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embassy to the Pope, and upon their return, in 1276, they took the young Marco with them. Their journeys to and fro were made by the tedious and painful inland route. They resided this time for seventeen years in China, in high favor with Kublai, and even holding at times offices of important trust in his empire, till they at last came back, by water from the mouth of the Pei-ho, a voyage of eighteen months, to the mouth of the Euphrates, and reappeared in Venice in the year 1295. Happily for the world, Marco was soon after taken prisoner by the Genoese, and to while away the tedium of his confinement he made as faithful and complete a record of his travels and observations as his memory and notes could furnish. The work gained a great popularity, and was soon translated into almost all the languages of Europe. Its statements were received with not a little incredulity, but their general correctness has been abundantly established by the better knowledge since obtained. Its author's special object was to describe the wealth, the institutions, the manners and the customs, of the Chinese empire, and the power and grandeur of its sovereign, and he but seldom touches upon matters which concern foreign commerce and foreign religions; yet it is evident from his occasional mention of Christian, Mohammedan, and Jewish communities and churches in the Chinese cities, that both the Nestorian missions and the Arab commerce had recovered from the state of prostration in which the fall of the Tang had left them four hundred years before. The policy of the great founder of the Mongol dynasty himself was eminently liberal and enlightened; foreigners of every race were received by him with kindness, and entire freedom of faith was allowed throughout his do
Fifty years after Marco Polo, the enterprising and indefatigable Arab tourist, Ibn Batuta, who has left us the story of his wanderings over almost every part of the eastern world, reached the southeastern coast of China by sea from India, and made his way by the routes of inland travel to Pekin. His account of the empire both supports and supplements that of his Venetian contemporary. He praises it as the most populous, wealthy, and highly cultivated country in the world: he extols the industry
and the mechanical and artistic skill of its inhabitants, the beauty and abundance of the porcelain and silk-stuffs, the greatness of the cities, the pomp and splendor of the court and capital. He notices the use of paper money, the care taken of human life, and the unparalleled safety assured to travelers. He tells of Moslem communities in every important city, dwelling and practising their religion in security, and governed and judged according to their own laws by authorities chosen from among themselves. In the great metropolis of Khansâ (supposed to be the place more recently called Nanking) he describes one of the six quarters of which the city was composed as peopled exclusively by Jews, Pârsîs, and Christians. This is his only mention of Christians; it did not enter into the plan of his story to give details upon such matters; his attention was directed especially to the native inhabitants of the countries he visited, and to the condition of his own coreligionists among them. His exit from the empire was hastened by the internal troubles attending the decadence of the Mongol dynasty.
In the meantime had taken place the first successful attempt of European Christianity to extend its influence into Eastern Asia. The effort was prompted by the instinct of self-preservation. The Mongols, early in the thirteenth century, had broken forth from the mountains and deserts of the great Asiatic plateau, overrunning, devastating, and subjecting alike the east, the south, and the west. Soon their terrible herds of horsemen were pressing hard the borders of Catholic Europe, and threatening destruction to both culture and religion. In this emergency, while Christian sovereigns were arming for a combined defense of their states, the spiritual guardian of Christendom was likewise moved to send out peaceful embassies to the homes of the fierce nomads, to turn them, if it might be, from their savage spirit of conquest, or to avert their arms from Europe. Repeated missions found their way, between 1245 and 1260, from Rome and France to the camps and capitals of Tatary, and not without a degree of success in establishing an understanding between Christians and Mongols. One tie of common interest united them: both alike were the foes of the
Mohammedan sultans of Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, who had checked and baffled their plans of aggrandizement. On the one hand, the crusades were just ending in ignominious failure and defeat: on the other hand, here was the rock from which the tide of Mongol conquest was rolled back. The first burst of their strength and fury had spent itself, and Europe was safe. The names of Carpini and Rubruquis are conspicuous among those of the papal emissaries who visited the homes of the Mongol race, and returned, bringing back valuable information to Europe, and pointing out the way to Christian missionaries to a new field of effort. It was at once occupied. Missions were soon scattered here and there over Central Asia, and hardly had Marco Polo left Pekin when John of Monte-Corvino, the first Catholic missionary to China, entered it. Complete liberty of preaching and proselyting was allowed him: his mission flourished, spite of Nestorian opposition: after some years numerous and repeated reinforcements were sent out, and placed under his direction as Archbishop of Pekin, and it seemed for a time as if Catholic Christianity had at last taken firm root all over the remote East.
But these flattering prospects were soon eclipsed. The breaking up of the Mongol empire, only a century after its first establishment, was attended with commotions which almost extinguished both eastern and western Christianity in Asia. In China itself, the catastrophe was complete. About the year 1368, after the usual period of distress and civil war, the Mongols were driven out, and a native dynasty, the Ming, seated upon the throne. A great reaction took place in favor of the native institutions, and against everything that was distinctively foreign. The Christian teachers had enjoyed the protection of the expelled dynasty; like it they had come in from the west; their origin and their sympathies were beyond the borders of the empire. With it, then, they were driven out, or their weak establishments went down amid the general confusion, and could not be revived. Parties of missionaries sent out from Europe were never heard from again. Even the Nestorian faith, which had so long survived all revolutions and changes of dynasty, now utterly disappeared. For the first
time in eight hundred years, China was free from all remnant or trace of Christianity.
It is greatly to be regretted that, in the absence of all records of the inner history of the Nestorian missions, we are unable to judge respecting the causes of their long success and ultimate failure. We know not what position Nestorian Christianity maintained toward Chinese indifferentism and superstition; whether it was a bold, faithful, and uncompromising representative of Christian doctrine, or inoffensively tolerant of the weakness and errors of those whose good it sought; whether it strove after a show of strength by the accession of crowds of nominal converts, or labored for a real success in the transformation of the hearts and lives of its proselytes. However this may have been, the final result was the same. It passed away, and left no abiding impression. Chinese history ignored it, and all remembrance of its presence in the empire was lost. When the next Christian missionaries appeared, the state of China was as if the name of Christ had never yet been heard within its borders.
More than a full century now elapsed before the renewal of European intercourse with China. The rediscovery, so to speak, of the empire was one of the occurrences which marked the close of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, that epoch so rich in great events, when the invention of printing, the application of the compass to its true work, the discovery of America, the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope, changed the aspect of the world, and gave such an impulse to the development of European civilization as it had never before received. It was in 1487 that Diaz returned to Lisbon from his voyage of discovery, and reported that the way eastward around the continent of Africa was open to the maritime enterprise of western Europe. Ten years later a Portuguese colony, never since dislodged, was established under Vasco de Gama on the western coast of the peninsula of India; and in 1517 a Portuguese squadron, tracing backward the route of Marco Polo, entered the port of Canton. This was the commencement of the modern era of Chinese intercourse.
The native dynasty of Ming still sat upon the imperial
throne, but had already passed the zenith of its power and prosperity. It had seen the extinction of European influence in the land: it was destined, before its downfall, to behold the renewal of that influence, in more than the former measure. The policy of the dynasty was by no means especially hostile to foreign commerce, or to foreign religions. Jews and Mohammedans were to be found, not only in the seaboard cities, but far in the interior of the empire; and they enjoyed entire toleration, because themselves quiet and inoffensive, and menacing with danger neither the religious nor the civil institutions of the empire. It depended altogether upon the character of the new comers how they should be met. Had the Europeans showed themselves peaceful in their policy and moderate in their demands, and had they awakened no jealous fear by their conduct in other parts of the East, we have no reason to suppose that any restrictions of special severity would have been imposed upon them.
Unfortunately, they gave the Chinese, at the outset, a very unfavorable impression of their character. The first Portuguese expedition, indeed, conducted itself peaceably, and, being kindly met, effected a satisfactory and profitable exchange of the commodities it brought. But while a Portuguese embassy was on the way to Pekin, to arrange terms of future intercourse, a second fleet, newly arrived at Canton, fell to burning, murdering, and plundering, as if a mere band of lawless freebooters. Intelligence of this, as well as of the predatory conquests made by the Portuguese in Malacca, among the very allies and dependents of the empire, reached the capital with the envoys. The result was what might have been expected. The ambassadors were treated as spies and impostors, and sent back in chains to Canton, where, chancing to arrive at the same time with the commission of new outrages, they were put to death, or detained in permanent captivity. Still the visits of the Portuguese were not altogether and permanently interdicted. They formed profitable establishments in many of the ports of the empire, and after 1560 were allowed to establish a kind of colony at Macao, at the mouth of the Canton River, which