Mr John Reinhold Forster; who, while he regrets the scarcity of Witsen's valuable work in Dutch, forgets to inform us of the existence of this tract in Thevenot, or in the collection of Astley. This journey throws some light on the interior part of Tartary, or Central Asia; and is therefore an important addition to our scanty knowledge of that little-known and interesting country, the real storehouse of nations, and the scourge, during many centuries, of all the surrounding countries, from the sea of Japan to the Baltic, and from the Frozen Ocean, to the seas of China, India, Persia, Arabia, and Roum, or the Mediterranean.

The present edition has been carefully corrected and enlarged, by collation with the abstract which Forster published from the Dutch translation by Witsen. This journal gives many curious remarks on the magnificence of the Chinese court, and respecting the ceremonial observed in giving audience to ambassadors, which still continue nearly the same. The editor of Astley labours hard to explain away the want of notice in these travels, and in the repeated journeys of Marco Polo, respecting the great Chinese wall. But the only rational explanation of this omission, is the clear conclusion that it was not then built. We learn from this narrative, that the paper money of the former Mogul Khans of Kathay was no longer in use, and that silver money, under the same denomination of Balishes, had been substituted in its place.

[1] Astley IV. 621. Forst. Voy. and Disc. 158.
[2] I suspect this learned Dutchman has been sometimes quoted in Latin, by the name of Candidius.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 17, Section 1 -- The Journey of the Ambassadors from Herat to Khanbalek, and their reception at the Court of the Emperor of Kathay.

In the year of the Hejirah 822, or 1419 of the Christian era, the Sultan Mirza Shah Rokh, king of Persia, sent ambassadors from Herat, his royal residence, to the emperor of Kathay, or China, of whom Shadi Khoja was the chief. At the same time, Mirza Baysangar, the son of Shah Rokh, sent Soltan Ahmet, and a painter named Khoja Gayath Addin, to accompany his father's ambassadors, giving orders to his servants to keep an exact journal of their travels, and to take notice of every thing that was remarkable in every city and country they travelled through; carefully noting the nature of the roads, the police, and customs of the people, and the magnificence and government of the various sovereigns. Leaving Herat[1] on the 11th of the month Zi'lkaa-deh,[2] the ambassadors arrived at Balkh on the 8th of Zi'lhejjeh, where they were detained by the rains till the first of Moharram, in the year 823 of the Hejira,[3] or Thursday, 16th January 1420; on which day they departed from Balkh, and arrived in twenty-two days' journey at Samarkand. They here found Soltan Shars, and Mehemmed Bakhshi, the ambassadors of Ulug-Beg,[4] who had been sent to accompany them, together with all his Kathayans: And the ambassadors of Khorassan, Badakshan, and from other princes, having here joined company, they all set out together with those of Kathay.[5]

Having passed through the cities of Tashkend, Sayram, and Ash,[6] they entered into the country of the Mongols[7] on the eleventh of Rabiya-al- akher, and learnt that the horde was in great confusion, Awis-khan being at war with Shir Mehemmed Aglan. These disturbances being settled, Amir Khudadad, who commanded in that country, came to inform them that the ambassadors might proceed safely on their journey. On the 18th of Jomada-al-awal, they came to a place named Bilgotu,[8] on the territories of Mehemmed-Beg, where they waited for the Dajis,[9] and the retinue of the Shah of Badakshan. After their arrival, they passed the river Kenker[10] on the twenty-second of Jomada-al-awal, and next day, they saw Mehemmed-Beg, prince of that horde, whose son, Soltan Shadi Karkan,[11] was son-in-law to Shah Rokh, and a daughter of that prince had married Mirza Mehemmed Juki.[12] On the twenty-eighth of the before named month, they entered the country of Ilduz,[13] which was occupied by the tribe of Jel, and under the dominion of Shir Behram, or Scheir Begrahim; and though the sun was then in the summer solstice, they were often astonished to find ice two inches thick in this vast desert.

On the eighth of Jomada-al-akher, they were alarmed, by receiving, news that the son of Ahmed Beg had plundered the Daji, who was ambassador from Awis, or Oweys Khan; and they made every possible haste to pass through the defiles of the mountains, notwithstanding of much hail and rain falling at the time. At the end or the month, they arrived at Tarkan,[14] where there is a great temple, with a huge idol, which the idolatrous inhabitants say is the image of Shakmonni, or Shamku. Departing from thence on the second of Rajeb, they came on the fifth to Karakoja.[l5] And certain Kathayans came here on the tenth, who took a list of the names of the ambassadors and all their retinue. On the nineteenth they arrived at the town of Ata-Sufi, where Kha Zadeh Taj'oddin resided, a person descended from the prophet, originally of the city of Tormul, and son-in-law to Amir Fakr'oddin, chief of the Moslems in Kabul.[16]

On the twenty-second of Rajeb they arrived at Kabul,[17] in which place Amir Fakr'oddin had built a fine mosque; near which was a temple of the idolaters, set round with images, and strange figures of various sizes, and at the doors there were two gigantic statues that seemed to fight. Mengli Timur Bayri, a handsome young man, was governor of this city. Departing thence on the twenty-fifth of Rajeb, they entered on the desert of Noman Cobi, where they only found water once in two days; and on the twelfth of Shaaban, they saw lions, oxen, and other wild beasts; the oxen, named Gau Kottahs, are very large and strong, insomuch that they are able to toss a man and horse into the air. Their tails are remarkably long and hairy, and are in great estimation all over the East, where they are often carried on long poles, by way of ornament, and are likewise much employed for driving away flies.

On the fourteenth, they arrived at a place within twelve stages of Sekju,[18] the first city in Kathay. From this time, the Kathayans came daily to meet them, erecting tents or huts, adorned with green boughs, in the desert for their accommodation, and plentifully supplied their tables with fowls, and various kinds of flesh, fruits, fresh and dried, and other victuals, all served on porcelain or china dishes, besides several kinds of strong liquors; and henceforwards they were as splendidly regaled in the desert as they afterwards were in the cities of Kathay. According to the list taken by the Kathayans, Amir Shadi Khoja, and Gaksheh, had 200 persons in their retinue; Soltan Ahmed and Gayath-addin, 500; Argdak, sixty; Ardvan, fifty; and Taj'oddin, fifty; in all 860 persons; among whom were many merchants, who were passed as belonging to the retinue of the ambassadors, and who were, afterwards under the necessity of performing the services which fell to their lot, according to the register. In taking this list, the Kathayan officers made them swear that there were no other persons besides those named, and informed them that they would be despised if they did not tell the truth.

It is remarkable that among the many viands and liquors supplied to them, in the before-mentioned entertainment, there was a pot of Chinese tea, which the Jesuit Trgault imagined had only come into use in China of late years. Tea is called Tscha by the Chinese, and its use is very ancient, as the earlier of the two Mahometan travellers, who wrote in 851 and 867, mention the use, by the Chinese in that early period, of the infusion of the leaves of a shrub called sah or tsha. Even at that time, the use of tea must have become an article of constant and extensive consumption in China, as the emperor derived a large revenue from the tax on that article.[19]

On the sixteenth of the month Shaaban, they were informed that the Dankji, governor of the borders of Kathay, intended to entertain them that day with an imperial feast; and on their arrival at his encampment, they found a square arpent[20] of ground inclosed with tents, the cords of which, fastened to pegs in the ground, were so interlaced together that there was no entrance into the inclosure but by four gates, which were left on purpose. In the midst of this place, they had erected a great and very high awning of cloth, supported on wooden pillars; at one end of which was an imperial canopy of state, erected on two richly varnished pillars, between which stood a great chair of state as if for the emperor, and other seats on both sides. The ambassadors were placed on the left hand of the imperial throne, arid the Kathayan officers on the right. Before each ambassador there were two tables, one of which was covered with various meats and fruits, and the other with cakes and delicate bread, ornamented with festoons of silk and paper. The other persons present had only one table to each. At the opposite end of this great banqueting tent, there stood a buffet or side-board, full of vessels of china and of silver, for serving the liquors. During the entertainment, they were regaled by a band of music, and a number of young persons, in strange dresses, performed various tricks for their amusement. They were likewise much amused by the performance of a comedy, the actors of which wore masks representing the faces of animals; and a child, inclosed in the body of an artificial stork, walked about and performed a variety of surprising motions. In short, nothing could be more magnificent.

Next day, being the seventeenth of Shaaban, they continued their journey through the desert, and arrived in a few days at a karaul[21] or strong fortress, in the mountains, which is built across the road in a pass or defile, so that travellers must necessarily enter by one gate and pass through the other. Here the ambassadors and all the members of their retinues were carefully numbered, and a new list made of all their names. From the karaul they went to Sekju or So-chew,[22] where they were lodged in a large public building over the gate of the city; in which, as in all their other lodgings, they were amply provided with every necessary and convenience, as provisions, beds, and horses; and even the servants had mattresses and coverlets allowed for their beds. So-chew is a large and strong city, quite square, in the entrance into Kathay. It has sixteen market places, each fifty cubits square, which are always kept clean. In these there are several covered halls or galleries, having shops on both sides; and a handsome hall of entrance, adorned with pictures. There are hogs kept in every house, and the butchers hang their pork in the shambles along with the mutton.[23] The city wall is flanked with towers at every twenty paces distance; and there is a gate in the middle of each side, from each of which one may see the opposite gate, as the streets pass straight through the middle of the city, dividing it into four quarters. Over each gate there is a pavilion of two stories, the roof of which is tiled with porcelain, and is shaped like an ass's back, or penthouse, according to the fashion of Kathay, which is likewise followed in Mazanderan. Each of the temples in this place occupy nearly ten arpents of ground, and all are very neat, with their brick pavements polished like glass. At the gates there stand a number of fine youths, who, after regaling strangers, show them the temples.

From So-chew it is ninety-five days journey to Cambalu, or Khanbalek, where the emperor resides, the whole way leading, through a populous country, insomuch that travellers always lodge at night in a large town. Throughout the whole way there are many structures named Kargu, and Kidifu. The former are a species of corps-de-garde, which are sixty cubits high, and are built within sight of each other, having always persons on guard, who are relieved every ten days. These are intended to communicate alarms speedily to the seat of government, which they do by means of fires; and intelligence can be sent, in this manner, in the space of a day and a night, from the distance of three months' journey.[24] The Kidifus are a kind of post-houses, which are built at ten merres[25] from each other, having fixed establishments of people, with houses to live in, and ground to cultivate for their support; and all letters to the imperial city are sent by couriers from one to another. From Sakju, or So-chew, to Kamju,[26] there are nine stages or days' journey, and the dankji who resides in Kan-chew is superior to all the other governors on the frontiers. At each stage the ambassadors were furnished with 450 horses, mules, and asses, and fifty-six chariots or waggons. The servants who tended the horses were called Ba-fu; the muleteers, who had charge of the mules and the asses, Lu-fu; and the men who drew the chariots, Jip-fu. These chariots were each drawn by twelve young men with cords on their shoulders, and they dragged through all difficulties from one lodging to another, the Ba-fu always running before as guides. At all the lodging places, where the ambassadors and their retinue stopped nightly, provisions were always found in abundance. At every city the ambassadors were feasted in a hall set apart for that special purpose, called Rasun, in each of which there stood an imperial throne under a canopy, with curtains at the sides, the throne always facing towards the capital of the empire. At the foot of the throne there always was a great carpet, on which the ambassadors sat, having their people ranked in regular rows behind them, like the Moslems at their prayers. When all were properly arranged, a guard beside the throne gave a signal, by calling out aloud three times; on which all the Kathayan officers bowed their heads to the ground towards the throne, and obliged the ambassadors to make a similar reverence; after which every one sate down to his appointed table.

On the twenty-fifth of Ramazan, the dankji, or governor of Kan-chew invited the ambassadors to a feast, intimating that they were to consider it as a banquet given them by the emperor; but as it was the fast of the Moslems, the ambassadors sent an apology, yet he sent them all the victuals which had been prepared for the entertainment. In Kanchew they saw a temple, each side of which extended 500 kes or cubits, having in the middle of it an idol fifty feet in length, lying as if asleep. The hands and feet of this gigantic idol were nine feet long, and the head was twenty-one feet round. There were numbers of smaller idols, each a cubit high, behind this large one and above his head, in such natural attitudes that they seemed alive. The great idol was gilt all over, having one hand under his head, and the other stretched down along his thigh.  This idol was called Samonifu, and vast numbers of people were constantly prostrating themselves before him. The walls were also adorned with many figures. All round the great temple, there were numerous small temples, like the chambers in caravanserais, having curtains of tapestry or brocade, gilded easy chairs and stools, chandeliers, and vessels, for ornament. There were ten other temples in the city of Kan-chew like the former, and a tower having eight fronts, twenty cubits in circumference, and fifteen stories high. Each story was twelve cubits high, so that the whole tower was 180 cubits in height. In every story was a chamber finely varnished, and a gallery round, embellished with paintings. One of these paintings represented the emperor of Kathay sitting among his courtiers, and with boys and girls on either hand. This structure is called Teherki felek by the Moslems, and resembles a kiosk. At the bottom there were the figures of giants, which seemed to carry the whole tower on their backs. The whole was constructed of wood, richly gilded and varnished, and so exquisitely polished, that it seemed of burnished gold. In a vault under the edifice, there is an iron axis resting on a plate of iron, and reaching from the bottom to the top of the tower: and the whole was so ingeniously contrived, that it could easily be turned round on this axis, in so surprizing a manner, that all the smiths, carpenters, and painters of the world ought to go there, to learn the secrets of their respective trades.[27]

Before the ambassadors left Kan-chew, they were furnished with horses and carriages, which they returned here in their way back. In this place also, they consigned the presents which were intended for the emperor, except a lion, which they carried along with them, to the imperial court. In proportion as they approached towards the capital, the Kathayan magnificence always increased. Every evening they arrived at a Yam[28] or lodging, and once every week at a city. On the fourth of the month Shawal they reached the river Karamuran,[29] which is as large as the Jihon or Amu. Across this river there is a bridge of twenty-six boats, laid over with planks, and kept together by iron hooks and chains, which are fastened to iron pillars on each bank, as thick as a mans thigh, so that the whole is kept perfectly firm and even. On crossing this river they came to a great city, where the ambassadors were more splendidly, feasted that in any other place; and here they saw a more magnificent idol temple than any of the former. They took notice also of three public stews, full of very beautiful harlots; and as the women here are handsomer than any other in Kathay, this place has the name of Rosnabaad, or the City of Beauty. After passing through several other cities, they arrived on the twelfth of the month Zu'lkaadeh, at another river[30] twice as large as the Jihon, which they passed over in boats.

Continuing their journey, and crossing over several rivers, some in boats and others by means of bridges, they arrived, on the twenty-seventh of the last mentioned month, at the great and populous city of Sadin-fu.[31] In one of the temples of this city there stands a gilded brass image fifty cubits high, called the image with a thousand hands, for such is the number with which this idol is furnished, and on the palm of each there is an eye. The feet of this idol are near ten cubits long. Round this idol there are several others of different heights, placed in chambers or niches, some reaching only as high as the ankle of the great one, others to the knee, and others again as high as the breast. It is reckoned that this prodigious work required 100,000 loads of brass. The top of the temple is exquisitely finished, and terminates in an open hall. It is surrounded by eight mounts or eminences, which may be ascended both on the outside and the inside; and these have several grottos, the walls of which are adorned with various paintings, representing priests, idols, hermits, tigers, leopards, serpents, and trees. These, with the idols, mountains, and arches, seem all to be composed of plaster. Around this great temple there are many fine buildings, and among these a turning tower, similar to that of Kan-chew, but larger and finer.

Continuing their journey, at the rate of four or five pharasangs each day,[32] the ambassadors arrived before day-break of the eighth of Zu'lhajieh, at the imperial city of Khanbalik,[33] or Pekin. This city is so great that each side is a pharasang in length, or about four and a quarter English miles. But at this time 100,000 houses within its walls lay in ruins. The ambassadors and their retinue were conducted on foot along a causeway 700 feet long, to the palace gate, where there stood five elephants on either side. On passing this outward gate, they entered a very beautiful paved court of great extent, where they found 100,000 men waiting at the empero'rs gate, although it was not yet day. Facing this court there was a great kiosk or pavilion, the basis of which was thirty cubits high, on which stood pillars fifty cubits high, supporting a gallery sixty cubits long and forty cubits wide. This pavilion had three gates, the middle one being reserved for the emperor, and that on each side was smaller. Above this kiosk, and over the right and left gates, was a kurkeh, or great drum; and a bell hung over the middle gate, attended by two persons, to give notice of the appearance of the emperor on his throne. They reckoned that near 300,000 persons were assembled before the palace, among whom were 2000 musicians, who sung hymns for the prosperity of the emperor. Two thousand men, armed with halberts, batons, darts, arrows, lances, swords, and maces, had enough of business in keeping the crowd in order. Others held fans and umbrellas. Around this court there were many apartments, and it was surrounded by high porticos closed with grates, and containing sofas. When day appeared, the drums, trumpets, flutes, and hautboys, began to sound, and the great bell tolled; at which the great gates were thrown open, and the people crowded in to see the emperor.

On passing from the first court into the second, the ambassadors found a larger and more magnificent pavilion than the former, on which was a raised platform, or sofa, of a triangular form, four cubits high, covered with yellow satin, and sumptuously adorned with gildings and paintings, representing the Simorg,[34] or Phoenix, which the Kathayans call the royal bird. On this sofa was a seat or throne of massy gold, and on both sides stood ranks of officers of different orders, some commanders of 10,000 men, some of a 1000, and others of 100 men. Each of these held a tablet in his hand, a cubit long and a quarter broad, on which they all continued to look with much gravity, without attending to any thing around them; and behind these, stood an infinite number of guards, all in profound silence. At length the emperor made his appearance from an inner apartment, and ascended the throne by nine steps of silver. The emperor was a man of middle stature, and his beard consisted of 200 or 300 long hairs, which descended from his chin upon his breast. On each side of the throne there stood two very beautiful maidens, having their faces and necks bare, with their hair tied on the top of their heads, and large pearls in their ears. Each of these held paper and a pen in their hands, and wrote down with great attention whatever was spoken by the emperor; and when he retires, they present him with the papers, to see if he has any alterations to make in his orders. These are afterwards carried to the Diwan, or tribunal of state, that they may be carried into execution.

When the emperor was seated on his throne, the seven ambassadors were brought forwards, facing the emperor, and at the same time a great number of criminals were presented. There were seven hundred of these, some of whom were fastened by the neck, others having their heads and hands inclosed by a board, six sometimes fastened thus to one board. Each criminal was attended by a keeper, who held his prisoner by the hair: and all thus waited the imperial sentence. Most of these were remanded to prison, and only a few were condemned to die, which power resides solely in the emperor. All the governors of this vast empire, however distant from court, send all malefactors to Khanbalik, to appear in the presence of the emperor. Each person's crime is written on one end of the board which he carries about his neck; and the crimes against religion are the most severely punished of all. Great care is taken to examine into all the facts on these occasions, insomuch that the emperor holds council twelve several times before he condemns any one to death. Hence a person who has been condemned in eleven successive councils, is sometimes acquitted in the twelfth, which is always held in presence of the emperor, who never condemns any but those he cannot save.

When the criminals were dismissed, the ambassadors were led by an officer within fifteen cubits of the throne; and this officer, on his knees, read out of a paper the purport of their embassy; adding that they had brought rarities as presents to his majesty, and were come to knock their heads against the ground before him. Then the Kadhi Mulana Haji Yusof, a commander of ten thousand, who was a favourite of the emperor and one of his twelve councillors, approached to the ambassadors, with some Moslems who spoke the Persian language, and ordered them to fall on their knees and knock their ground with their foreheads; but they only bowed their heads three times. Then they delivered the letters of Shah Rokh and the other princes, wrapped up in yellow satin, to Kadhi Mulana, who gave them into the hands of a khoja of the palace at the foot of the throne, and he presented them to the emperor. He took them into his own hands, opened them and looked at them, and delivered them back to the khoja, who descended from the throne, and sat down on a seat at the foot of the steps. At the same time were brought out three thousand vestments of fine stufis, and two thousand coarse, such as are the usual clothing of the imperial children and household.[35] The emperor then commanded the ambassadors to draw near, and being on their knees, he inquired after the health of Shah Rokh, and put many other questions to them, all of which they answered. He then ordered them to rise, and go eat, saying that they had come a far journey. From thence the ambassadors were conducted back to the first court, where they were feasted in a similar manner as at other times already mentioned.

When this entertainment was finished, they were conducted to their lodgings, in which the principal chamber was furnished with a large sofa or raised platform, laid with fine silk cushions, a great basin, and a pan for fire. On the right and left of this, there were other chambers, with beds, silk cushions, and foot carpets or fine mats, for lodging the ambassadors separately. Each person had a kettle, a dish, a spoon, and a table. Every day, for six persons, there were allowed a sheep, a goose, and two fowls; and to each person two measures of flour, a large dish of rice, two great basins full of things preserved with sugar, a pot of honey, some garlic, onions, salt, several sorts of herbs, a bottle of dirapum,[36] and a basin of walnuts, filberts, chesnuts, and other dried fruits. They were likewise attended from morning till night by a number of handsome servants.

[1] The capital of Khorassan, or Corassan, in the north-east of Persia, then the residence of Shah Rokh.--Astl.
[2] Or Zu'lkaadeh, as pronounced by the Persians, called Dhu'lkaddeh by the Arabians, which is the eleventh month of the Mahometan year. As this year is lunar, the months run through all the seasons, for want of a properly regulated kalendar, or a period like the Julian or Gregorian. To enable the reader to understand the journal, we give the Persian names of the months in their order: 1. Moharram; 2. Safar; 3. Rabiya-al-awal, or Prior; 4, Rabiya-al-Akher, or Latter; 5. Jomada-al-awal; 6. Jomada-al-akher; 7. Rajeb; 8. Shaaban; 9. Ramazan; 10. Shawal; 11. Zu'lkaadeh; 12. Zu'lhejjeh.--Astl.
[3] This year began on Thursday, 16th January, 1420.--Astl.
[4] Ulug-Beg was the son and successor of Shah-Rokh, and was famous for his astronomical tables.--Astl.
The Kathayans of Ulug-Beg, here mentioned, were probably Chinese astronomers in the service of that prince, sent on the present occasion to ascertain and report the geographical circumstances of the journey.--E.
[5] The text here is obscure, as appearing to indicate Kathayan ambassadors going to Kathay. They may have been ambassadors from Yong-lo to Shakh-Rokh, now on their return.--E.
[6] Called Asperah by Forster.--E.
[7] From this description of the route, and the implied division of empire, it would appear that Shah-Rokh ruled over a very ample portion of the vast conquests of Timur, having under has command the countries of Iran and Touran; or Persia, Chorassan, Balkh, Kharism, Great Bucharia, and Fergaana; even including Samarkand, the imperial residence of Timur.--E.
[8] Mr Forster calls this place Pielgutu, and explains the name by the substitution of Palchas with a mark of interrogation as doubtful. The geography of the East is rendered difficult and obscure, by the frequent recurrence of names in different languages, and by a lax orthography. Perhaps Pielgutu or Palchas, may have been situated on the lake Balcash, otherwise named Palkati-nor, and Tengis--E.
[9] Otherwise Dagis and Dakgis--Astl.
[10] Called Lenger in Forster, who gives, as synonymous, Ab-lenger and Abi-longur; which merely repeat the original name Lenger, with the prefix abi, which signifies water or river. Of this river no mention is made on our maps; but, from the direction of the route, it must have crossed their way somewhere between the Palkati-nor and Turfan, which is the next station mentioned.--E.
[11] Called Gurgu by Forster.--E.
[12] Fifth son of Shah-Rokh.--Astl.
[13] Perhaps the same place called Yulduz, and Yilduz by others, and supposed to be the Chialis of later authors, in Little Bucharia. In the Jesuits maps there is a river called Cheldos, near the Ili, on which this town may have stood.--Astl.
[14] This is doubtless a mistake for Tarfan, or Turfan, in little Bucharia; the Arabic F and K differing only by a point. Astl. Turfan, Turkhan, or Farkhaan, is situated in Tenduc or Uiguria, in Lat. 43° N. Long. 85°. SO. E. The snowy mountains crossed in such haste must have been the Alahtag. The cold desert of the tribe of Jel, was probably in the eastern part of Soongria; perhaps the Karang desert, north from Turfan and the Alak mountains.--E.
[15] This is supposed to be the same place with Aramuth in other Journals; and to be named Oramchi in the Jesuits map--Astl. Called Kharadztah, Harasliar, Hara-cosa, and Asarlic, by Forster. Now named Asarleak on our best maps.--E.
[16] In Forsters edition, this sentence is differently expressed, as follows: "On the nineteenth they came to a town called Naas, or Naar, near which several Zeijids, or descendants of Mahomet, are settled, at a place named Termed".--E.
[17] This name Kabul is evidently a mistake for Kamul, Khamul, Khamil, Kamyl, or Chamil; called Hami by the Chinese.--Astl.
[18] This is certainly So-chew, near the entrance of the great wall in Shensi.--Astl. Called by Forster Katasekt-schen, Sekt-scheu, Schel-scheu, or Su-tcheu.--E.
[19] This commentary on tea is placed in the text of Forster, and is therefore here preserved in the same form, though no part of the original.--E.
[20] An arpent is a French measure nearly one and a half of which are equal to an English acre.--Astl.
[21] This Persian term Karawl or Karawul, is also introduced into the Tartarian language, from which it has been adopted into Russian, in which language a guard or outpost is termed a Karaul.--Forst.
It seems more probable that the Tartar conquerors had introduced their own military term into the languages of subjugated Persia, and tributary Russia.--E.
[22] In the description of this route by Forster, he brings the ambassadors to Su-tchew before their arrival at the Karaul, and interposes a desert of several days journey between these two places.--E.
[23] This seemingly trifling circumstance was matter of great surprize and scandal to the Mahometans, who consider hogs as unclean animals, and to whom pork is a forbidden food.--Astl.
[24] It is singular how very nearly this arrangement resembles the supposed modern invention of a chain of telegraphs.--E.
[25] Six merres make a pharasang, or Persian league, which is equal to four English miles, and 868 feet. One merre is therefore equal to 1221 yards, and each post station of ten merres is equal to 12,213 yards, or almost seven English miles.--Astl.
[26] Otherwise Kamgiou or Kan-chew, the Kampion or Kainpiou of Marco Polo; which is a city of Shen-si, near the great wall and the desert.--Astl.
In Forsters account of this journey, the ambassadors arrived from the Karaul, or fortified pass, at Natschieu, Nang-tsiew, or Naa-tsieu; after which, they are said to have arrived at Kham-tcheou, the Kan-chew of the text.--E.
[27] The description given in the text of this Chinese pagoda has much the air of a fiction; yet we can hardly conceive the author would venture to report to Shah-Rokh what must have been contradicted by his ambassadors, if false.--Astl.
[28] This is called Lam in the French of Thevenot, and is the same with the Lamb of Marco Polo.--Astl.
[29] This is the Cara-moran or Whang-ho, which they crossed a second time between Shen-si and Shan-si, where it is much larger than at Lan-chew, the place probably alluded to in this part of the text.--Astl.
In the edition, by Forster, this river is named Abi Daraan, or the Daraan, afterwards Kara-raan; but is obviously the Kara-moran, Whang-ho, or Hoang-ho.--E.
[30] This other river, certainly is the same Kara-moran, passed again at a different part of their route.--Astl.
[31] This must have been some city in the province of Pe-che-li, or near its borders in Shan-si; but no such name as that of the text is to be found in any of the maps of China.--Astl.
In Forsters edition, this place is named Chien-dien-puhr, perhaps Tchin-teuen-pou, a city at some distance to the west of the Hoan-ho river. The route is not distinctly indicated in the text; but seems to have been from Soutcheo, at the N.W. extremity of Chensi, in lat. 40° N. following a S. E. direction to the Hoan-ho, somewhere about Yung-nam, in lat. 37° N. long. 104° E.; and Yung-nam may have been the fine city which the Persians named Rosna-baad, or the Habitation of Beauty.--E.
[32] About seventeen or twenty-one English miles, or nineteen miles on the average.--E.
[33] This is the same with the Khambalu of Polo. One name signifies the palace of the Khan, the other the city of the Khan.--Astl.
[34] This is the Fong-whang, or fabulous bird of the Chinese. The Simorg-Anka, is supposed among the Persians to have existed among the Preadamites, and to have assisted Solomon in his wars.--Astl.
[35] The text is here abrupt and inconclusive: These vestments were probably presented to the ambassadors and their suite.--E.
[36] What this may have been does not appear; it may possibly have been arrack, or the wine made of rice and spices, which is frequently mentioned in the travels of Marco Polo.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 17, Section 2 -- The several Audiences of the Ambassadors, their Entertainments, Presents, and Return.

On the ninth of the month Zu'lhajjeh, the Sekjin, or officer belonging to the court who had charge of the ambassadors, came to their lodgings before day, and raised them from their beds, saying that the emperor meant to feast them that day. He brought them to the palace on horses which were sent for the purpose, and placed them in the outer court, where two hundred thousand persons were in attendance. As soon as the sun was up, they were led to the foot of the throne, where they saluted the emperor, by bowing their heads to the ground five several [[=different]] times. At length the emperor descended from the throne, and the ambassadors were led back to the outer court, where they were separated for a while, that they might perform the deeds of necessity; being told that no person could be allowed to stir out on any pretence during the continuance of the feast. After this, they were led through the first and second courts, and thence into a third, which was entirely open, and paved with fine freestone. In the front of this court there was a great hall sixty cubits long, having chambers over it; and in the hall was a great sofa, higher than a man, which was ascended by three silver stairs, one in front, and the others at the two sides. In this place there stood two khojas of the palace, having a kind of pasteboard covers on their mouths, and fastened to their ears. Upon the great sofa or platform, there was a smaller one in form of a couch, having pillows and cushions for the feet; and on each side there were pans for fire, and perfuming pans. This smaller sofa was of wood, beautifully gilded, and looking quite fresh, though sixty years old, and every thing was finely varnished. The most eminent of the Dakjis stood on each side of the throne, armed, and behind them were the soldiers of the imperial guard, with naked sabres. The ambassadors were placed on the left hand, as the most honourable station. Three tables were placed before each of the Amirs and other most distinguished persons, while others had only two, and the more ordinary persons but one; and there were at least a thousand tables at this entertainment.

Before the throne, near a window of the hall, there was a great kurkeh or drum, on a raised stage, attended by two men, and near it a great band of musicians. Part of the hall was divided off by curtains which came close to the throne, that the ladies belonging to the palace might see the company without being seen. After all the victuals and liquors were brought in and properly distributed, two khojas withdrew, the curtains which covered a door behind the throne, and the emperor came forth, amid the sound of many instruments of music, and took his seat under a canopy of yellow satin, ornamented with four dragons. After the ambassadors had made five prostrations, they sat down to table, and were treated as at other times. During the entertainment, many comic tricks were acted for the amusement of the emperor and the company. The first performers that appeared were painted with white and red, like girls, and dressed in gold brocade, holding nosegays of artificial flowers. After this, a man lay down on his back, as if asleep, holding his feet raised up in the air; then another person held several thick canes in his hands, seven cubits long, placing the other ends between his legs, on which a youth of ten or twelve years of age mounted, with surprising agility, and performed several tricks at the top. At last the canes slipped away from under him, and every person thought he must have fallen to the ground and been dashed to pieces; but the pretended sleeper instantly started up and caught him in the air. There was one musician who played tunes after the twelve different modes of the Kathayans. Two men played the same air together, each having one hand on his own instrument, and the other on that of his companion. During this entertainment, several thousand birds of different kinds flew about the court of the palace, and lighted among the people, to eat up what they could find scattered on the ground, without appearing to be in the least scared at the multitude. During the five months that the ambassadors remained at Khanbalik, they were regaled at several other banquets, where plays were acted, much surpassing that now mentioned.

On the seventeenth of the month Zu'lhajjeh, all the criminals were carried to be punished according to the nature of their offences, and as prescribed by the laws. The twenty-fifth of Moharram, Mulana Kadhi Yusof sent to acquaint the ambassadors that next day, being the first of the new year, according to the reckoning of the Kathayans, the emperor was to go to his new palace, and that no person must wear white, as that was the dress of mourning in this country. On the twenty-eighth, at midnight, the Sekjin came to conduct them to the new palace, which had been nineteen years building, and was only newly finished. Every person had his house or shop illuminated, with torches, lanterns, candles, and lamps, so that it appeared as light as noon-day. At the palace they found an hundred thousand people, who had come from all parts of Kathay, the countries of Tachin and Machin, Kalmak, Kabul, Karakoja, Jurga, and the sea coasts. This day the ambassadors tables were set out of the hall where the throne stood, while those of the Amirs, or great officers and lords of the court were within; and there were near two hundred thousand armed men, carrying umbrellas and bucklers. This feast lasted till the afternoon, and among the music were many songs in praise of the new palace. To give some idea of this superb structure, it may be mentioned that, from the gate of the hall to the first inclosure, measured 1925 paces. On each side are buildings and gardens one within another. The edifices were of freestone, porcelain, or marble, so delicately put together that they seemed inchased. There are many hundred cubits of pavement, the stones of which are so even and well joined, that they looked like the checkered ruling in books. Nothing in other countries can equal the Kathayans in masonry, joiner-work, making relievos or raised figures in plaster, and in painting.

The ambassadors were called early to audience, on the ninth of the month Safar; the emperor having then come out from a retirement of eight days; for it is his custom to retire every year for some days, during which he eats no kind of victuals and abstains from going near his ladies, neither does he, during all that time, see or converse with any one. In this retirement, the emperor has no picture or idol of any of his gods; as during this period, all his devotions are addressed solely to the GOD of Heaven. On this occasion, the imperial elephants were all adorned in a style of magnificence, which is quite inexpressible; many of them having silver seats, like litters, on their backs, adorned with standards of seven different colours, and the seats were filled with armed men; fifty of the elephants carried the imperial musicians. This grand procession of elephants was preceded, or followed, by at least 50,000 persons, who all preserved the most exact order, and the most profound silence. In all this pomp and splendour, the emperor was conducted from, the place of his religious retirement to the female apartments of the palace.

The court astrologers had predicted that the palace of the emperor was this year to suffer by fire, on which account, a solemnity, accompanied by splendid fireworks and illuminations, was exhibited during seven days. On this occasion, an artificial mount was erected in the middle of the imperial court, covered all over with branches of cypress, and planted with 100,000 torches; by means of little artificial mice, made of bitumen or wild fire, which ran along a number of ropes, fixed for the purpose, these torches were all lighted up in a moment, forming a wonderful blaze of lights from the bottom of the mountain to the top; and many other lights appeared all over the city. During all the seven days of this festival, no criminals were sought after; the emperor discharged all debtors under arrest for debt, and set free all persons in prison for crimes, except murderers, and he distributed large presents. All this was notified on the thirteenth of the month Safer, by an imperial edict or proclamation, the emperor being seated on his throne, in the grand kiosk, or pavilion of the first court, surrounded by more than 100,000 persons; and in this edict, the emperor notified that he would send no ambassadors to any country during three years. After this edict had been read aloud by three officers of the court, who stood on a bench before the emperor, it was conveyed down from the pavilion into the court below, by means of rings fastened to yellow silk cords; and, being reverently placed on a board with a golden border, it was carried to the city, followed by music, and accompanied by a multitude of the people. After the conclusion of this ceremony, the emperor left the pavilion, and the ambassadors were feasted, as at other times.

On the first of the month Rabiya-al-awal, the ambassadors were again called to court before the emperor, who had several Shankars[1] brought in, which he said he meant to give to those who had presented him with good horses; and at this time, he caused three to be given to each of the ambassadors of the Mirza Ulug-Beg, Mirza Baysangar, and Sultan Shah-Rokh. Next day he sent for them again; when, addressing himself to Arjak, the ambassador of Mirza Siurgatmish, he said, "I have no Shankar to give you; and even if I had, I should not give you any, lest it should be taken from you, as was done from Ardeshir, a former ambassador from your, master." To this Arjak made answer: "If your majesty will do me that honour, I will engage my word that no person shall take it from me." To this the emperor replied: "On that condition I will give you two, which I have ordered to be brought for that purpose." On the eighth day of the month, the ambassadors of Soltan Shah, and Bakshi Malek were sent for, to receive the Shankish, or imperial present. The first received eight balish of silver,[2] thirty furred imperial vestments, twenty-four under-petticoats,[3] two horses, one of which was provided with furniture, 100 bundles of cane arrows, twenty-five great porcelain vases, and 5000 ***.[4] Bakshi Malek had as much, bating one balish of silver; the women belonging to the ambassadors had no silver given them, but they each received half the quantity of stuffs that had been given to their lords. On the thirteenth of the same month, the ambassadors were sent for to court, when the emperor said to them: "I am going to hunt; take your shankars, therefore, which fly well, and divert yourselves; but the horses you brought me are good for nothing." About this time, the emperor's son returned from the country of Nemray, and the ambassadors went to pay their compliments to him in his particular court, to the east of the imperial palace, where they found him seated in state, amid his attendants, and having his table served in the same manner with that of the emperor.

On the first of the month Rabiya-al-akher, the ambassadors received notice to go to meet the emperor, who was then on his return from hunting; and, on getting on horseback before day for that purpose, they found Mulana Kazi Yusof waiting for them at the door of their hotel, in great dejection. Inquiring the cause, he told them privately that the emperor had been thrown in hunting from the horse they had presented him from Shah Rokh, and had given orders that they should be carried in chains to certain cities in the east of Kathay. The ambassadors were much afflicted at this news, and continued their journey for about twenty miles to the emperors camp. At this place, the Kathayans had in one night inclosed a plot of ground 500 paces square, with walls ten feet high. This wall was composed of earth, hard pressed down between two planks, as in a mould, leaving two gates; and the place whence the earth was dug, served for a ditch. There were strong guards posted at both of the gates, and other soldiers posted along the ditch. Within this outer inclosure, there were two others, each twenty-five cubits high, formed of yellow satin, supported upon square posts and all set round with tents of yellow satin. When the ambassadors were arrived within 500 paces of the imperial quarters, Mulana Cazi Yusof desired them to alight, and wait for the emperor, while he went forwards to the presence. The emperor was on the point of giving orders for having the ambassadors arrested, when Lidaji and Jandaji, officers named Setalid and Jik-fu in the Kathayan or Chinese language, who stood before the emperor, and Kazi Yusof, fell prostrate before him, entreating him not to proceed to that extremity, as it might have very bad consequences to put them to death, and would give occasion for the world to say that the emperor had violated the law of nations in the persons of these ambassadors. The emperor at length yielded to their reasons and entreaties, and Kazi Yusof went with great joy to let them know that they were pardoned. The emperor even condescended to send them victuals; but, being mixed with pork, they could not eat of it, on account of their religion.

Afterwards, the emperor approached, mounted on a great black horse, with white feet, richly caparisoned with brocade housings, which had been sent to him by Mirza Uleg Beg, and having two attendants on each side at the saddle-bow. He was dressed in a vest of rich gold brocade on a red ground, and had his beard inclosed in a bag of black satin. The emperor marched slowly forwards, followed by his women, who were carried by men in seven covered litters, after whom came a large covered litter, carried by seventy men. A body of horse marched in squadrons before the emperor, each squadron twenty paces asunder, and the cavalcade reached all the way to the city. The emperor rode in the middle, attended by ten Dajis, or governors of provinces, and by the three lords who had so warmly pled in flavour of the ambassadors. When the emperor drew near, Kazi Jusof, one of these friendly lords, came up and ordered the ambassadors to prostrate themselves; and when they had done so, the emperor ordered them to arise and mount their horses, and to accompany him. Then turning to them, he thus addressed Shadi Khoja, one of the ambassadors: "The presents, rarities, horses, and wild beasts which are sent to me in future must be better chosen, in order to preserve and increase the amity which I have for your princes. At the hunt, I mounted the horse which you presented me; but he is so vicious, and I am so old, that he threw me, by which I was wounded, and have received a contusion on my head, which gave me great anguish; but by laying much gold on the place, the pain is assuaged." Upon this, Shadi Khoja said, that it was the horse on which the great Amir Timid Karkan[5] used to ride; and that Shah Rokh, who kept him as a rarity, had sent him to the emperor, as the most valuable horse in all his dominion. Being satisfied with this apology, the emperor called for a shaker, which he let fly at a crane; but on the bird returning, without seizing his prey, the emperor gave it three strokes on the head. He then alighted from his horse, and sat down in a chair, resting his feet on another, and gave a shaker to Soltan Shah, and another to Soltan Ahmed, but none to Shadi Khoja. After this he mounted his horse, and as he approached towards the city, was received by vast crowds of people with a thousand acclamations.

On the fourth of the before named month, the ambassadors were brought to court to receive their presents from the emperor; who was seated on his throne, and caused tables to be set before him, on which the presents were displayed. These were much of the same nature with those already mentioned, which were given to Soltan Shah, and Bakshi Malek. Sometime afterwards, the most beloved of the emperor's wives died, and her death was made public on the eighth day of the month Jomada-al-awal, the next day being appointed for her interment. The ladies belonging to the imperial family are buried, on a certain mountain, on which all the horses that belonged to them are turned out to graze at liberty for the rest of their lives. At the same time, several maidens and Khojas of the palace, who had belonged to the retinue of the deceased, are placed in attendance on the grave, having provisions allowed them to subsist upon for five years, perhaps more; and when their victuals are expended, they are permitted to die of famine. But on the ensuing night, the new palace took fire, not without suspicion of the astrologers having a hand in it. By this misfortune, the principal apartment, which was eighty cubits long, and thirty cubits broad, adorned with pillars, painted blue, and richly varnished, so large that three men could hardly grasp them, was entirely consumed. From thence, the flames communicated to a kiosk or gallery of twenty fathoms, and to the apartment of the ladies, which was still more magnificent. By this fire, 250 houses were destroyed, and several men and women lost their lives.[6] The emperor and his Amirs did not consider that this chastisement fell upon them for being infidels. On the contrary, the emperor went to an idol temple,[7] where he said on his knees, "The GOD of Heaven is angry with me, and therefore hath burned my palace. Yet have I done no evil; for I have neither offended my father nor my mother, nor can I be charged with the exercise of any tyranny on my people."

The emperor was so deeply affected by these untoward circumstances, that he fell sick, and the prince his son assumed the administration of the government, and gave the ambassadors an audience of leave;[8] after which, they received no farther subsistence from the court, till their departure. They left Kham-balik on the fifteenth of the month Jomada-al-awal, accompanied by certain dajis from the court; and they were lodged and treated with all necessaries on their return, in the same manner as they had been on their journey to court. They arrived on the first of Rajeb at the city of Nikian,[9] where the magistrates came out to meet them, but did not search their baggage, as is customary there, as they had an express order from the emperor to the contrary. On the day after their arrival at that place, they were magnificently feasted. On the fifth of Shaaban, thirty-five days afterwards, they reached the river Karamuran, Whang-ho, or Hoang-ho; and on the twenty-fifth of that month arrived at Kamju,[10] where they had left their servants, and heavy baggage; where every thing that they had committed to the custody of the Kathayan officers, when on their journey to the capital, was faithfully restored. After remaining seventy-five days in this place, they resumed their journey, and came soon afterwards to Nang-tschieu, or Nang-chew.[11] At this place, or rather at Sa-chew, they met with ambassadors from Ispahan and Shiras in Persia, on their way to Khambalik, who told them that they had met with many difficulties on their journey.

As the roads through the country of the Mongals were very unsafe, owing to confusions and civil wars among the hordes, they remained ten months at So-chew, whence they set out at full moon in the month of Moharram, of the year 825 of the Hegira,[12] and came in a few days to the Karaul at the pass leading into the desert, where their baggage was searched. Leaving this place on the nineteenth of Moharram, on purpose to avoid the obstacles and dangers they were likely to encounter, on account of intestine war among the tribes of the Mongals, they took the road through the desert,[13] where they suffered much distress on account of the scarcity of water. They got out from the desert on the sixteenth of Rabiya-al-awal, and arrived at the city of Khoten[14] on the ninth of Jomada-al-akher. Continuing their journey from thence, they came to the city of Kashgar[15] on the sixth of Rajeb. On the twenty-first of the same month, the ambassadors separated a little way beyond the city of Endkoien,[16, some taking the road towards Samarkand, and the rest directing their way for Badakshan. Those of Shah Rokh arrived at the castle of Shadman on the twenty-first of Shaaban; at Balkh on the first of Ramazan; and on the tenth of that month at Herat, the residence of their sovereign.

[1] Shankars, Shonkers, or Shongars, are birds of prey, famous among the Tartars, and may probably have been the most esteemed species of falcon, and which are said to have been white.--Astl.
[2] These silver balishes seem to have come in place of the paper money of the emperors of the race of Zingis, formerly mentioned; but its value is nowhere described.--E.
[3] This surely must be an error for under-garments--E.
[4] In Forsters account of these travels, the blank in the text is filled up with Dzjau, or Tzjau; which he supposes to have been tea, and that the numbers refer to certain Chinese weights or packages of that commodity. Forster adds, that small pieces of tin were given to the ambassadors, to some twenty-four, and to others as far as seventy pieces; and he says that Witsen left many of the articles enumerated in the original untranslated, as not understanding the terms.--Forst.
[5] This is the famous Timur-Beg, or Tamerlane the Great.--Astl.
[6] In the abstract of these travels, as given by Forster, this fire is said to have been caused by lightning.--E.
[7] It is to be remarked, that the author of these travels was a Mahometan. The circumstances of the idol temple, says the editor of Astleys Collection, seems malicious; as, in his opinion, there are no images in the imperial temples of Pe-king. I suspect the editor is mistaken; for however strongly the philosophical sect of Confucius may be convinced of the absurdity of idolatry, the religion of Fo is as grossly idolatrous as any on the face of the earth; and it is to be noticed, that the dynasty then reigning in China was native.--E.
[8] The emperor died in the same year; but after the departure of the ambassadors.--Astl.
[9] No such name can be found among the cities of Pe-che-li or Shan-si--Astl.
In the abstract given by Forster, this place is called Sekan or Segaan; named in the maps Sigan-fou, or more properly Si-Ngan-Fou.--E.
[10] Or Kan-chew, in the province of Shen-si; otherwise called Kam-tsiu, or Kan-tcheou, on the river Etchine.--Forst.
[11] This name is probably erroneously substituted for Sou-chew; as that is the regular station for retracing their former journey, which the text distinctly indicates to have been the case hitherto.--E.
[12] This month began on Thursday the twenty-fifth December, 1421.--Astl.
According to Forster, they recommenced their journey in the month of January, 1421.--E.
[13] Probably taking their route by the lake of Lop, to the south of Little Bucharia.--Astl.
[14] Called likewise Koton, Khateen, and Hotam, in Little Bucharia, or Eastern Turkistan.--E.
[15] Named likewise Khasiger, Kashar, Cashgar, and Hasiker.--Forst.
[16] Probably the same with Anghein, on the river Sir.--Astl.
In Forster's abstract, this place is called Andigan, and the names of Andischdan and Dedschan are said to be synonymous.--E.


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