Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Across the Centuries

Understanding Primary Sources:
Marco Polo and China

Objective: Students read an excerpt from Marco Polo's memoirs of China and then compare medieval China and Europe.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
4 hours over 4 days

Building Background:
Marco Polo was a 13th-century trader who traveled from his home in Venice, Italy to the distant land of China. Marco Polo remained in China from 1275 until 1292. For seventeen years, Polo traveled, observed, and even worked for the great Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. Upon his return to Europe, Polo's observations were recorded in a book called Il milione. In this book, Marco Polo describes not only the land and people of China, but some interesting objects and technology. To medieval Europe, news of these people, places, and inventions seemed almost too fantastic to believe. Although some scholars are skeptical of Marco Polo's observations, Il milione offers historians a glimpse of life in 13th-century Mongol China. Inform the class that they will study some of Marco Polo's observations to learn how the Chinese created such objects as porcelain cups or dishes. Tell students that they will compare what they learn about China to medieval Europe.

What To Do:

1. Distribute the Marco Polo Visits Tin-gui worksheet. Suggest that students read Marco Polo's observations. Tell students to use these observations and what they already know about Marco Polo to complete the puzzle. When students have completed their worksheets, ask for volunteers to share their thoughts about the passage and the puzzle answers.

2. Tell students that, like Marco Polo, they will be researching and reporting some of medieval China's people, places, objects, and technology. Students may begin their research by reviewing Unit 4, Chapter 8, of their textbooks. Encourage students to visit their school or local library or use the Internet to find some useful sites. Suggest students begin their on-line research by visiting these sites:

Daily Life in Ancient China

The Cheat Sheet provides a list of China's dynasties with a Quick Glimpse of their accomplishments.

3. Have students briefly discuss the results of their research. Students should share what they have learned about the people, places, objects, or technology that may have been found in China by 1275. Encourage students to compare some of medieval China's people, places, objects, and technology with those of medieval Europe. (If appropriate, students should note how long it took Europeans to adopt or invent similar technologies.)

4. Have students choose a place or an object they encountered in their research. Using their research notes and sources, each student should draw a diagram of the place or object and specify its features. If students have difficulty with this task refer them to samples of cross-sections and other diagrams.

5. After students complete their diagrams, have them form small groups in which they can share their work. Encourage students to offer constructive suggestions and collaborate on editing these diagrams. As each group discusses the diagrams, prompt them to think about the impact of this place or object on humanity.

Ask for volunteers to share their diagrams with the class. As a whole, the class should discuss the impact of this place or object on humanity.


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