Netflix ‘Chinese Game of Thrones’ charts the life of Marco Polo – so who was he?

Roundup
tags: China, travel, Marco Polo



George Lane is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the History of the Middle East and Central Asia at SOAS, University of London

It is a name that most will have heard of, but few, perhaps, actually know much about. But Marco Polo, an epic ten-episode programme hosted by Netflix, may change that. The show has already been dubbed the “Chinese Game of Thrones” due to its massive budget – which stands at a staggering US$90m (£58m). This makes it the second most expensive TV series ever, after (you guessed it) Game of Thrones.

There are more questions asked about Marco Polo than there are possible answers. Even the doubts about his presence in China have yet to silenced, despite most reputable experts accepting that his family of Venetian traders had gained access to the court of the Great Khan, Qubilai, in Khanbaliq or Dadu, as the Yuan capital – today’s Beijing – was known.

So before the misconceptions and stories start flowing, let’s set the record straight.


The real Marco

Marco Polo was born September 15 1254, on the Dalmatian island of Korčula into a family of Venetian traders. A common misconception is that he was the first European to reach China. In fact, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffe had just arrived back from a long trip to the court of the Great Mongol Khan Qubilai when they decided to return with their young protégé. What makes Marco Polo so special is that he was the first European to record his travels in detail and so inspire others to venture into those previously unknown climes including cartographers and such giant figures as Christopher Columbus.

The Polos returned to Yuan China with Marco in 1271, when he was 16. They did so to fulfil a promise made to Qubilai Khan to present him with “oil from the lamp in Jerusalem” and letters from the Pope. They did not, however, bring him the “100 Christians acquainted with the Seven Arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy)” that the Great khan had requested from the Vicar of Rome...




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