Sample Critical Thinking Paper on the Travels of Marco Polo


Marco Polo remains among the most discussed historical figures, and many people know him for his extraordinary exploits in discovering many parts of the ancient world. Many historians have gone to great lengths to determine the truth in Marco Polo’s assertions of his achievements such as his discovery of central Asia. Through the years, historians have produced numerous manuscripts that focus on the contentious issue in regards to whether the famous traveler went to China. Additionally, there have been efforts to determine the veracity of his account and to assess whether people can use his story as a source for reliable historical information. The author’s suggestion that “The Travels of Marco Polo” contains accurate information about Marco Polo’s journey to the east does not necessarily mean that the book is accurate enough. Thus, this paper attempts to evaluate the accuracy of Marco Polo’s accounts to determine the extent of his credibility as well as to determine the reliability of his story for understanding historical events.

Inappropriate Writing Style

Readers must begin the process of evaluating the reliability of Marco Polo’s accounts as written in “The Travels of Marco Polo” by understanding how the book was written. The author who wrote the book used a writing format and style that was commonly associated with courtly romance rather than had the features of an actual travelogue. Marco Polo dictated his account to Rusticello of Pisa in the year 1298 while serving a term in prison. Rusticello was known for his narration of Arthurian romances, and his writing style was representative of the conventional styles used in presenting courtly romances of the antiquity. The description of Marco Polo’s adventures in the east has little semblance with the accounts of a seasoned voyager. Apparently, Rusticello used the style in the book to create room for falsified stories and exaggerations that would make the book interesting or appeal to many readers (Latham, R. 1958, p. 28). For instance, the book contains several tales that would sound wondrous and strange to a contemporary reader. It is possible that Rusticello created the mistakes and exaggerations in the book deliberately without Marco Polo’s knowledge. The existence of about 150 manuscripts that offer different accounts of Macro Polo’s journeys as well as the lack of an original and authentic copy of the book describing Marco Polo’s adventures complicate the issue further (Latham, R. 1958, p. 28). The seemingly minor errors that occurred during the copying of the original book might have increased significantly to cause serious inconsistencies that exist in modern accounts of Marco Polo’s journeys to the east. The possibility that most of Marco Polo’s spoken words were intentionally changed is real, and this makes the book unauthentic.

Lack of Coherence in the Book

Another issue that makes Marco Polo’s accounts untrustworthy is the absence of coherence in his itinerary as recorded in the book. Polo’s story is impersonal and reports several events with wrong dates. For example, the book indicates that Maffeo (Polo’s uncle), Nicolo (his father), and Marco Polo were present during the Siang-yang siege that happened in 1273. According to the book, Khubilai Khan managed to defeat the Siang-yang-fu through the assistance of the three Italians who built catapults that gave Khan an advantage over his enemies. However, this assertion is untrue because the Siang-yang siege ended before Marco Polo could reach China. Moreover, Marco Polo’s service to the Great Khan for about seventeen years lasted from 1274 to 1291. Thus, Marco Polo could not participate in the Siang-yang siege as eluded in the book. Furthermore, the Siang-yang siege was a major historical event, because Khubilai Khan’s armies laid a protracted blockade on the Siang-yang-fu city for about five years in the years 1268 to 1273. The event is also significant in the history of the East because it marked the first incident that led to the end of the southern Song dynasty. According to Marco Polo’s accounts, the voyager assisted the Mongols in achieving the important victory that allowed Khubilai to plunder immense riches and strengthen his army. Consequently, Marco Polo’s attempt to take credit for Khubilai Khan’s victory at Siang-yang makes his itinerary inaccurate and unreliable for learning about historical facts (Latham, R. 1958, p. 30).

Significant Omissions in the Story

Another issue that casts doubts on Marco Polo’s statements during his stay in the Far East is the fact that his assertions consist of serious omissions. According to his assertions, Marco Polo lived in China for approximately seventeen years where he was among the Great Khan’s servants. Additionally, Marco Polo suggested that he went for all the missions that the Great Khan had sent him to undertake as his servant. Such an observation would imply that Marco Polo had adequate experience in many parts of China and its cultures. Although it is likely that Marco Polo deliberately avoided the Chinese custom of drinking tea, the voyager’s accounts should have at least mentioned the practice among his Chinese hosts. On the contrary, Marco Polo mentions about his encounters with wine and other drinks during his journey. Nonetheless, pro-Marco Polo historians can defend such an omission by pointing out that the Mongols with whom Marco Polo spent much time did not enjoy drinking tea. According to Latham (1958, p. 34), Marco Polo may have intentionally avoided mentioning about tea in his accounts because the culture was insignificant to the population that he stayed with while in China. Additionally, it is essential to point out that Marco Polo’s audience consisted primarily of European merchants who knew nothing about tea. Apparently, Marco Polo tried to ensure that his audience understood everything he said about his experiences in foreign lands (Polo, M. 2017, p. 13). For instance, Marco Polo argues that there is no need to talk about spices that grew in foreign lands during his description of the Caindu province.

Another glaring omission in Marco Polo’s record of his time in China is that he does not mention the unique writing style in China. Historians note that the Chinese writing system required mastership in using paintbrushes, and the Chinese used calligraphy in almost every part of their society, including on doorways, bank notes, buildings, and mountainsides. Polo (2017, p. 15) argues that the primary objective of using the calligraphy was to create a deeper meaning of their environments and ways of life. Additionally, the Chinese used calligraphy on government documents, and the Mongols adopted the practice to assist them in overcoming the difficulties of managing their expansive empire. Thus, it would be improbable that Marco Polo did not encounter unique Chinese calligraphy during his trip to the Far East. The omission has made many historians question his decision not to mention the calligraphy practiced in China despite its prevalence in their culture. Perhaps he was disinterested in the art, or Rusticello intentionally left out the information while writing about Marco Polo’s experiences in the east because he thought that it was not interesting.

Marco Polo’s accounts do not mention the practice of wood block printing despite its prevalence in the town in which Marco Polo alleges to have lived in while exploring the east. Historians point out that wood block printing led to a thriving business of producing cheap works of fiction and popular handbooks in small bookstalls. Nevertheless, Marco Polo’s description of using paper money that was stamped using Great Khan’s seal makes this omission debatable (Polo, M. 2017, p.23). For instance, his reference to the stamping could imply that the wood block printing technique had been used in making the paper money or that the currency had a stamped seal on it to make it a legal tender. Marco Polo’s critics should note that while he omitted the wood block printing technique in his accounts of the East, he mentions issues such as the burning of paper money at funerals. Thus, it would appear unnecessary to focus on Marco Polo’s omission of the wood block printing technique to discredit the accounts of his journey to China. Other significant omissions in Marco Polo’s story include the fact that he avoids talking about the Great Wall and the culture of compressing women’s feet.

Exaggerations and Inaccuracies

In addition to the omissions that make Marco Polo’s tale unreliable, the book detailing his journey to the Far East has numerous exaggerations and inaccuracies. For instance, Marco Polo claims that he served as the Yangzhou governor during his stay in China. However, Polo (2017, p. 33) maintains that there are “no official records” that support Marco Polo’s assertions of ruling Yangzhou or its residents for three years as purported in his accounts. The Chinese historical records do not mention the existence of westerners in the city during the period, and Marco Polo or Rusticello might have made up the story to enhance the appeal of Marco Polo’s accounts to his western audiences. At best, Marco Polo might have served as the city’s salt administrator rather than its governor. Apparently, including the governorship title was necessary because the western audience could not comprehend the power and prestige that the salt administrators enjoyed in ancient China. The official records of Yuan Shi support the view that Marco Polo was a salt administrator by mentioning an individual called Buolo or Polo (Latham, R. 1958, p. 44).

No Sources Confirming Marco Polo’s Presence in China

Another issue that discredits Marco Polo’s assertions is the fact that there is no official information that acknowledges his existence in China despite the arrival of early missionaries in the area. According to the Yuan-Shih, John of Marignolli was the first westerner to visit China, and the official records identify him by his name. Thus, Marco Polo’s suggestion that he was an important individual in ancient China because of befriending the Great Khan is unverified, and this makes his story unreliable. The Chinese account of foreigners indicates that Arabic engineers from Baghdad played a significant role in shaping their history through actions such as assisting in the building of stone catapults (Latham, R. 1958, p. 45). The records do not refer to Marco Polo, and this makes his story about the Far East a tale of falsehoods and inaccuracies.


The statement that Marco Polo’s story does not contain fabrications or lies is false, and his narration cannot serve the purpose of understanding historical events. The statement attempts to give the book more credibility than it deserves within the readers. Nonetheless, the glaring inconsistencies and exaggerations recorded in the book discredit it in the eyes of contemporary readers. Therefore, there is a need to use, reliable evidence to evaluate the veracity of authors of historical information rather than believing falsehoods blindly. The absence of an original copy to prove Marco Polo’s claims as well as the existence of about 150 manuscripts detailing his journey to the east complicates the efforts to ascertain the truth in Rusticello’s book. Nonetheless, some of Marco Polo’s description of the Chinese people and their country were accurate.



Reference List

Latham, R 1958, ‘Introduction’, in M Polo, The travels of Marco Polo, Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Polo, M 2017, The travels of Marco Polo extract, Trinity College Foundation Studies, Melbourne.