The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 3/Chapter 3

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What Further Came of the Great Kaan's Expedition Against Chipangu[edit]

You see those who were left upon the Island, some 30,000 souls, as I have said, did hold themselves for dead men, for they saw no possible means of escape. And when the King of the Great Island got news how the one part of the expedition had saved themselves upon that Isle, and the other part was scattered and fled, he was right glad thereat, and he gathered together all the ships of his territory and proceeded with them, the sea now being calm, to the little Isle, and landed his troops all round it. And when the Tartars saw them thus arrive, and the whole force landed, without any guard having been left on board the ships (the act of men very little acquainted with such work), they had the sagacity to feign flight. [Now the Island was very high in the middle, and whilst the enemy were hastening after them by one road they fetched a compass by another and] in this way managed to reach the enemy's ships and to get aboard of them. This they did easily enough, for they encountered no opposition.

Once they were on board they got under weigh immediately for the great Island, and landed there, carrying with them the standards and banners of the King of the Island; and in this wise they advanced to the capital. The garrison of the city, suspecting nothing wrong, when they saw their own banners advancing supposed that it was their own host returning, and so gave them admittance. The Tartars as soon as they had got in seized all the bulwarks and drove out all who were in the place except the pretty women, and these they kept for themselves. In this way the Great Kaan's people got possession of the city.

When the King of the great Island and his army perceived that both fleet and city were lost, they were greatly cast down; howbeit, they got away to the great Island on board some of the ships which had not been carried off. And the King then gathered all his host to the siege of the city, and invested it so straitly that no one could go in or come out. Those who were within held the place for seven months, and strove by all means to send word to the Great Kaan; but it was all in vain, they never could get the intelligence carried to him. So when they saw they could hold out no longer they gave themselves up, on condition that their lives should be spared, but still that they should never quit the Island. And this befel in the year of our Lord 1279.[1] The Great Kaan ordered the Baron who had fled so disgracefully to lose his head. And afterwards he caused the other also, who had been left on the Island, to be put to death, for he had never behaved as a good soldier ought to do.[2]

But I must tell you a wonderful thing that I had forgotten, which happened on this expedition.

You see, at the beginning of the affair, when the Kaan's people had landed on the great Island and occupied the open country as I told you, they stormed a tower belonging to some of the islanders who refused to surrender, and they cut off the heads of all the garrison except eight; on these eight they found it impossible to inflict any wound! Now this was by virtue of certain stones which they had in their arms inserted between the skin and the flesh, with such skill as not to show at all externally. And the charm and virtue of these stones was such that those who wore them could never perish by steel. So when the Barons learned this they ordered the men to be beaten to death with clubs. And after their death the stones were extracted from the bodies of all, and were greatly prized.[3]

Now the story of the discomfiture of the Great Kaan's folk came to pass as I have told you. But let us have done with that matter, and return to our subject.






  1. 1.0 1.1 Kublai had long hankered after the conquest of Japan, or had at least, after his fashion, desired to obtain an acknowledgment of supremacy from the Japanese sovereign. He had taken steps in this view as early as 1266, but entirely without success. The fullest accessible particulars respecting his efforts are contained in the Japanese Annals translated by Titsing; and these are in complete accordance with the Chinese histories as given by Gaubil, De Mailla, and in Pauthier's extracts, so far as these three latter enter into particulars. But it seems clear from the comparison that the Japanese chronicler had the Chinese Annals in his hands.

    In 1268, 1269, 1270, and 1271, Kublai's efforts were repeated to little purpose, and, provoked at this, in 1274, he sent a fleet of 300 vessels with 15,000 men against Japan. This was defeated near the Island of Tsushima with heavy loss.

    Nevertheless Kublai seems in the following years to have renewed his attempts at negotiation. The Japanese patience was exhausted, and, in 1280, they put one of his ambassadors to death.

    "As soon as the Moko (Mongols) heard of this, they assembled a considerable army to conquer Japan. When informed of their preparations, the Dairi sent ambassadors to Ize and other temples to invoke the gods. Fosiono Toki Mune, who resided at Kama Kura, ordered troops to assemble at Tsukuzi (Tsikouzen of Alcock's Map), and sent ... numerous detachments to Miyako to guard the Dairi and the Togou (Heir Apparent) against all danger.... In the first moon (of 1281) the Mongols named Asikan (Ngo Tsa-han), Fan-bunko (Fan Wen-hu), Kinto (Hintu), and Kosakio (Hung Cha-khieu), Generals of their army, which consisted of 100,000 men, and was embarked on numerous ships of war. Asikan fell ill on the passage, and this made the second General (Fan Wen-hu) undecided as to his course.

    "7th Month. The entire fleet arrived at the Island of Firando (P'hing-hu), and passed thence to Goriosan (Ulungshan). The troops of Tsukuzi were under arms. 1st of 3rd Month. A frightful storm arose; the Mongol ships foundered or were sorely shattered. The General (Fan Wen-hu) fled with the other Generals on the vessels that had least suffered; nobody has ever heard what became of them. The army of 100,000 men, which had landed below Goriosan, wandered about for three days without provisions; and the soldiers began to plan the building of vessels in which they might escape to China.

    "7th day. The Japanese army invested and attacked them with great vigour. The Mongols were totally defeated. 30,000 of them were made prisoners and conducted to Fakata (the Fokouoka of Alcock's Map, but Fakatta in Kaempfer's), and there put to death. Grace was extended to only (three men), who were sent to China with the intelligence of the fate of the army. The destruction of so numerous a fleet was considered the most evident proof of the protection of the gods." (Titsingh, pp. 264-265.) At p. 259 of the same work Klaproth gives another account from the Japanese Encyclopaedia; the difference is not material.

    The Chinese Annals, in De Mailla, state that the Japanese spared 10,000 or 12,000 of the Southern Chinese, whom they retained as slaves. Gaubil says that 30,000 Mongols were put to death, whilst 70,000 Coreans and Chinese were made slaves.

    Kublai was loth to put up with this huge discomfiture, and in 1283 he made preparations for another expedition; but the project excited strong discontent; so strong that some Buddhist monks whom he sent before to collect information, were thrown overboard by the Chinese sailors; and he gave it up. (De Mailla, IX. 409; 418, 428; Gaubil, 195; Deguignes, III. 177.)

    [Illustration: Japanese in fight with Chinese. (After Siebold, from an ancient Japanese drawing.)

    "Or ensint avint ceste estoire de la desconfiture de les gens dou Grant Kaan."]

    The Abacan of Polo is probably the Asikan of the Japanese, whom Gaubil calls Argan. Vonsainchin is perhaps Fan Wen-hu with the Chinese title of Tsiang-Kiun or General (elsewhere represented in Polo by Sangon), --FAN TSIANG-KIUN.

    We see that, as usual, whilst Marco's account in some of the main features concurs with that of the histories, he gives a good many additional particulars, some of which, such as the ill-will between the Generals, are no doubt genuine. But of the story of the capture of the Japanese capital by the shipwrecked army we know not what to make: we can't accept it certainly.

    [The Korea Review publishes a History of Korea based upon Korean and Chinese sources, from which we gather some interesting facts regarding the relations of China, Korea, and Japan at the time of Kublai: "In 1265, the seed was sown that led to the attempted invasion of Japan by the Mongols. A Koryu citizen, Cho I., found his way to Peking, and there, having gained the ear of the emperor, told him that the Mongol powers ought to secure the vassalage of Japan. The emperor listened favourably and determined to make advances in that direction. He therefore appointed Heuk Chuk and Eun Hong as envoys to Japan, and ordered them to go by way of Koryu and take with them to Japan a Koryu envoy as well. Arriving in Koryu they delivered this message to the king, and two officials, Son Kun-bi and Kim Ch'an, were appointed to accompany them to Japan. They proceeded by the way of Koje Harbor in Kyung-sang Province, but were driven back by a fierce storm, and the king sent the Mongol envoys back to Peking. The Emperor was ill satisfied with the outcome of the adventure, and sent Heuk Chuk with a letter to the king, ordering him to forward the Mongol envoy to Japan. The message which he was to deliver to the ruler of Japan said, 'The Mongol power is kindly disposed towards you and desires to open friendly intercourse with you. She does not desire your submission, but if you accept her patronage, the great Mongol empire will cover the earth.' The king forwarded the message with the envoys to Japan, and informed the emperor of the fact.... The Mongol and Koryu envoys, upon reaching the Japanese capital, were treated with marked disrespect.... They remained five months, ... and at last they were dismissed without receiving any answer either to the emperor or to the king." (II. pp. 37, 38.)

    Such was the beginning of the difficulties with Japan; this is the end of them: "The following year, 1283, changed the emperor's purpose. He had time to hear the whole story of the sufferings of his army in the last invasion; the impossibility of squeezing anything more out of Koryu, and the delicate condition of home affairs, united in causing him to give up the project of conquering Japan, and he countermanded the order for the building of boats and the storing of grain." (II. p. 82.)

    Japan was then, for more than a century (A.D. 1205-1333), governed really in the name of the descendants of Yoritomo, who proved unworthy of their great ancestor "by the so-called 'Regents' of the Hojo family, while their liege lords, the Shoguns, though keeping a nominal court at Kamakura, were for all that period little better than empty names. So completely were the Hojos masters of the whole country, that they actually had their deputy governors at Kyoto and in Kyushu in the south-west, and thought nothing of banishing Mikados to distant islands. Their rule was made memorable by the repulse of the Mongol fleet sent by Kublai Khan with the purpose of adding Japan to his gigantic dominions. This was at the end of the 13th century, since which time Japan has never been attacked from without." (B. H. Chamberlain, Things Japanese, 3rd ed., 1898, pp. 208-209.)

    The sovereigns (Mikado, Tenno) of Japan during this period were: Kameyama-Tenno (1260; abdicated 1274; repulse of the Mongols); Go-Uda-Tenno (1275; abdicated 1287); Fushimi-Tenno (1288; abdicated 1298); and Go-Fushimi Tenno. The shikken (prime ministers) were Hojo Tokiyori (1246); Hojo Tokimune (1261); Hojo Sadatoki (1284). In 1266 Prince Kore-yasu and in 1289 Hisa-akira, were appointed shogun. --H.C.]

  2. 2.0 2.1 Ram. says he was sent to a certain island called Zorza (Chorcha?), where men who have failed in duty are put to death in this manner: They wrap the arms of the victim in the hide of a newly flayed buffalo, and sew it tight. As this dries it compresses him so terribly that he cannot move, and so, finding no help, his life ends in misery. The same kind of torture is reported of different countries in the East: e.g. see Makrizi, Pt. III. p. 108, and Pottinger, as quoted by Marsden in loco. It also appears among the tortures of a Buddhist hell as represented in a temple at Canton. (Oliphant's Narrative, I. 168.)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Like devices to procure invulnerability are common in the Indo-Chinese countries. The Burmese sometimes insert pellets of gold under the skin with this view. At a meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1868, gold and silver coins were shown, which had been extracted from under the skin of a Burmese convict who had been executed at the Andaman Islands. Friar Odoric speaks of the practice in one of the Indian Islands (apparently Borneo); and the stones possessing such virtue were, according to him, found in the bamboo, presumably the siliceous concretions called Tabashir. Conti also describes the practice in Java of inserting such amulets under the skin. The Malays of Sumatra, too, have great faith in the efficacy of certain "stones, which they pretend are extracted from reptiles, birds, animals, etc., in preventing them from being wounded." (See Mission to Ava, p. 208; Cathay, 94; Conti, p. 32; Proc. As. Soc. Beng. 1868, p. 116; Andarson's Mission to Sumatra, p. 323.)