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0498 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 498 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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482   183. COTTON

its fruit was like a wine cup; in the ' mouth ' of the [fruit] there was floss with which one could make cloth; see Chang Po's Wu lu. [The mu-mien] is the pan-chip hua of our days; YANG Yung-hsiu (= YANG Shên) has discussed [the question], and he was right. » So, for the author of the Wu-Hsün tsa-p'ei as for YANG Shên, WANG Shih-mou and Li Shih-chên, the mu-mien was Bombax malabaricum. At the same time, we can see from his text that, in his time, mu-mien was a more or less obsolete term, for the meaning of which he had to fall back on the ancient description given in Chang Po's Wu lu. But he was mistaken in speaking of the «armful in girth », the only feature which could not be applied to Gossypium arboreum, since there is no such sentence in the Wu lu. Above all, he has neglected an important point : cloth was woven with mu-mien, and as WANG Shih-mou justly remarked after other writers, the floss of the Bombax, our kapok, can only be used for stuffing mattresses; morover, the author of the Wu-Hsiin tsa-p'ei almost says so himself in another paragraph.

It is in the light of what has just been said that I am tempted to interpret this other paragraph on mu-mien of the Wu-hsiin tsa-p'ei (cf. T'u-shu chi-ch'êng, ts'ao-mu tien, 303, hui-k'ao, 2 a) : «Mu-mien is also called is 4 Ch'iung-chih, ' Precious branch '. It is several ten-foot measures high. The tree [itself] resembles wu-t'ung; the leaves are like [those of] the peach-tree, but somewhat larger; the flowers are of a deep red colour and like the camelia (shan-ch'a). In spring and summer, the flowers open and cover the tree, which from afar looks like a gay brocade. When the flowers wither, they form a fruit (tziï) which is like a wine-cup; floss spouts out of its orifice (k'ou, lit. ' mouth '), abundant like a fine down. Anciently it was said that th e Barbarians (Man) of Hai-nan wove [mu-mien] into a cloth which was called chi-pei; now [mu-mien] is used only to stuff mattresses, because it is soft and warm, and nobody employs it to make cloth. In Hsün[-chou] and Wu[-chou] (both in Kuang-hsi), there is also mu-mien; but local

people do not collect [the floss], which is merely blown about and made to fall by the wind. » This is the only text in which I have found ch'iung-chih as an equivalent of mu-mien. This fancy name, taken from the fabulous ch'iung-chih tree in Chuang-tzû, has also been given to «coral », and ch'iung-chih- [T] ts'ai, «ch'iung-chih vegetable », is one of the names of the seaweed which we know as agar-agar (cf. HR, 176, 186). It does not seem to have ever been a true equivalent of mu-mien, except perhaps locally, among scholars, and perhaps for a short period. But, in view of the other text of the Wu-Hsün tsa-p'ei, it is just possible that ch'iung-chih was a misreading for p'an-chih [hua], this misreading being due to the attraction of Chuang-tzû's ch'iung-chih. What the author gives is a description of the Bombax malabaricum, which we know from the other text to have been familiar to him as pan-chih hua. As to mu-mien, it would come in only as an antiquarian and scholarly — but mistakenly scholarly — equivalent of pan-chih hua.

In 1583, the Burmese army was defeated by the Chinese generals Liu T'ing and Têng Tzü-

lung at a place called P'an-chih-hua (south-east of Yung-ch'ang in Yün-nan; cf. Ming shih, 315, 3 b). Another P'an-chih-hua still exists at the extreme south-eastern corner of Yün-nan province. It is certain that these place-names were given under the Ming, probably by Chinese officials who were not natives of Yün-nan, on account of the presence of Bombax trees. Moreover, in Têng Tzû-lung's biography (Ming shih, 247, 10 a), the battle of 1583 is located not «at P'an-chih-hua »,

but «under p'an-chih trees»   fit ] , which proves the equivalence.