Rabban Sauma and the First Journey from China to the West
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 Just when the adventurer Marco Polo discovered the East, an obscure 13th-century Chinese priest became the first Asian to travel from Peking to Paris. His tale, best suited for an epic, a romance quest, or a political parable at the very least, is presented here in an unimaginative academic narrative by Rossabi (East Asian History/ Columbia Univ. and Queens College; Khubilai Khan, 1988). A priest of the Nestorian sect (a heretical Christian group that flourished in the Far East), Rabban Sauma and his young disciple, Makros, set out on a religious pilgrimage financed by Khubilai Khan to collect relics and visit religious sites in the Holy Land. Recovering from the perils of the deserts and mountains of South China, the two paused in Baghdad, where Makros was elected Patriarch of the Church. Nearly ten years later, the Ilkhanate of Persia sent Rabban to engage the help of the Pope and the kings of France and England in mounting a Crusade to drive the Egyptian Muslims out of the Holy Land. Although the mission failed--the kings were unable to assist, and the Pope was unwilling unless Eastern Christians and their rulers submitted to the Roman Church- -Rabban visited many churches, celebrated mass at the Vatican, and brought relics such as a scrap of Jesus' clothing back to Baghdad, where the Ilkhanate built him a church. Rabban died in 1317; his papers were discovered in 1887. Here, Rossabi, who laments Rabban's ``failure'' to record things, buries the material he does have in pedantry and irrelevant erudition: After numerous perils, a travel- weary Chinese priest arrives in Paris and delights in what he believes are 30,000 students--and the author lengthily disputes the calculation while he overlooks the wonder of it all. Rabban, who surely deserves to be known, remains an echo in search of a voice. (Three maps; 15 b&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
ISBN: 4-770-01650-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1992


NonfictionMARCO POLO by John Man
by John Man