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0489 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 489 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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183. COTTON   473

« cotton », perhaps from the cotton plant in the case of the Burmese countries of P'iao, Mi-ch'ên and Mi-no, but probably from the cotton tree in its original application to the tribes of western Yün-nan, particularly in the region of Yung-ch'ang. But, in such a case, « so-lo tree » was not the earliest designation of that « cotton tree » in Chinese literature. When the Chinese reached Indo-China and Yün-nan, they were particularly struck by two remarkable species : a tree which yielded flour, and another from the flowers of which cloth was woven. The tree which yielded flour was at first designated under the purely Chinese name fib 405 kuang-lang (perhaps an enlargement of a popular name % .05 kuang-lang, « bright boy »), but fairly soon a kindred species became known as f4 4c so-mu, « so [*suâ]-tree », so written in the Ch'i-min yao-shu (10, 46 a), the T'ang yün (cf. Pen-ts'ao kang-mu, 31, 24 b, and K'ang-hsi tzû-tien, pu-i, rad. 140 and the T'ai-p'ing yü-lan (960, 16 b), although Li Shih-chên always retains in

his text and his quotations an unauthorized form   so (*suâ). According to Li Shih-chên,
the so of so-mu would be a phonetic alteration of 4i hsiang-mu, « hsiang (*si.ang)-tree », which designated the same tree in the geographical section of the Wu lu (third quarter of the 3rd cent.; cf. supra, p. 460). I am of a different opinion. So-mu too appears at an early date, since it occurs in the y Shu chih chi (cf. Ch'i-min yao-shu, 10, 46 a), or gil4j âa Shu chi (cf. Pên-ts'ao kang-mu, 31, 24 b), or Shu chih (cf. T'ai-p'ing yü-lan, 960, 16 b); the Shu chi would

probably be that of   IN Li Ying (cf. Sui ching-chi-chih k'ao-chêng, 6, 16 a; Ch'i-min yao-shu,
10, 24 b; but this cannot be the Li Ying who died A. D. 169), and date from the 5th cent. at the latest. If the title be Shu chih, it would carry us back to the 3rd cent. (cf. ibid. 6, 23 b). In any case, we have to deal with a sago-yielding tree (cf. STUART, Materia Medica, 389-390), and I believe that the so (*suâ) of so-mu, « so tree », is nothing but a transcription of « sago » itself, Jay., Mal., Sund., Battak, Mak., and Bug. sagu, Dayak and Tagal sago (cf. FAVRE, Dict. malais-français, II, 599). If hsiang (*slang), which, apart from the Wu lu, occurs in the famous Wu-tu fu, « Ode on the capital of Wu », written by Tso Ssû (3rd cent.), is phonetically connected with so, I would regard it as a more literary and less accurate representation of the same foreign word. On other later Chinese transcriptions of Mal. sagu, cf. TP, 1933, 391, and, for European transcriptions YULE, Hobson-Jobson 780-781; Polo describes sago, and even brought some of it back to Venice (cf. Vol. I, 377), but, like Odoric (Wy, 448), does not give its name.

The other remarkable tree found in the south by the Chinese was the one with the flowers of which cloth was made by the native tribes of western Yün-nan. I have translated above (p. 444) the passage from the Hou-Han shu (116, 8 a), according to which the people of Ai-lao, i.e. of Yung-ch'ang in western Yün-nan, « have the Wp fJ } wu-t'ung tree (mu), the flowers (hua) of which they spin to make cloth (pu) ». Yet BRETSCHNEIDER (Botanicon Sinicum, II, 349, 351) says that cloth was made from the bark of the tree, and the same information is given by STUART, Materia Medica, 423. It is true that Polo speaks of cloth made of the « bark » of trees at « Cuigiu » (q. v.; — Hsü-chou-fu in Ssû-ch'uan, « Sui-fu » of our maps; cf. Vol. I, 298-299, and Y, II, 124, 127); but this cannot refer to the fabric under discussion here. A great deal of confusion has long prevailed among Chinese scholars on the subject of the various sorts of t'ung, which, in principle, is the designation of the Paulownia (cf. the numerous texts in T'u-shu chi-ch'êng, ts'ao-mu tien, 237-239). Li Shih-chên was the first to give t'ung and wu-t'ung under two