One of the first and most pressing problems to confront Qubilai, after his election as khan in 1260, was the problem of food supply for the military and civilian population of the imperial capital. This was a problem which had plagued rulers of China long before the coming of the Mongols, ever since the rise of the lower Yangtze area as the economic center of China. During the Sui, T'ang and Northern Sung periods, a fairly adequate solution had been found in a system of waterways which, running in a northwesterly direction, carried food supplies to the nation's capitals, located far inland. This system of waterways became the lifeline of China for over five centuries. But, when Qubilai Qaqan established his administrative headquarters at the northern corner of the great Yellow Plain close by the sea, food supply again became an urgent problem and new solutions had to be found.




Han-sheng Ch'üan ,
T'ang Sung ti-kuo yü y¨n-ho
(The T'ang and Sung Empires and the Canal), (
, passim.


Yule Henry and Cordier Henri ,
The book of Ser Marco Polo
, (
New York
, 3fd edition), 1:


Lien Sung , et al. (editors),
Yüan shib
. (1369), (
Kiangsu Printing Office


Over three and a half million piculs were transported in 1329 as compared to the one million piculs during the Yung-lo period (1403–24) and a million and a half piculs during the Tao-kuang period (1821–50), [see

Shou-i Pai ,
Chung-kuo chiao-t’ung shih
. (History of communications in China), (
]. The highest amount of tribute rice shipped by steamer was in 1909—three million piculs. [See
Dingle Edwin J. and Pratt F. L. ,
Far Eastern products manual
, section on rice.]


The principal source used in the preparation of this study is the Ta-Yüan hai-y¨n chi (Records of maritime transportation of the Great Yüan), edited by Hu Ching [tzu: I-chuang , native of Jen-ho in Chekiang, chin-shih in 1805, and an expositor in the Han-lin Yüan, circa 1830] and published in Lo Chen-yü's collection, Hsüeh-t'ang Ts'ung-k'e

This work was originally the chapters on maritime transportation in the Yüan ching-shih ta-tien, 880 plus 14 chüan, which was commissioned in 1329, completed in 1331, and presented to the throne in 1332. Portions of the Ching-shih tatien, including the sections on economic affairs (shih huo) and military affairs (ping) were incorporated into the Yung-lo ta-tien and remained the parts which were preserved when the rest of the Ching-shih ta-tien was lost.

It was from the Yung-lo ta-tien that Hu Ching copied the passages on maritime transportation which were published under the title Ta-Yüan hai-y¨n chi. His work anticipated that of Wen T'ing-shih (see

Hummel Arthur W. , et al (editors),
Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period
Washington, D. C.
) who, with Wang Kuowei, extracted passages from the Yung-lo ta-tien which they edited and published under the title Ta-Yüan ts'ang-ku chi (Records of Granaries of the Great Yüan) in the Kuang-ts'ang hsüeh-chiung ts'ung-shu (1916).

These two works, together with a third work, Yüan hai-y¨n chih (A Sketch of Maritime Transportation during the Yüan [period]) by Wei Su (late Yüan-early Ming), pro were reprinted in No. 37 of the Kuo-hsüeh Wen-k'u. (Peiping, n.d.). Wei's short work appears to be mainly extracts from the Ching-shih ta-tien.

The Ta-Yüan hai-y¨n chi is in two chüan. The first chüan is a chronological account of grain conveyance from 1282 to 1313, while the second chüan contains a description of the system of maritime transportation down to 1329. For a review of the book, see the article by

Gen Aritaka
“Gen-dai no kaiun to Dai-Gen kaiun-ki (Maritime transportation during the Yüan period and the Ta-Yüan hai-y¨n chi),”
Tōyō gakuhō

Despite the wealth of information, the Ta-Yüan hai-y¨n chi has to be used with caution, as its text contains discrepancies as to names and dates and numerous errors due to careless transcription.

The chief corroboratory source is the Yüan shih. Unlike the other standard histories of China, the Yüan shih (and similarly the Hsin Yüan shih by K'o Shao-min (1919)) does not have a section on ts'ao y¨n i.e. grain transportation via the waterways. On the contrary, it has two separate chüan in its economic section exclusively devoted to maritime transportation. Chüan 93 is based on the Ching-shih ta-tien and contains information up to the year 1328. Chüan 97, based on the Liu-t'iao cheng-lei (1347–48), is a brief summary of events down to 1338.

Other sections of the Yüan shih which threw light on the subject include the annals of Shih-tsu (Qubilai Qaqan) (chüan 4–17), rivers and canals (chüan 64–65), geography (chüan 58), government (chüan 91–92) the tables of ministers in the Chung-shu Sheng (chüan 112), and the biographies of some of the leading personalities (chüan 129, 131, 166, and 205). The biographies of Chu Ch'ing, Chang Hsüan, and Lo Pi may be found in Hsin Yüan shih, (chüan 182).


“The Department of the Grand Secretariat (Chung-shu Sheng) was in charge of general administration, the Privy Council (Shu-mi Yüan) was in charge of military authority, and the Censorate (Yü-shih T'ai) was in charge of dismissal and promotion.” (Yüan shih, 85:1)

During the reign of Qubilai Qaqan, the Grand Secretariat did not have a president (ling) and not all the offices of the ranking ministers were filled, although as organized this deliberative body consists of eight officials:

Two ministers of state (cb'eng-hsiang), right and left.

Four ministers (p'ing-chang cheng-shih).

Four assistant ministers (ch'eng), two right and two left.

Two councillors (Ts'an-cbih cheng-shih)


An officer in charge of civilian population. There were several grades of these officers; a senior director or director-general (shang tsung-kuan) had authority over a population of a hundred thousand. (Yüan shih, 91:10).


Yüan shib, 129:1–2. However, the rank of bsüan-wei sbih was usually reserved for military governors of provinces. Ibid., 91:3.


Hu, 1:1.


In 1281, they brought about the surrender of the Sung admiral Ts'ui Shun and his fleet of five hundred ships, which after the fall of Sung, was still raiding the coast. According to the Hsin Yüan sbih, 182:2, they served under Ataqai (A-t'a-hai ) who commanded the naval forces, but the statement that they sailed in expeditions against Japan in 1283 and against Champa in 1284 is apocryphal.


T'ao Tsung-i , Cho-keng Lu (1366) (Ts'ung-shu cbi-cb'eng edition) 5:85.


Tan, 120 catties or nearly 160 lbs.


The beginning of coastal shipping in China goes back to the fifth century B.C. [see

Kan Lao , “
Lun Han-tai chih lu-yün yü shui-yün
(On land and water transportation during the Han period),”
Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology of the Academia Sinica
, and
Nien-hai Shih ,
Chungkuo chih y¨n-ho
(China's Canal) (
note 215]
. Grain was shipped by sea during the Han, Sui and T'ang periods in the wars against Korea. Tu Fu wrote several poems celebrating maritime transportation, one of which, freely translated, reads: “Yu and Yen (North China) are places of war./ To send supplies is laborious./ Wu-men (Soochow) produces grain and wealth,/ Which are shipped [north] by way of P'eng-lai.” T'ao, 11:176.


Wang surrendered Foochow to the Mongols in 1277, rose to be president of the Board of War in 1279, and in 1281 was in the capital awaiting his commission to go to Kiangsi as councillor.


Hu, 1:3.


These are barriers built across rivers and canals to regulate the How of water, and from Westerners have received “les noms plus ou moins impropres de ‘cliques, eclus, cataractes, sauts,’ etc.” (

Gandar Domin ,
Le canal imperial, Varietés Sinologiques
. Actually, cha is a general term for several types of water barriers. Some are sluices to retain or to discharge water. Others are so contrived so as to permit the passage of ships to higher or lower levels. Ships pass through the cha in two ways:

1. To enable ships to descend from one level to another, in places where the drop was small, the flood-gates were opened at certain hours to allow the ships to proceed through with the downrush of water. The loss of water occasioned by the opening of the flood-gates was soon replaced by streams feeding into the canal. (

Staunton George ,
A historical account of the embassy to the Emperor of China
, (
), 3:
. The flood-gates (tou-men) were usually located at a short distance from the cha. On the T'ung-hui Canal built by Kuo Shou-ching in 1293 between T'ung-chou and the capital, the flood-gates were one li (third of a mile) from the cha (Yüan Shih, 204:8). This method of lowering ships was not an invention of the Yüan engineers. It was already in use during the T'ang period. (Cf.
Hsiu Ou-yang ,
Hshi Tang shu
Chekiang Printing Office
), 33A:

2. The method of raising ships from one level to another was more difficult. The ships were hauled over inclined planes built onto the cha by huge windlasses manned by three or four hundred men. (

Carles W. R. ,
“The Grand Canal of China,”
Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society
, also
Davis John F. ,
China, a general description
, (
, revised edition), 1:
. This method was mentioned in the Jami el Tawarikh (1307) by Rashid'ud-Din, who wrote that the canal ftom Ta-tu to Hang-chou had “many sluices to distribute water over the country. When vessels arrived, they were hoisted up by means of machinery, whatever their size, and let down the other side.” (cited in Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, The book of Ser Marco Polo, 2:175–6, note 2


Moule A. C. ,
“Marco Polo's Sinjumata,”
T'oung pao
, set 2,
, and
Ken Sudō ,
Saishū Batō
(Ritsumeikan, Literature no. 40,


Hu, 1:10.


Kuwabara Jicsuzo Sō-matsu no teikyo Shibaku saükijin Bu ju-ko no jiseki (Concerning the man of the western regions, P'u Shou-keng, who was Superintendent of Trading Ships during the end of the Sung dynasty), (Tokyo, 1923), translated by

Yu Feng as
Cbung-kuo A-la-po baishang cbiao-t'ung shih
(History of Maritime Relations between China and Arabia), (
, 2nd edition),
note 5


Hu, 1:11 and Yüan shih, 93:14. But in Hu, 1:1 and Yüan shih, 166:4, it was stated that three Offices of Maritime Transportation were established, the third being under Lo Pi.


Hu, 1:11.


Hsin Yüan shih, 182:1–4.


Yüan shih, 65:6–8, stated that it was the assistant minister Minjurdan (Min-chuerh-tan ) who received three letters from Onowunordai (O-no-wu-no-erh-tai ) suggesting the disbandment of Abači's command.


Evidently the order was only for the suspension of the maintenance work on the Ta-ch'ing and Chiao-lai Rivers, not the traffic. The new waterways, as they were called, continued to be used for grain conveyance until they were entirely unnavigible. The Yüan sbih is incorrect in its account of the “Chi-chou Canal” (65:8) when it states that the canal between Tsining and Tung-o was discontinued. It is also wrong in telescoping all the events which took place from 1283 to 1286 into the space of one year, and it makes a further mistake in stating that that year was the 31st year of Chih-yüan [l294].


Hu, 1:26.


In December 1288, perhaps to compensate them for depriving them of their grain transportation business.


This appears to be a special agency and not the Directorate of Ch'üan-chou (Ch'üan-chou Tsung-kuan Fu). The Ambulatory Office for Ch'üan-chou was created by Sangga in 1287 for the specific function of managing maritime transportation and foreign commerce. During the Yüan period, there was no fixed rule for creating mobile administrations (hsing-sheng). They were established as the occasion arose to handle specific jobs for the state. (Yüan shih, 91:1. Also cf. Maeda Naonori , “Genchō gyōshō no seiritsu katei (The process of creating hsing-sheng in the Yüan dynasty),” Shigaku zasshi, 56 (1945):637–46, and T'an Ch'i-jang , “Yüan Fuchien hsing-sheng chien-chih yen-ke k'ao (Study of the development and establishment of the hsing-sheng in Fukien during the Yüan period),” Yü-kung 2 no 1 (Sept 1, 1934):2–4).

The Directorate of Ch'üan-chou, on the other hand was established in 1283 and remained in existence to the end of the Yüan period.


The minister of state Altun (An-t'ung ) objected strongly to the appointment of these two men. Sangga waited till he was away from the capital to appeal directly to Qubilai Qaqan to authorize their appointment. Sab'ud-Din was responsible for cutting down the food allowance of the members of the mission to Argun, Il-khan of Persia, when it left Ch'üan-chou in 1290, accompanied by Marco Polo. (Yang Chih-chiu and Ho Yung-chi, “Marco Polo quits China,” HJAS, 9 (1945):51).


Elsewhere, the name of Chang Hsüan's son was given as Chang Wen-hu , e.g. Yüan shih, 15:3 and 209:17.


According to the Hsin Yüan shih, 53:8–9, the suggestion was first made in 1280.


According to Shao Yüan-p'ing , Yüan shih lei-pien (1669, in the Ssu-ch'ao pieh-sbih) 28:22, Chu Ch'ing and Chang Hsüan were the authors of the protest.


Ibid., Section entitled “Hai-yün t'u-k'ao ,” 5.


Except for the supply route between Ta-tu and Shang-tu which was operated by the Board of War.

On the connection between maritime transportation and the development of the navy, cf. the statements of Ch'iu Chün (1420–95) in chüan 34 of his work Ta-hsüeh yen-i pu, as cited in Kuo-hsüeh wen-k'u, no 37, 123. When Chang Hsüan and Chu Ch'ing died, Kao Hsing, who commanded the expedition against Java in 1293, wept and said: “A navy without Chang and Chu and an army without Liu Erh Batur [Liu Kuo-chieh]. I have nothing for which to live.” (Hsin Yüan shih, 181:7)


Ibid., 177:21.


Hu, 1:15.


Hsin Yüan shih, 182:3.


T'ao, 5:85.


Ch'i Huang , (editor), Hsü wen-hsien t'ung-k'ao (Chekiang Printing Office, 1887), 31:16.


Yüan shib, 97:1.

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