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I have been living in China now for nearly 5 years. One of the first books I bought when I first came was a copy of Marco Polo's Il Milione. It made interesting reading on one long train journey I took to Inner Mongolia. On the return journey I subsequently lost the book. Today, I happened across an audio version of the book which I yet again enjoyed. I remember hearing and reading many debates about whither he really did make the journey to China or whether it was in fact a collection of other travelers stories, hearsay and myth. This is an old debate starting with the title of Il Milione, in reference to the many supposed lies in his book.

Many of the arguments against are based on misinterpretations of history, such as why did Marco Polo not mention the Great Wall — simply because much of it hadn't been built yet and the old parts would have been 1300 years old and not recognizable as a wall.

Is there any decent evidence that Marco Polo didn't go to China or proof that he definitely did go?

  • I think this is an open question with no clear answer (or clear way to prove which side is correct, short of new historical finds) - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Did_Marco_Polo_go_to_China%3F – user792 Sep 24 '11 at 15:37
  • Also: "Evidence that MP did NOT go to China" is asking for negative evidence. – Sklivvz Sep 24 '11 at 15:45
  • @Sklivvz there such evidence, for example signs that he used other sources of information other than direct Chinese sources. Some people point to use use of Persian names for places rather than Chinese names as evidence that he use Persian sources and didn't in fact go to China where as others claim that Persian was in common use within China at that time to counter. See: digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/41883/1/… – Rincewind42 Sep 24 '11 at 23:14
  • @Rincewind42 what you suggest is not valid evidence of him not going. At best, there can be hints that he's not gone. That's pretty much what asking for negative evidence looks like... :-) – Sklivvz Sep 25 '11 at 7:50
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There is no convincing evidence he did not go, and such hypotheses are currently considered historical revisionism.

The hypothesis was entertained, at an academic level, by Frances Wood in the book "Did Marco Polo go to China?"

However, the evidence presented is far from convincing and there's a pretty good rebuttal from Igor de Rachewiltz in an article ('Marco Polo Went to China' in Zentralasiatische Studien 27 (1997), pp. 34-92) as summarised on this site:

In conclusion, an examination of F.W.'s book reveals once more the fundamental weakness of the argumentum e silentio. Marco's book, with its immense wealth of information, speaks for itself. Had Marco, as F.W. claims, obtained so much varied and detailed intelligence about most of 13th-century Asia (including, beside China, Iraq, Persia, Central Asia, Mongolia, continental Southeast Asia, Java, Sumatra, Malacca, the Nicobar Islands, Ceylon, Southern India and the coasts and islands of the Indian Sea) - not to speak of his insider's description of the Mongol court - without actually going there, this in itself would have been an even greater feat than that of compiling a genuine eyewitness account of the magnitude of The Description of the World. But, as we have seen, this was not the case: Marco was there all right.

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