Did Marco Polo Affect Chinese Political History?

Marco Polo influenced China’s political history by participating in diplomatic and military actions, by increasing awareness and trade between the East and the West through his writings, and by encouraging the Eastern rulers to explore Western culture. Polo’s first encounter with Eastern civilization was with Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. Khan put Polo to work first as a tax collector and then in a variety of emissary positions.

When the Byzantine Empire regained control of Constantinople in the mid-13th century, Khan sent Polo on a goodwill mission to make overtures of friendship to Pope Gregory X. In 1284, Polo took part in a military campaign to Sri Lanka to retrieve the tooth of the Buddha, a sacred relic of Buddhism. Polo also accompanied military and diplomatic expeditions to Persia and present-day Myanmar.

Most importantly, Polo’s trade with the East and his detailed writings promoted European interest in China and opened the cultures of the East and the West to each other. Prior to Polo’s writings, the two cultures rarely interacted and knew very little of each other. After Polo published accounts of his experiences and adventures, Europeans began actively pursuing trade with China and India. Polo helped the Chinese overcome their aversion to Westerners and establish diplomatic relations with European governments. Chinese officials soon adopted pro-European policies.

Polo’s writings also sparked the Age of Exploration that resulted with European nations competing feverishly for better routes to the Orient, especially after Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in the late 15th century. The exchange of technology and the financial strength China achieved through its trade with Europe enabled it to develop in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.