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0544 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 544 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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528   183. COTTON

problem of cotton is again involved. LAUFER maintained that cotton was excluded because it was too well known, particularly in China, to be able to give rise to any such tales, and also because there was no reference to Iambs in the Chinese documents regarding cotton. I venture to challenge both these lines of argument.

In China, there was so little knowledge in pre-T'ang and T'ang times of what cotton actually was that the Buddhist authors of the I-ch'ieh ching yin-i felt it necessary to state over and over again that po-tieh (« cotton ') was made of the down of a plant, not of the hair of an animal, as was commonly said in dictionaries. Few people realized that the po-tieh of the Turfan region was the same as the ku-pei or chi-pei of the South Seas. As late as 1461, the official Ming Geo-

graphy, Il)J --   Ming i-t'ung chih (84, 20 a; cf. Br, n, 192), speaking of the products of
the Turfan region, describes the «po-tieh cloth » in almost the same terms as the Liang shu and the Hsin T'ang shu, but adds that it was made « with cocoons which wild silkworms formed on

k'u-shên (Sophora angustifolia?) ». This has been copied afterwards into the « expanded » Kuang-yü chi of 1686 (24, 30 b; cf. LAUFER, Sino-Iranica, 492). Even the Ta-Ch'ing i-t'ung chih follows in their wake and speaks of the po-tieh of Ha-mi (Qomui; see « Camul ») as being made of the « webs » of wild silkworms (this is stated in the Tz'ïc-yüan, but I cannot find it in the various redactions of the work which are at my disposal, neither COURANT, 1439, COURANT, 1492, nor the modern redaction ; I suspect that the Tz'û yüan copied the Ko-chih ching-yuan, 27, 27 a, which merely speaks of the I-t'ung chih; this may be the Ming i-t'ung chih, with the substitution of Ha-mi for the Huo-chou [Qara-boJa near Turfan] of the original work). But this is an arbitrary combination of two distinct items of information. The Liang shu and subsequent works, including Wang Yen-Ws report of 984, had spoken of the po-tieh of Kao-ch'ang, i. e. cotton. On the other hand, Wang Yen-tê had stated that at I-chou, i. e. Qomul, there were wild silkworms which lived on k'u-shên, and from the cocoons of which floss and silk could be made (cf. Sung shih, 490, 4 a-b). But Wang Yen-tê never said that this silk was po-tieh; the error arose in Ming times. As a consequence of such misstatements, po-tieh is given as a silken cloth in the Tz'û-yuan. This. shows to what extent even late Chinese sources can go astray as to the true nature of cotton stuff.

When Odoric was in the region of the lower Yang-tzû, he heard a tale about Pygmies, three spans in height, who could do better work of « goton, id est bombacis (var. bombicis) » than any other people in the world. The whole passage remains practically unexplained (cf. CORDIER, Odoric de Pordenone, 345-355; Y1, II, 206-208; Wy, 468-469; HALLBERG, 418-420; also Maundeville, A. LAYARD ed., 1895, 259). Three spans, or, in the Chinese way of measurement, three « feet » is the usual height of Pygmies in both western and Chinese texts (cf. TP, 1905, 562). I feel inclined to believe that the tale, far from bearing evidence of the development of cotton cultivation in the region of the lower Yang-tzû, attributed the manufacture of the best cotton stuff to some legendary tribe located along the upper course of the river. And this also would tend to show that, even in the 14th cent., cotton cultivation was not as free from legend as LAUFER imagined.

So much for indirect evidence; but there is also the direct testimony provided by the texts. Even while belittling LEE'S « cotton » theory of the Agnus scythicus, LAUFER admitted that Odoric's