be slain, He also sent into the West his faithful and blessed servants, Dominic and Francis, to enlighten, instruct, and build up in the faith.” Whatever on the whole may be thought of the world's debt to Dominic, it is to the two mendicant orders, but especially to the Franciscans, that we owe a vast amount of information about mediæval Asia, and, among other things, the first mention of Cathay. Among the many strangers who reached Mongolia were (1245–47) John de Piano Carpini (see Carpini) and (1253) William of Rubruk (Rubruquis) in French Flanders, both Franciscan friars of high intelligence, who happily have left behind them reports of their observations.
Carpini, after mentioning the wars of Jenghiz against the Kitai, goes on to speak of that people as follows:—“Now these Kitai are heathen men, and have a written character of their own. . . . They seem, indeed, to be kindly and polished folks enough. They have no beard, and in character of countenance have a considerable resemblance to the Mongols” [are Mongoloid, as our ethnologists would say], “but are not so broad in the face. They have a peculiar language. Their betters as craftsmen in every art practised by man are not to be found in the whole world. Their country is very rich in corn, in wine, in gold and silver, in silk, and in every kind of produce tending to the support of mankind.” The notice of Rubruk, shrewder and more graphic, runs thus:—”Further on is Great Cathay, which I take to be the country which was anciently called the Land of the Seres. For the best silk stuffs are still got from them. . . . The sea lies between it and India. Those Cathayans are little fellows, speaking much through the nose, and, as is general with all those Eastern people, their eyes are very narrow. They are first-rate artists in every kind, and their physicians have a thorough knowledge of the virtues of herbs, and an admirable skill in diagnosis by the pulse. . . . The common money of Cathay consists of pieces of cotton-paper, about a palm in length and breadth, upon which certain lines are printed, resembling the seal of Mangu Khán. They do their writing with a pencil, such as painters paint with, and a single character of theirs comprehends several letters, so as to form a whole word." Here we have not only what is probably the first European notice of paper-money, but a partial recognition of the peculiarity of Chinese writing, and a perception that puts to shame the perverse boggling of later critics over the identity of these Cathayans with the Seres of classic fame.
But though these travellers saw Cathayans in the bazaars of the Great Khan’s camps, the first actual visitors of Cathay itself were the Polo family (see Polo, Marco), and it is to the book of Marco’s recollections mainly that Cathay owed the growing familiarity of its name in Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries. It is, however, a great mistake to suppose, as has often been assumed, that the residence of the Polos in that country remained an isolated fact. They were but the pioneers of a very considerable intercourse, which endured till the decay of the Mongol dynasty in Cathay, i.e., for about half a century.
We have no evidence that either in the 13th or 14th century Cathayans, i.e., Chinese, ever reached Europe, but it is possible that some did, at least, in the former century. For, during the campaigns of Hulaku in Persia (1256–1265), and the reigns of his successors, Chinese engineers were employed on the banks of the Tigris, and Chinese astrologers and physicians could be consulted at Tabriz. Many diplomatic communications passed between the Hulakuid Ilkhans and the princes of Christendom. The former, as the great Khan's liegemen, still received from him their seals of state; and two of their letters which survive in the archives of France exhibit the vermilion impressions of those seals in Chinese characters, perhaps affording the earliest specimen of that character which reached Western Europe.
Just as the Polos were reaching their native city (1295), after an absence of quarter of a century, the forerunner of a new series of travellers was entering Southern China by way of the Indian seas. This was John of Monte Corvino, another Franciscan who, already some fifty years of age, was plunging single-handed into that great ocean of Paganism to preach the gospel according to his lights. After years of uphill and solitary toil converts began to multiply; coadjutors joined him. The Papal See became cognizant of the harvest that was being reaped in the far East. It made Friar John Archbishop in Cambaluc (or Peking), with patriarchal authority, and sent him batches of suffragan bishops and preachers of his own order. The Roman Church spread; churches and Minorite houses were established at Cambaluc, at Zayton or Tswan-chow in Fuh-keen, at Yang-chow, and elsewhere; and the missions flourished under the smile of the Great Khan, as the Jesuit missions did for a time under the Manchu emperors three centuries and a half later. Archbishop John was followed to the grave, about 1328, by mourning multitudes of Pagans and Christians alike. Several of the bishops and friars who served under him have left letters or other memoranda of their experience, e.g., Andrew, bishop of Zayton, John of Cora, afterwards archbishop of Sultania in Persia, and Odoric of Pordenone, whose fame as a pious traveller won from the vox populi at his funeral a beatification which the church was fain to seal. The only ecclesiastical narrative regarding Cathay, of which we are aware, subsequent to the time of Archbishop John, is that which has been gathered from the recollections of John de Marignolli, a Florentine Franciscan, who was sent by Pope Benedict XII. with a mission to the Great Khan, in return for one from that potentate which arrived at Avignon from Cathay in 1338, and who spent four years (1342–46) at the court of Cambaluc as legate of the Holy See. These recollections are found in a singular position, dispersed incoherently over a chronicle of Bohemia which the traveller wrote by order of the emperor Charles IV., whose chaplain he was after his return.
But intercourse during the period in question was not confined to ecclesiastical channels. Commerce also grew up, and flourished for a time even along the vast line that stretches from Genoa and Florence to the marts of Chĕ-keang and Fuh-keen. The record is very fragmentary and imperfect, but many circumstances and incidental notices show how frequently the remote East was reached by European traders in the first half of the 14th century,—a state of things which it is very difficult to realize when we see how all those regions, when reopened to knowledge two centuries later, seemed to be discoveries as new as the empires which, about the same time, Cortes and Pizarro were conquering in the West.