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0560 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 560 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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544   184. COWRIES

as ornaments for mirrors, and painters as polishers ». The second part of the last sentence may be due to a confusion with the tzû pei. As to the first part, it has a counterpart in another work of Sung times, the fig a N. Êrh-ya i, which says of cowries (cf. T'u-shu chi-ch'êng, ch'in-ch'ung-tien, 156, 5 a) : « At present they are only used by barbers, as an ornament for mirror-belts (r.; ching-tai) ». I suppose the custom of the barbers was to hang a mirror at the waist.

But these same cowries, for which China had so little use under the Sung, turn up again in Chinese texts during the Mongol period, as the common currency of Yün-nan; Chinese

statements are here in full agreement with those of Polo. Curiously enough, the   Man
shu, written in 864, which provides so much valuable information on the customs of the aborigines of Yün-nan, is silent about shell currency. It merely speaks of the necklaces of

conch-shells 04 ( k'o-pei), cowries (E   pa-ch'ih; it is certainly pa-ch'ih which has been

altered to E   chi-ch'ih in our editions of Hui-lin, ch. 29 [253, viii, 180 a, and Bongo jiten,

114]; on pa-ch'ih, cf. infra), and pearls (chên-chu) worn by the women of a tribe north-east of Yung-ch'ang (Chien-hsi-ts'un-shê ed., 20 a). Further on (38 a), when describing the customs of the Nan-chao kingdom which then ruled over the whole of Yün-nan, it says : « The country does not use any coins. Whenever they barter for silk fabrics (tsêng po), felt, woollens, gold, silver, turquoise (sê-s4), oxen, or sheep, they value them in strips (ef mi) of silk, and say ' Such a thing is worth so many strips ' ». The natural conclusion would be that in the ninth century there was still no shell currency in Yün-nan. Yet this conclusion is contradicted by a quotation in the

section on pei-tzû in the Pên-ts'ao kang-mu (46, 22 a) : «M]   [Li] Hsün says : 'In Yün-nan,
[cowries] are very extensively used as money (ch'ien-huo) in trade exchange (chiao-i)'. » Li

Hsün was the author of a Materia medica of sea drugs (i4   iv.     Hai-yao pen-ts'ao), written
in the second half of the eighth century (cf. BRETSCHNEIDER, Botanicon Sinicum, I, 45). This book is not attributed to Li Hsün, a Persian in Wen hsûeh chia to tz'û tien No. 1733, or in Fên ming to tz'û tien, p. 414. Not being able to trace the quotation further back than the Pên-ts'ao kang-mu of 1578, first published in 1596, I must leave in abeyance the question of its authorship and authenticity. There are many misquotations in the Pên-ts'ao kang-mu.

Moreover no mention of a shell currency in Yün-nan is made in Chou Ch'ü-fei's Ling-wai tai-ta, written in 1178, in his paragraph entitled to pei, « great pei », (7, 9 b). The text says : « In Hai-nan there is the to pei; it has a round back with purple spots; its flat face has a deep

slit; on both sides of the slit there are fine ' threads '   lü) which sink into the slit; this is
what the Pên-ts'ao calls tzû pei (« purple pei»; cf. supra, p. 541). There are also small [pei], the breadth of a finger in size, with a back slightly bluish. In the Ta-li kingdom there are used for the decoration of armour and helmets. Moreover, in ancient times, cowries (pei-tzic) were used as currency (t'ung-huo); precious vessels were also made of them, and used in temples and at Court; at present, in the south, they are looked upon like oysters and clams; the things which are valued in ancient and in modern times are certainly not the same. » LAUFER, who used the present text in his Chinese clay figures, 193, partly misunderstood the description of the tzwpei (which is certainly a Cyprcea, though not the cowry). Moreover, he believed that it was the tzü pei which was used for the decoration of armour in Ta-li, while in the text it is the small