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0492 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 492 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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476   183. COTTON

chi-ch'êng is enough to show that Chinese scholars could never form a clear theory as to the identification of the various t'ung species mentioned in ancient works. As to the present wut'ung, alias po-t'ung, the « soaking » (yen-tzii) is perplexing; as the same term occurs in the

quotation from the Kuang-chih, it is not probable that   tzû should be regarded as a corrupt
reduplication, subsequently enlarged into yen-tzu, of the SA chi that follows. It may be, after all, that, in the 3rd cent., the natives of south-western China had a special method of preparing the cotton floss for weaving. But, since cloth was made out of it, I hold that the silk-cotton tree is practically excluded; on the other hand, the designation wu-t'ung cannot refer to a plant, but at least to a small tree. My conclusion is that the so-called wu-t'ung tree of the Hua-yang kuo chih and the Hou-Han shu may be no other than the cotton tree, Gossypium arboreum, and that the po-tieh of the Ai-lao may be the cloth which was woven from its floss.

I have said that then t'ung of the Shu-tu fu was certainly the same as the fI7 t'ung of the Hua-yang kuo chih and the Hou-Han shu, so that it must also be a designation of the cotton tree. Curiously enough, this identification seems to have been made by some mediaeval scholars, since an author of the Mongol period, ß,► -A, Ch'ên Kao (a native of Wên-chou in Chê-Chiang, doctor in

1354, 1356; cf. Ssû-k'u ... , 168, 6 a), has written a poem entitled   /E Chung t'ung-hua,
« Sowing t'ung flowers » (cf. T'u-shu chi-ch'êng, ts'ao-mu tien, 303, i-wên, 2 a), which unmistakably refers to Gossypium arboreum : its location in the south (h If yen fang), its cultivation in the place of silkworms and mulberries, the care with which the young plants are attended, their full size of three feet, the yellow flowers and the white floss, finally the weaving into cloth for garments, all leave no doubt as to the identity. For once, it was a fortunate inspiration on the part of the compilers of the T'u-shu chi-ch'êng to include this poem not in the chapters on the jj t'ung trees like the passages concerning the wu-t'ung of the Hua-yang kuo-chih and Hou-Han shu, but among the notices on cotton.

To account for the use of fl t'ung, or 4J t'ung, or 4; t7 wu-t'ung as early designations of the cotton tree, we must remember that, when the Chinese, in their advance through new countries, found unknown products, they had either to borrow their foreign names, or to use, as an equivalent, a Chinese term already referred to something more or less similar. This was how, for instance, they gave the name Jjj fj hu-t'ung, « t'ung of the Hu », and even sometimes wu-t'ung, to the balsampoplar, Populus balsamifera, of Central Asia (cf. LAUFER, Sino-Iranica, 339). I am

convinced that they did the same for the cotton tree of Yün-nan, the more so since one at least of the t'ung trees was said to resemble mu-mien (cf. supra, p. 462), and that such a loose approximation accounts to a great extent for the difficulties of identification they vainly tried to overcome later on. On the other hand, the « t'ung flowers » and « t'ung flower cloth » of Yüan and Ming times were merely archaistic survivals. From T'ang times, a new name for the cotton tree of Yün-nan had been adopted; it was called the « so-lo tree ».

We have found this use of so-lo in the Man shu and, in a corrupt form, in the Hsin T'ang

shu. But there are other ancient examples of it. The T'ai-p'ing kuang-chi (406, 3 a) has preserved a long extract (the T'u-shu chi-ch'êng, ts'ao-mu tien, 312, 1 a-b, gives only the first part) from a T'ang work, the Li-chou T'ung-wang hsien t'u-Ching, or «Monograph of the district of T'ung-wang of Li-chou » (south-west of the modern Ya-chou in Ssû-ch'uan) ; this extract is