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Images of China

In his book, Marco Polo described the people in China as idolaters and their customs such as how they burned incense and kowtowed in offerings to the heavens. Though he may not have always been totally accurate or unbiased, we are fortunate that his observations were recorded. Indeed, customs of daily life taken for granted by the Chinese may have been translated into pagan rituals in his eyes, but the experiences of a European in China offer a unique and different glimpse of Mongol China.

It seems that the Yuan imperial clan was able to accept a person such as Marco Polo of a markedly different appearance and background. However, this may not be so surprising considering the polyethnic and multicultural atmosphere that the Mongols fostered. The Mongols, for example, printed Buddhist scriptures in the Tangut script of Western Xia that they destroyed, used Phags-pa script to transliterate Chinese surnames, and on the stone cliffs at Juyong Pass engraved the Chinese Classics in six different languages. Native Chinese, who still made up the majority of people in the Yuan dynasty, mingled with many other ethnic groups, revealing a markedly different court and society from what we normally consider for a Chinese dynasty.