Marco Polo’s mission in China was to assist his father and uncle in completing Kublai Khan’s assignment of bringing back Christian priests and holy oil. In writing about his trips, he hoped to teach modern Europeans about China and other East Asian countries.
Marco’s father, Niccolo Polo, and uncle, Maffeo Polo, departed Venice when Marco was a child, leaving him to be reared by relatives. They travelled to China, where Kublai Khan gave them orders to deliver a letter to the Pope demanding oil from the Holy Sepulcher and 100 priests to teach the Chinese people about western culture and Christianity. Marco was about 15 years old when they returned to Venice, and they allowed him to accompany them on their return journey. They were only partially successful in achieving their objective. They were assigned two priests instead of 100, and the priests fled before reaching China owing to terror. However, the Polos did receive oil from Jerusalem, which they brought back with them.
Marco’s second ambition, to write about the Eastern lands, was more successful. He returned to Venice after a 23-year journey. While imprisoned in Genoa, he encountered Rustichello da Pisa, a writer who assisted him in compiling an account of his exploits. Many other explorers and adventurers were influenced by “The Description of the World,” popularly known as “The Travels of Marco Polo.” On his exploration voyages, Christopher Columbus, for example, always carried a copy of Marco Polo’s book.