When Marco Polo arrived at this city he made a long stay there, remaining until the emperor needed his services to undertake various missions into the interior of China. The emperor had a splendid palace at Cambaluc, and the traveller gives so graphic an account of the riches and magnificence of the Mongol sovereigns, that we give it word for word.
Thus it was that the great Khan was prevailed upon, very reluctantly, to let them go. One version of Marco's book says that they took with them also the daughter of the king of Mansi, one of those Sung princesses who in happier days had wandered beside the lake in Hangchow, and who had no doubt been brought up at Cambaluc by the care of Kublai Khan's favourite queen, the Lady Jamui.
For, as it chanced, one Maffeo of Venice, a merchant who had strayed to the court of Cambaluc and found favour there, was sent by Kublai the next year on a mission to Europe, and his way lay through the camp of Houlagou. He was received with honour, and shown the riches of the Tartar armies.
Nevertheless, although Marco Polo shows less knowledge of the Chinese than one might expect from the extraordinary detail and fidelity of his observation in other directions, he must have known many of these charming and cultivated people, at Kinsai or Cambaluc, or at the city which he governed.
He died at the ripe age of eighty, and with his death a shadow fell over central Asia, darkening the shining yellow roofs of Cambaluc, the barren plains Of Sericana, where Chineses drive With sails and wind their cany waggons light, the minarets of Persia, and the tents of wild Kipchak Tartars, galloping over the Russian steppes. So wide had been the sway of Kublai Khan.
It is best estimated in the often-quoted words of Sir Henry Yule, whose edition of his book is one of the great works of English scholarship: He was the first traveller to trace a route across the whole longitude of Asia, naming and describing kingdom after kingdom, which he had seen with his own eyes, the desert of Persia, the flowering plateaux and wild gorges of Badakhshan, the jade-bearing rivers of Khotan, the Mongol steppes, cradle of the power that had so lately threatened to swallow up Christendom, the new and brilliant court that had been established at Cambaluc: the first Travellers to reveal China in all its wealth and vastness, its mighty rivers, its huge cities, its rich manufactures, its swarming population, the inconceivably vast fleets that quickened its seas and inland waters; to tell us of the nations on its borders with all their eccentricities of manners and worship; of Tibet with its sordid devotees; of Burma with its golden pagodas and their tinkling crowns; of Laos, of Siam, of Cochin China, of Japan, the Eastern Thule, with its rosy pearls and golden-roofed palaces; the first to speak of that Museum of Beauty and Wonder, still so imperfectly ransacked, the Indian Archipelago, source of those aromatics then so highly prized and whose origin was so dark; of Java the Pearl of Islands; of Sumatra with its many kings, its strange costly products, and its cannibal races; of the naked savages of Nicobar and Andaman; of Ceylon, the Isle of Gems, with its Sacred Mountain and its Tomb of Adam; of India the Great, not as a dreamland of Alexandrian fables, but as a country seen and partially explored, with its virtuous Brahmans, its obscene ascetics, its diamonds and the strange tales of their acquisition, its sea-beds of pearl and its powerful sun; the first in modern times to give any distinct account of the secluded Christian Empire of Abyssinia, to speak, though indeed dimly, of Zanzibar with its negroes and its ivory and of the vast and distant Madagascar, bordering on the Dark Ocean of the South, with its Ruc and other monstrosities; and in a remotely opposite region, of Siberia and the Arctic Ocean, of dog-sledges, white bears and reindeer-riding Tunguses.
The emperor lives thus till about Easter, hunting cranes, swans, hares, stags, roebucks, &c., and then returns to his capital, Cambaluc.
Marco Polo remained a long time at Cambaluc, and his intelligence, spirit, and readiness in adapting himself, made him a great favourite with the emperor.
Half by flattery and half by menace Kublai brought the Corean court to reason, and Wangtien again entered into bonds of alliance with Cambaluc and renewed his old oaths of friendship. At this point of the long struggle with the Sungs it will be appropriate to consider what was the exact position of Kublai with regard to his own Chinese subjects, who now formed the backbone of his power.
The battle was a most terrible one, so many men being killed, but the khan was victorious, and Naïan, as a prince of the blood royal, was condemned to be sewn up tightly in a carpet, and died in great suffering. After his victory the khan made a triumphal entry into Cathay, capital of Cambaluc, or, as it is now called, Pekin.