In this series we look at historical figures from China’s past who have intriguing Western parallels.

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In 138 B.C.E., an official named Zhang Qian traveled beyond China’s western borders on a diplomatic mission. Yet one delay after another prolonged his journey khổng lồ 25 years. During this time, he visited many kingdoms unknown khổng lồ the Chinese và gathered detailed, valuable, and eye-opening information. Zhang Qian’s reports marked a watershed in interaction beyond China’s western borders. His travels are well documented in the historical chronicle Records of the Grand Historian.

Fast-forward lớn the year 1271 C.E., & a young Venetian named Marco Polo mix off with his merchant father và uncle for the East. During the next 24 years, they explored all along the Silk Road, & throughout china and Southeast Asia. After their return, Marco wrote The Travels of Marco Polo, which introduced the fascinations of the East lớn Europeans—kindling countless imaginations.

Zhang Qian

An official and diplomat of the Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian (164-113 B.C.E.) was sent by the emperor to make an alliance treaty with a neighboring nomadic tribe, the Yuezhi. Passing through unfriendly territory en-route, Zhang was taken prisoner. Và imprisoned he remained for over a decade.

Not one to lớn be deterred, he managed eventually lớn escape và arrive at his destination. Once there, Zhang discovered the Yuezhi people weren’t much interested in an alliance. Yet that wasn’t all he discovered. He was surprised to lớn see that the Yuezhi were quite agriculturally developed, growing a number of crops unknown lớn the Chinese, as well as rearing magnificent horses.

From there, Zhang ventured all around Central Asia, recording his findings and observations, before heading back to the Han capital—along a different, hopefully safer, route.

He was captured again.

Fortunately, this time it took only two years before a perfect escape opportunity presented itself. After finally making it home, Zhang briefed the Han emperor on the many civilized & populous kingdoms và states, their culture, lifestyles, geography, & everything of interest that he saw there.

According to lớn Records of the Grand Historian:

“The emperor learned of the Dayuan, Daxia, Anxi, and the others, all great states rich in unusual products whose people cultivated the land và made their living in much the same way as the Chinese.”

Of notable interest were the “blood-sweating” Ferghana horses, elephant-mounted warriors, skilled archers, alfalfa for fodder, single-humped camels, and grape wine.

Zhang was the first known person lớn bring accurate and detailed information about Central Asia and its peoples to the Chinese. His explorations led lớn the expansion of the Silk Road throughout Central Asia, & brought about many more missions.

Marco Polo

Throughout the following centuries, the Silk Road had its ups and downs. After the fall of the Tang Dynasty in the 10th century, it became quite dangerous & trade drastically dropped. It wasn’t until the 13th century Pax Mongolica that the Road really came alive again—a perfect time for our parallel figure lớn arrive on the scene.

Marco Polo was born in 1254 lớn a Venetian merchant family. As a teenager, he mix off with his father & uncle on a business trip khổng lồ the East. However, the trio became involved in more than their mercantile endeavors, and it was 24 years until they phối foot in Europe again.

After setting off from Venice, the Polos passed through modern-day Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan; they crossed the Taklamakan & the Gobi deserts. Once they made it lớn the Yuan Dynasty capital, they were welcomed by Kublai Khan (Genghis’ grandson). The Khan, who had previously met the father và uncle, now met the youngest Polo và made him his emissary. This initial trust led lớn a long-term appointment that allowed Marco Polo lớn explore china and Southeast Asia for 17 years on a VIP passport, seeing places và things that no Westerner had seen before.

His experience sounds much nicer than the decade-plus Zhang Qian spent as a captive. However, Marco Polo was so favored by the Khan that years later, when he wanted to return home, his entreaties were denied again & again.

Eventually, Marco was allowed home. Yet when he returned in 1295, he found Venice at war. Marco became commander of a galley, but soon found himself, lượt thích his Chinese parallel, sitting in a prison.

It wasn’t time wasted, though. Jail was where Polo (along with a writer cellmate) drafted the manuscript of his epic travelogue.

The Travels of Marco Polo describes Asian geography và cultural customs. Polo speaks of porcelain and gunpowder, “stones that burn lượt thích logs” (coal), a grand capital with “the greatest palace that ever was” and a dining hall that could seat 6,000, paper currency and the imperial postal service, vast canal systems, prodigious iron và salt production, paperback books and silk clothing, as well as elephants, alligators, và monkeys. Still, in the end, Marco Polo asserts: “I have only told the half of what I saw.”

Travels gave Europeans their first comprehensive look into china and other countries of Asia. The book became incredibly popular, và was considered one of the most valuable accounts of the outside world at the time. It is said that, over a century later, a man by the name of Christopher Columbus carried a copy on his own voyages.

So here are two men—one who went from East to West & one from West khổng lồ East—who embarked on perilous journeys that each took two và a half decades, và brought back lớn their nations intriguing knowledge about the fascinating worlds they saw. One thousand years apart, Zhang Qian & Marco Polo in a way crossed paths, enlightening và inspiring in their roles as emissaries of cross-cultural discovery.

This is the tenth and final installation in our parallel character series. Did you have a favorite? A pair you think we should have included? Let us know in the comments below. Oh, and stand-by for a bonus next week.

Set in a world of greed, betrayal, sexual intrigue & rivalry, “Marco Polo” is based on the famed explorer’s adventures in Kublai Khan’s court.


As Kublai Khan battles his warmonger brother for rule over Mongolia, Marco learns that justice in Khan’s Imperial city is as swift as it is deadly.


Marco begins a dangerous relationship with the beautiful blue Princess as tensions grow between Kublai and Xiangyang’s cunning chancellor Jia Sidao.


As war looms with the walled thành phố of Xiangyang, Prince Jingim tests his diplomacy skills while Kublai questions Marco’s allegiance.


Marco searches for the mastermind behind a murderous plot, while Prince Jingim weighs the risks of retaliation.


On the eve of an auspicious ceremony, Marco searches for the culprit behind the assassination attempt on Kublai Khan -- even as a new one takes shape.


Marco & Hundred Eyes take on a dangerous mission to lớn infiltrate the walled đô thị of Xiangyang, while its chancellor struggles to hold on khổng lồ power.


When Kublai sets his sights -- and his army -- on the taking of the walled thành phố of Xiangyang, Marco's allegiance is tested.


Marco finds his fate in the hands of Kublai yet again, while behind the walls of Xiangyang, Chancellor Sidao sets his sights on regaining power.


Marco's ingenuity -- and loyalty -- is put to the ultimate kiểm tra when Kublai takes a violent & bold step in his quest lớn become emperor of the world.

Kublai is more powerful than ever, but so are the threats to lớn his throne. Marco Polo bears witness to new levels of betrayal, intrigue & deception.

On Prince Jingim's wedding day, Kublai receives disturbing news about the ambitions of his cousin, while Marco navigates a delicate mission.


Marco gets an unpleasant surprise upon his return to Kublai's court. Kublai faces an impossibly difficult decision.


Haunted by recent events, Kublai journeys with Marco into the mountains for answers. Empress Chabi takes kích hoạt to insure an heir to lớn the khan.


The challenge for the throne escalates when two of Kublai's sons are endangered. Far away, another threat khổng lồ the khan is born.


Rebel attacks flare up in the south và pull Kublai's attention away from home. Kokachin gets an unwelcome visitor from her past.


Ahmad's deadly & secret chess match against Kublai enters its endgame, even as Kublai's thirst for power nguồn grows stronger than ever.


Kaidu's ruthlessness reaches new levels in his bid for power, while Hundred Eyes' former lover has him questioning his loyalties.


Marco's allegiance khổng lồ Kublai is tested like never before. Mei Lin's bold move throws Ahmad's plans into chaos.


Marco's past with Kokachin resurfaces. Kublai's position as khan faces a final challenge, even as he welcomes a new heir into the world.

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The day of the kurultai arrives, shaping Kublai's fate as khan. Ahmad makes his final stand, & Marco learns a terrible truth.

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