PRIMARY SOURCE: IBN BATTUTA IN CHINA
The Chinese are infidels. They worship idols and burn their dead as the Indians do. The king is a Tatar of the lineage of Tankiz khan [Chinggis khan]. In every city in China is a quarter where the Muslims live separately and have mosques for their Friday prayers and other assemblies. They are highly regarded and treated with respect. The Chinese infidels eat the meat of pigs and dogs and sell it in the bazaars. They live comfortably and in affluence but take little care about their food and clothing. You will see an important merchant whose wealth is beyond reckoning wearing a tunic of coarse cotton. All the Chinese pay attention only to gold and silver vessels.
The Chinese are of all peoples the most skillful in crafts and attain the greatest perfection in them.... No one, whether Greek or any other' rivals them in mastery of painting. They have prodigious facility in it. One of the remarkable things I saw in this connection is that if I visited one of their cities, and then came back to it I always saw portraits of me and my companions painted on the walls and on paper in the bazaars. I went to the Sultan's city, passed through the painters' bazaar and went to the Sultan's palace with my companions. We were dressed as Iraqis. When I returned from the palace in the evening I passed through the said bazaar I saw my and my companions' portraits painted on paper and hung on the walls. We each one of us looked at the portrait of his companion; the resemblance was correct in all respects. I was told the Sultan had ordered them to do this, and that they had come to the palace while we were there and had begun observing and painting us without our being aware of it. It is their custom to paint everyone who comes among them. They go so far in this that if a foreigner does something that obliges him to flee from them, they circulate his portrait throughout the country and a search made for him. When someone resembling the portrait is found, he is arrested.
When we had crossed the sea [to China] the first city to which we came was Zaitun [Chu'an-chou]... The Muslims live in a separate city. On the day I arrived I saw there the amir [high official] who had been sent to India as ambassador ... had been in our company and had been in the junk which sank. He greeted me and informed the head of the customs about me, and he installed me in handsome lodgings.... As these merchants live in infidel country they are delighted when a Muslim arrives among them. They say: "He has come from the land of Islam....
China, for all its magnificence, did not please me. I was deeply depressed by the prevalence of infidelity and when I left my lodging I saw many offensive things which distressed me so much that I stayed at home and went out only when it was necessary.
Source:H.A.R. Gibb, trans. and ed. (trans. completed with annotations by C.F. Beckingham), The Travels of lbn Battuta A.D. 1325-1354, Translated with revisions and notes from the Arabic text edited by C. Defr6mery and B.R San guinetti, vol.4 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1994), 889-890, 891-892, 894~95, 900.
Travels to Anatolia and the Asian Steppe
Anatolia, known in ancient times as Asia Minor and today as Turkey, was the next land lbn Battuta toured. He called it one of the finest regions in the world. The people were cleanly dressed, the food delicious, and the men handsome. The region was also in a state of political and cultural transition. Muslim Turkish warriors were in the process of defeating the Byzantine Empire and already looking to invade southeastern Europe. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the Seljuk Turks, who had migrated into Anatolia from Central Asia, drove the Byzantines nearly back to Constantinople.
In the thirteenth century, the Mongols and Turkish allies established domination over eastern
and central Anatolia. The Mongols tightly regulated the vast areas they controlled. The result was the Pax Mongolica, or period of peace in the region. Anatolia was a center of far-ranging trade for metal wares, leather, silk, woolens, grain, fur, timber, and slaves.
lbn Battuta was well received in Anatolia, hosted at the courts of Turkish princes and welcomed into fraternal societies of young men who fought one another for the privilege of entertaining him. Here on the frontier of Islam he was honored as a religious and legal scholar. The Turkish rulers, all descendants of rough-hewn warriors, were anxious to acquire the fine points of their new faith and the sacred law. One ruler, Sultan Orkhan, asked our traveler to write down traditions of the Prophet. These were then translated into Turkish and put on display. lbn Battuta also asserted his religious prestige by chastising a Jewish physician for placing himself above the Qur'anic readers at a banquet. After traveling throughout Anatolia, he reached the Black Sea. Thanks to gifts from Turkish benefactors, he now owned fine clothes, horses, money, slaves, and concubines.
Crossing the Pontic Mountains in winter, he and his entourage encountered problems. They started to follow a Turkish horse woman and her servant across what they thought was a ford in a river. The woman fell from her horse. Her servant tried to help her, but both were swept away. They were finally pulled from the river. The woman survived, but the servant died. lbn Battuta and his friends went further downstream, loaded their possessions on a raft, and were pulled across the stream.
Higher in the mountains, heavy snow began to fall. The group's guide threatened to leave them if they did not give him money. The guide got the money but then left the group stranded. They nearly froze to death. Finally, in desperation, lbn Battuta rode ahead on his thoroughbred horse. He found a lodge of Sufi devotees and an Arabic-speaking man, who turned out to be a former acquaintance! A party was immediately sent out to rescue the rest of the travelers.
Ibn Battuta's adventures now took him to another frontier of his safe world. He was leaving areas steeped in the traditions of Islam and venturing into a land only recently converted. Here, Muslim leaders were striving to legitimize their rule by becoming more civilized and better educated in the shari'a. Ibn Battuta could use his credentials as a scholar to take advantage of a ready welcome. He was also entering the domain of the Mongol khans of Kipchak and Chagatay. They controlled a vast territory stretching from the grain-growing Volga River Valley to the northern Caucasus and from the alluvial delta of the Amu Darya (Oxus) River to the plains of Russia and the Ukraine.
The Moroccan traveler then continued to AI-Quram, the provincial capital of the Kipchak territory, the kingdom known in European history as the Golden Horde. Al-Quram was a staging area for trans-Asian caravans. Here lbn Battuta purchased three wagons equipped with round tents called yurts. These were the equivalent of American prairie schooners, and an unusual form of transportation for lbn Battuta. Muslims from North Africa and Southwest Asia traveled by animal, not wheeled vehicles. These wagons were perfect transport for the broad rolling steppes. The caravan he joined was like a small town, vast numbers of carts moving slowly across the plain.
When the caravan found Ozbeg Khan, the Mongol ruler of Kipchak, he was seated in a huge golden yurt on a silver throne surrounded by his four wives, orkhatuns. lbn Battuta was struck by the equality Turkish and Mongol women enjoyed with men. He was taken aback by unveiled women who accompanied their husbands to the bazaars. He even noted that the husbands seemed liked servants to their wives. The khatuns owned lands of their own and sometimes made administrative decisions or signed decrees. When the senior khatun entered the golden tent, the khan went to the entrance of the pavilion, greeted her, escorted her to her couch, and did not sit himself until she was seated. Unlike the secluded women of Southwest Asia, the khatun was in full view and unveiled! Each khatun had three hundred wagons which carried chests, money, food, robes, and furnishings. An additional one hundred wagons carried four servant girls each.
One khatun was the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor. Hers was an arranged marriage, designed to improve relations between the Mongols and the Christian Byzantines. This princess received permission to return to Constantinople to give birth to a child in her father's palace. Ibn Battuta asked and received permission to go with her. He tells us that the caravan consisted of 5,000 horsemen, 500 troops, 200 slave girls, 20 Greek and Indian pages, 400 wagons, 2,000 horses, and 500 oxen and camels. To their detriment, the peasants in the surrounding areas had to supply food to the entire entourage.
As soon as the khatun entered Byzantine territory, she changed her behavior. She left behind the Islamic prayers, drank wine, and ate pork (a meat forbidden by the Qur'an). After reaching Constantinople, the khan's wife stayed with her father. lbn Battuta visited all the sights of the city, including the church of Hagia Sophia, which he did not enter because he would have had to prostrate himself before the cross. He then toured the nearby Genoese colony of Galata. Leaving the princess in Constantinople, he returned to the steppe as winter set in. He wore three fur coats, two pairs of trousers, two pairs of socks, and boots lined with bear skin. His beard froze when he washed his face. He had to be helped onto his horse because he had on so many clothes. Traveling this way, he reached the khan at his capital of New Saray.
Restless as always, Ibn Battuta decided to make his way to India. He led an entourage south across the steppe, then crossed the Hindu Kush, where the snow was so deep that felt cloths had to be spread in front of the camels so they could walk. When he descended into the Indus Valley, he joined other Muslims who looked to India and the Muslim ruler there for employment. Though the date is unclear, he appears to have arrived in India in 1333.