Marco Polo’s descriptions of Khanbalu (also known as Cambaluc or Khanbaliq) emphasize several key aspects of the city and its surroundings:
Size and Grandeur: Polo emphasizes the enormous size and grandeur of Khanbalu, describing it as one of the greatest cities in the world. He highlights its massive walls, splendid palaces, and extensive markets.
Infrastructure and Architecture: Polo describes the city’s well-planned streets, bridges, and canals facilitating trade and transportation. He mentions the city’s impressive architecture, including the palace of the Great Khan.
Economic Prosperity: Polo emphasizes the city’s bustling markets and flourishing economy. He describes the abundance of goods, including silk, gold, silver, and precious stones, contributing to the city’s wealth.
Cultural Diversity: Polo notes the city’s cultural diversity, highlighting the presence of people from various ethnic backgrounds, including Chinese, Mongols, and foreigners from different regions.
Administration and Governance: Polo discusses the organized governance of the city, including its administrative structure and the presence of officials responsible for maintaining order and overseeing trade.
Regarding the different groups of people living in Greater Khan-balik (modern-day Beijing), Polo describes a well-organized and segregated society:
Mongols: The Mongols, including the ruling elite and military personnel, inhabited specific city sections, reflecting their central role in the Yuan Dynasty’s governance.
Chinese: The Chinese population lived in their own designated areas, with distinct neighborhoods, markets, and communities. Polo notes the contrast between the Chinese neighborhoods and those of other ethnic groups.
Foreigners: Khanbalu was a cosmopolitan city with a significant population of foreigners, including merchants, diplomats, and travelers. Polo mentions that these foreigners were organized in their own districts, contributing to the city’s multicultural environment.
Ethnic Segregation: Polo’s descriptions suggest that different ethnic groups were generally segregated in specific parts of the city, reflecting the Yuan Dynasty’s policy of organizing and governing various populations separately.
Marco Polo likely focused on the issues he described for several reasons:
Trade and Wealth: Polo’s descriptions of Khanbalu’s economic prosperity and bustling markets would have captured the interest of European readers who were intrigued by the potential for trade and wealth in the East.
Cultural Differences: The diverse population of Khanbalu and the mingling of different cultures were of great interest to Polo’s audience, as they offered insights into the lifestyles and customs of people from faraway lands.
Administrative Structure: Polo’s detailed descriptions of the city’s governance and administrative organization provided valuable information about how a vast empire like the Yuan Dynasty was managed.
Exoticism and Wonder: Polo’s descriptions of Khanbalu’s size, architecture, and cultural diversity contributed to a sense of wonder and exoticism, which likely appealed to his readers’ curiosity about far-off lands.
Comparisons with Western Cities: By emphasizing the opulence, scale, and organized infrastructure of Khanbalu, Polo may have been drawing comparisons with Western cities to illustrate the magnificence of the East.
In essence, Marco Polo’s focus on these issues conveyed a vivid and captivating portrayal of Khanbalu and the broader Mongol Empire, enticing his readers with tales of a distant and fascinating world.