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Paintings of “Along the River During the Qingming Festival”


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The era of Song dynasty (宋朝) that succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in Chinese history began in 960 and continued until 1279. There are two distinct periods in the Song dynasty  – Northern and Southern.

During the Northern Song (北宋) period from 960 to 1127, the dynasty controlled most of China proper with the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) as its capital.

During the Southern Song (南宋) period from 1127 to 1279, the Song dynasty lost control of northern China in the Jin–Song Wars to the Jurchen Jin dynasty.

The Song dynasty was the first in world history to issue national bank notes or true paper money, the first Chinese regime to establish a permanent navy, and the first to use gunpowder. It was during the Song dynasty that the Chinese found the true north using a compass.

The Qing Ming Shang He Tu (simplified Chinese: 清明上河图; traditional Chinese: 清明上河圖) or “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” is a scroll painting created by the famous Chinese painter Zhang Zeduan (1085 – 1145) alias Zheng Dao who lived during the transitional period from the Northern Song to the Southern Song and was instrumental in the early history of the Chinese landscape art style known as shan shui.

This painting considered the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings dubbed as “China’s Mona Lisa” has a theme of the worldly commotion and the festive spirit during the celebration of the Qingming Festival. It encapsulates the landscape of the capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng and the life of its people.

This scroll painting is 9.76 inches (24.8 cm) in height and 17.35 feet (5.287 metres) long. It depicts the bustling and lively life and beautiful natural scenery on both sides of the river that meanders through Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty during the Qingming Festival. The two main portions in the painting are the countryside and the market in the densely populated city. It has more than 170 trees, 30 buildings, 814 humans, 8 sedan chairs, over 60 horses and other animals, 20 vehicles, and 28 boats.

The painting reveals the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor in successive scenes and offers glimpses of the architecture and clothing of the Song period.

For centuries, the scroll painting was a pride of the personal imperial collections of the Chinese emperors.

Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the Last Emperor (Source - Japanese magazine 'Historical Photograph,' March 1934 issue published by Rekishi-Shasin Kai)
Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the Last Emperor (Source – Japanese magazine ‘Historical Photograph,’ March 1934 issue published by Rekishi-Shasin Kai)

The original Song dynasty painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” was a favorite of Puyi (February 7, 1906 – October 17, 1967), also known as Henry Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China and the twelfth and final ruler of the Qing dynasty. At the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, he took it along with him when he left Beijing. It was then re-purchased and kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

The following video describes how the original “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” painting showcased the best of life in the Song Dynasty – one of the golden ages of China.

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Remakes of the painting

Revered as a work of art, the scroll painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” inspired the creation of several works of art during subsequent dynasties. Court artists made re-interpretive versions of the painting by reviving and updating the style of the original. Even though each of these later paintings follow the composition and the original theme, they differ in details and painting techniques.

The Yuan version
Zhao Mengfu (1254 - 1322)
Zhao Mengfu (1254 – 1322)

During the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322) made a remarkable remake of the original,

The Ming version

Another notable remake painted during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) is 22 feet (6.7 metres) long and is longer than the original Song version.

Based on contemporary fashions and customs the Ming version replaced the scenery from the Song dynasty to that of the Ming dynasty with the costumes worn by the people updated and the styles of vehicles (boats and carts) changed.

The bridge scene in the original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting - An oncoming boat is in danger of crashing into the bridge.
The bridge scene in the original Qing Ming Shang He Tu painting – An oncoming boat is in danger of crashing into the bridge.

In the original Song painting,  the crew of an oncoming boat have not yet fully lowered their sails and are in danger of crashing into wooden the bridge.

Men ashore guiding a boat by pulling ropes tied to it in the Ming version.
Men ashore guiding a boat by pulling ropes tied to it in the Ming version.

In the Ming version, a stone bridge with a taller arch replaced the Song wooden bridge, and men ashore guide the boat under the bridge by pulling ropes tied to it.

The Qing version

On January 15, 1737, the Qianlong Emperor received a present of a version painted by five Qing dynasty court painters (Chen Mu, Sun Hu, Jin Kun, Dai Hong and Cheng Zhidao). This Qing remake is much larger – 36 feet (11 metres) long and  1 ft 1.68 inches (35 cm) high – and has over 4,000 people in it.

While in the original Song version, the leftmost side contains images of the busy city, the leftmost third of this Qing version depicts life within the palace, with buildings and people appearing refined and elegant. Most people within the castle are women along with some well-dressed officials.

The Qianlong Emperor in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, (1688 - 1766).
The Qianlong Emperor in his study, painting by Giuseppe Castiglione, (1688 – 1766).

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In April 1742, a poem composed by the Qianlong Emperor was added to the rightmost end of the Qing remake.  The poem reads as follows:

蜀錦裝金壁   – A wall of gold has been mounted on Shu brocade.
吳工聚碎金   – Craftsmen from Wu collect spare change
謳歌萬井富 – To pay tribute to the abundance of a myriad of families.
城闕九重深  – The watchtowers of the city rise to great heights.
盛事誠觀止  – The bustling scene is truly impressive.
遺踪借探尋 – It is a chance to explore vestiges of bygone days.
當時誇豫大 – At that time, people marveled at the size of Yu,
此日歎徽欽 – And now, we lament the fates of Hui and Qin.

In 1949, the National Palace Museum in Taipei received the Qing version along with many other artifacts.

Over the centuries, many affluent Chinese treasured the original Qingming scroll. Eventually, it returned to public ownership.

The original Song dynasty painting now kept at the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City and the Qing version in the Taipei Palace Museum, are both considered national treasures and are exhibited every few years for brief periods.

The following video with narration in Chinese shows the different versions of the remakes of the “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” but uses the Ming version to explain the life of the Chinese then, in the near past, and now.

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Digital version

Logo of Shanghai World Expo 2010.

From May 1 to October 31, 2010, China hosted Expo 2010, a major World Expo,  officially known as the Expo 2010 Shanghai China in the tradition of international fairs and expositions.

A 3D animated, viewer-interactive digital version of the original “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” titled “River of Wisdom“, screened for three months was the primary exhibit at the China Pavilion. This elaborate computer animated mural about 30 times the size of the original scroll had moving characters and objects that made the painting come to life. It presented the scene in a four-minute day to night cycles. Those who reserved in advance had to queue up to two hours to see the 3D animated version.

After the Expo, the digital version was on display at the AsiaWorld–Expo in Hong Kong from November 9 to 29, 2010; at the Macau Dome in Macau from March 25 to April 14, 2011; and at the Expo Dome in Taipei, Taiwan from July 1 to September 4, 2011.

From December 7, 2011, to February 6, 2012, a digital reproduction was exhibited at the Singapore Expo titled “A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art“.

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A European in the Orient: Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Marco Polo died at his home in Venice on January 8, 1324. Before his death, friends and readers of his book visited him and urged him to admit that his book was a fiction. Marco would not relent. He told them:

I have not told half of what I saw!

​Marco Polo has been long regarded as the earliest and most distinguished of European travelers of all times for traversing Asia from one extremity to the other. He surpassed every other traveler of his time in the extent of the unknown regions he visited, as well as in the amount of new and important information he had collected. His description of the Chinese imperial court and the Chinese empire under the most powerful of the Asiatic dynasties, and tales of the adjacent countries in the Far East, forms a grand historical picture not painted by any other traveler of his period.

Authenticity is important in any travel narrative, otherwise it altogether becomes a worthless romance. A profound ignorance veiled  Europe when the Polos returned from the East. Doubts of the authenticity of Marco’s tales arose since most of the regions he had traversed were wholly unknown at that time. And his discoveries far transcended the knowledge of his age. Also, many editions of Marco Polo’s travelogue proliferated in an age when printing was unknown. The narratives varied from one another, often corrupted to a great extent.

Even now, some argue that Marco Polo never reached China, but cobbled together secondhand accounts of what he had heard. They say there are inaccuracies in the tales. They point out that he never mentioned the basic elements of Chinese culture, such as drinking tea, the use of chopsticks, the Chinese characters, or the tradition of foot-binding.

Responders to such skeptics have stated that if the purpose of Marco Polo’s stories of travels was to impress others with tales of his high esteem for an advanced civilization, then it is possible that Polo shrewdly would omit those details that would cause his readers to scoff at the Chinese with a sense of European superiority. Marco lived among the elite Mongols. Foot-binding was almost unknown among the Mongols and was rare even among Chinese during Polo’s time.

Some observers, who have only a cursory view of the history of China, say he never mentioned the Great Wall in his book. These people are ignorant of the fact that the Great Wall, familiar to us today, is a Ming structure constructed, about two centuries after Marco Polo’s travels in China, to keep out northern invaders.

New Evidence

It is odd that Marco Polo never produced a single map to accompany his narrative accounts in the ghostwritten book. Hence, scholars have long debated its the veracity. Now, there is new evidence in favor for this historical puzzle of whether Marco Polo did indeed visit China and the Far East. The proof is in the form of a curious collection of fourteen little-known maps and related documents purported to have belonged to the family of Marco Polo.

In the 1880s, Marcian Rossi, an Italian, immigrated to the United States. He brought along with him a collection of sheepskin vellum he said were of the 13th and 14th century. There were 14 little-known maps and related documents detailing Marco Polo’s journey to the Far East. These  documents bear the signatures of the three daughters of Marco Polo — Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.

The existence of these parchments came to light only in the 1930s, when Marcian Rossi contacted the Library of Congress. He explained that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian Admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family. But the collection did not undergo exhaustive analysis.

Are the maps forgeries or facsimiles?  They created a problem for the historians of cartography. Did Marco Polo’s daughters, whose names appear on some of these artifacts, preserve in them geographic information about Asia as told by their father? Did they inherit the maps created by him? Did Marco Polo entrust the maps to a Venetian admiral who had links to Rossi’s family line? Or, if the maps have no connection to Marco Polo, who made them, when, and for what purpose?

While some historians discounted the 14 parchments as mere fantasy, forgeries, or facsimiles, others wanted a balanced, detailed study of the documents.

Benjamin B. Olshin, a historian of cartography and a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, spent more than a decade studying the artifacts. He translated the Italian, Latin, Arabic and Chinese inscriptions found therein. All but one of the original documents, a map Marcian Rossi donated to the Library of Congress, remain in the possession of Rossi’s great-grandson Jeffrey Pendergraft in Texas. Olshin is the first scholar in decades to see those originals.

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Marco Polo's 'Map with Ship' (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)
Marco Polo’s ‘Map with Ship‘ (Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division)

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The map donated by Marcian Rossi to the Library of Congress, dubbed “Map with Ship,” is a curious one. It has an illustration of a Venetian sailing vessel and a sketch of what appears to be outlines of Japan, Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, the Bering Strait, the Aleutian Islands and the coastlines of present-day Alaska and British Columbia. The map was not a navigational aid because it lacks longitude and latitude reference lines.

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The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin
The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps by Benjamin B. Olshin

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Olshin has detailed the results of his intensive research in his book, “The Mysteries of the Marco Polo Maps.” The book is the first credible book-length analysis of these parchments. It is a balanced, detailed, and a non speculative work of cartographic scholarship, not another ‘who discovered?’ sensation. Olshin charts the course of the documents from obscure origins in the private collection of the Italian-American immigrant Marcian Rossi in the 1930s. He describes the investigations by the Library of Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI for their authenticity. Olshin describes his own efforts to track down and study the Rossi maps.

After a  thorough tracing of Marcian Rossi’s ancestry, Olshin asserts that Rossi’s explanation that Marco Polo had bestowed the documents upon a Venetian admiral, Ruggero Sanseverino, and that they had been passed down through generations of the Rossi family was credible.

Olshin describes himself as an “evidence guy” and makes no claims that the document “Map with Ship,” depicts Alaska for certain although there are similarities. Olshin also admits, the authenticity of the ten maps and four texts is not settled. The ink on the parchments remains untested. A radiocarbon study of the sheepskin vellum of one key map, the only one subjected to such analysis, dates it to the 15th or 16th century, making it at best a copy.

Regardless of the origin of the documents, Olshin offers insights into Italian history, the age of exploration, and the wonders of cartography. He then takes his readers on a fascinating journey to the early legendary lands of the Chinese.

Alessandro Scafi said in Times Literary Supplement (UK):

“Olshin plays with the idea that Marco Polo’s relatives may have preserved geographical information about distant lands first recorded by him, or even that they may have inherited maps that he made. If genuine, Olshin argues, these maps and texts would confirm that Marco Polo knew about the New World two centuries before Columbus, either from his own experience or through hearing about it from the Chinese … Fascinating material … Olshin himself admits that there is no hard evidence to support his thrilling speculations. Including translations of every annotation and inscription, Olshin’s study and description of the fourteen parchments are exhaustive. His analysis, however, leaves many questions open … A fascinating tale about maps, history and exploration.”

The parchments in the Rossi collection may not only back up Marco Polo’s claim that he journeyed to the Orient, but also could reveal he might have set foot on the North American continent, 200 years before Christopher Columbus. It is purported that Columbus carried a well-worn copy of “The Travels of Marco Polo” with him on his historic 1492 voyage. It is conjectured that the travels of Marco Polo inspired Columbus to seek a westward sea route to the riches of East Asia, but instead landed in the New World.

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← Previous: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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A European in the Orient: Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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When Niccolò, Maffeo, and Marco Polo,  arrived in Italy they found the Republic of Venice at war with the Most Serene Republic of Genoa, that had one of the most powerful navies in the Mediterranean.

Marco Polo joined the Venetians in the war. He commanded a galley equipped with a trebuchet, a type of catapult that used as a siege engine in the Middle Ages. The Genoans captured Marco in a skirmish in 1296, off the Anatolian coast between Adana and the Gulf of Alexandretta, and imprisoned him.

While spending several months in prison between 1298–1299, Marco became a friend of a fellow prisoner Rustichello da Pisa, an Italian writer of romance. Marco told Rustichello about his time in Asia. Rustichello soon committed his stories to paper in Old French. The romance writer also incorporated into it tales of his own as well as other collected anecdotes and current affairs from China.

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Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo
Le livre des merveilles du monde. Marco Polo

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After his release in 1299, Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa together turned the written notes into a travelogue titled “Livre des Merveilles du Monde” (Book of the Marvels of the World) or “Devisement du Monde” (Description of the World). In Italian the account appeared as “Il Milione” (The Million) or Oriente Poliano and was published later in English as “The Travels of Marco Polo.

Marco Polo was not the first European to reach China.

Marco Polo was the first to leave a detailed popular chronicle of his experience in medieval China to the world, but he definitely was not the first European to travel to the Far East.

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John of Plano Carpini's great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the "Historical Atlas" by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)
Giovanni da Pian del Carpine’s great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue. From the “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923 (2nd edition)

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During the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe, the Battle of Legnica on April 9, 1241, proved disastrous. The loss threatened to cast European Christendom under the rule of Ögedei Khan, the 2nd Khagan of the Mongol Empire.

Four years later, with the dread of the Mongols still on the mind of the people in eastern Europe, Pope Innocent IV, dispatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols. It was partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information about Mongol armies and their intention for the future. The Pope chose 65-year-old Friar Giovanni da Pian del Carpine to head this mission.

The mission started on Easter day April 16, 1245, from Lyon, where the Pope then resided. Giovanni bore a letter “Cum non solum” dated March 13, 1245, from the Pope to Ögedei Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Another friar, Stephen of Bohemia, accompanied Giovanni, broke down at Kaniv near Kiev. Another Minorite, Benedykt Polak, appointed to act as interpreter joined Giovanni at Wrocław.

Their journey was perilous. The Papal legate wrote that they were, “so ill that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.

Friar Giovanni and his companions rode an estimated 3000 miles in 106 days. By the time they reached their destination Ögedei Khan was dead.

On August 24, 1246, Giovanni and his companions witnessed the formal enthronement of Güyük Khan as the Third Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The new emperor refused the invitation to become a Christian, but demanded that the Pope and rulers of Europe should come to him and swear  their allegiance to him.

When Güyük Khan dismissed the expedition in November, 1246, he gave them a letter to the Pope, written in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin. It was a brief imperious assertion of the Mongol emperor’s office as the “scourge of God.”

Later on, other Catholic emissaries followed. In the 1250s, William of Rubruck, traveled east on a quest to convert the Mongols to Christianity. These early missionaries were largely inspired by the myth of Prester John (Latin: Presbyter Johannes), Christian patriarch and king popular in European chronicles and in the tradition of the 12th through the 17th century.

The accounts about this mythical king vary. They are just a collection of medieval popular fantasy. One such account depicts him as a descendant of the Three Magi, ruling a kingdom full of riches, marvels, and strange creatures. Polo mentions the fictional monarch in his book, and even asserts that Prester John fought a great battle against the Mongol ruler Genghis Kahn.

A Lombardian surgeon also had reached the city of Khanbaliq in 1303. A merchant named Petro de Lucalongo, had accompanied the monk John of Montecorvino to Khanbaliq in 1305.

In his work “Histoire de l’Empire Mongol,” Jean-Paul Roux,  a French Turkologue and a specialist in Islamic culture says that a person named André de Pérouse had mentioned that there was a small Genoese colony, in the harbor of Zaytun in 1326. Andolo de Savignone was the most famous Italian resident of the city. In 1336, Toghon Temür, the 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire and the 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty sent him to the West to buy “100 horses and other treasures.

In 1339, a Venetian named Giovanni Loredanoto returned to Venice from China during the reign of  Emperor Toghon Temür.

A tombstone with the name of Catherine de Villioni, daughter of a Dominici, who died in 1342 during the reign of Toghon Temür was discovered in Yangzhou.

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An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo's fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)
An illuminated manuscript on Marco Polo’s fascinating and adventurous travels (Source: facsimilefinder.com)

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Well-known master artists of the medieval times steeped the manuscripts like the one shown above in enchanting colors.

The Travelogue, “The Travels of Marco Polo” soon spread throughout Europe in manuscript form.  It gave the curious Europeans in the Middle Ages craving to know more about the marvels of the Orient,  the first comprehensive look into the inner workings of the Far East, including China, India, and Japan. Rarely have secular topics had such an intense echo.

The Travelogue is divided into four books:

Book One describes the lands of the Middle East and Central Asia that Marco Polo traveled through on his way to China.

Book Two describes China and the court of Kublai Khan.

Book Three describes some of the coastal regions of the East: Japan, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and the East Coast of Africa.

Book Four describes some of the then-recent wars among the Mongols, and some of the regions of the Far North, like Russia.

No authoritative version of Marco Polo’s book exists. The early manuscripts differ much from one another. Also, inadvertent errors and discrepancies crept in during the process of copying and translating.

The published editions of the travelogue either rely on single manuscripts, or a blend of many versions. For example, the popular translation published by Penguin Books in 1958 is the handiwork of R.E. Latham, who blended several manuscripts together to make a readable whole.

A.C. Moule and Paul Pelliot based their  1938 English translation on a Latin manuscript found in the library of the Cathedral of Toledo in 1932, and is 50 percent longer than other versions.

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Probable view of Marco Polo's own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)
Probable view of Marco Polo’s own geography drawn by H. Yule, 1871. (Source: The Book of Ser Marco Polo. London, 1871, vol. I, p. cxxxv)

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Some published editions carry notes to clarify, as exemplified in the English translation by Henry Yule.

To date, approximately 150 manuscript copies exist in various languages.

After his release from prison, Marco Polo returned to Venice. He married and raised three daughters. During the next 25 years, he carried on the family business.

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Next → Part 3 – Did Marco Polo Really Travel to the Far East?

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A European in the Orient: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.

The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.

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Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)

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Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.

In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by  Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.

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Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.

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Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them  the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout  his dominion.

Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.

In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.

Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.

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Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.
Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.

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In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.

The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars:  Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.

At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.

Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.

When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.

The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.

Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.

In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.

The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.

Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.

Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy.  He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.

The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.

In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.

The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”

The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive.  They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).  The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.

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Marco Polo's Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)
Marco Polo’s Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)

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Next → Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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China Bans Chai Jing’s Antipollution Documentary about Smog in China


China Bans Chai Jing’s Antipollution Documentary about Smog in China

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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

..

Ten years ago, I asked what that smell in the air was,
and I got no answer. Now I know. It’s the smell of money.
– Chai Jing, journalist and documentary filmmaker

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Chai Jing's review - Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog
Chai Jing’s review – Under the Dome – Investigating China’s Smog

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The Chinese documentary film “Under the Dome” was released online on Saturday, February 28, 2015, just before China’s annual “two meetings” period – the meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the following week.

The film highlights the severe pollution problem in China.

Major internet platforms such as Youku Tudou and Tencent aired it without interference from film censors. On Tencent alone, it racked up more than 170 million views and sparked a huge amount of debates online.

Chen Jining, China’s environmental protection minister, praised the documentary as “worthy of admiration” and told reporters it should “encourage efforts by people to improve air quality”.

People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, re-posted the film and published an interview with Chai Jing.

Debates on environmental issues dominated the current session of the National People’s Congress, in Beijing. According to some correspondents, the popularity of the impassioned, independent film about environmental pollution appears to have brought jitters to the communist authorities.

Early this month the Chinese authorities banned the popular documentary just two days after Premier Li Keqiang called pollution a blight on people’s lives and had promised to fight it with all the government’s might. It was no longer aired on Youku Tudou, and Tencent from Friday March 6, 2015. The authorities instructed the media to stop writing about the documentary.

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Chai Jing - former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor.
Chai Jing – former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor.

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Chai Jing is a former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor at the state broadcaster China Central Television. She has a good following among university students with a high-level of social consciousness.

Last year, she quit her job to look after her baby daughter born with a benign lung tumor.

For almost a year, Chai Jing conducted critical investigations of China’s massive air pollution problem. She used $160,000 of her own money and one year to produce the 104-minute documentary “Under the Dome”,  a wake-up call for China.

Chai Jing confesses that, like many other Chinese citizens, it was only recently that she learned the difference between fog and smog. Here is a transcript of the introduction by her:

“This graph shows that the Beijing PM2.5 index during January 2013. In just one month, there were 25 days of smog.

I was in Beijing at that time and as I looked back on this curve over the course of that year, I tried to recall the senses and emotions. But I couldn’t. At that time, everyone said random weather patterns caused the haze. Hardly anyone took it seriously.

In that month, I made four business trips: to Shaanxi, Henan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang. Looking back at the sky of these trips, it seems like China at that time was immersed in smog blanketing 25 provinces and 600 million people. I was right in the middle of it, but I didn’t even realize it. But the sensation in my throat remained. When I was in Xian, I was coughing so badly that I couldn’t even sleep. I cut up a lemon and put it beside my pillow.

When I returned to Beijing, I discovered that I was pregnant … At that moment, I knew she must be a girl … When I heard her [baby’s] heartbeat for the first time, there was nothing I wanted more than for her to be healthy. But she was diagnosed with a benign tumor which would require surgery immediately after birth… Before I could even hold her, she was carried off to the operating room … When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,… When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,… At that moment, I knew she must be a girl … When I heard her [baby’s] heartbeat for the first time, there was nothing I wanted more than for her to be healthy. But she was diagnosed with a benign tumor which would require surgery immediately after birth… … When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,

“The operation was very successful. But there is one thing you have to forgive me for: She is so chubby that it took several attempts to find a vein for the anesthetic.”

I took her tiny hand full of needle marks, and I held it to my face. I called her name until she opened her eyes and looked at me.

I’m a very lucky person. After that, I quit my job so I could spend my time keeping her company and looking after her. As long as we are all together, safe and sound, nothing else matters.

But already on our way home from the hospital, I started to feel scared. The smell of the black smoke and burning fire was everywhere. I covered her nose with my handkerchief. I know how stupid that seems, since in her struggle to breathe through it, she would just breath in more smog.

Before that moment, I’d never been afraid of air pollution and I’d never worn a filter mask. But now, there is a little life in your arms, her breathing, eating and drinking are all on your shoulders. That’s when you begin to feel afraid.

That severe smog at the end of 2013 lasted about tw months. The continuing smog made me feel like it was more than just a random occurrence and that it couldn’t possibly be over quickly. It was the same sky that I saw ten years ago, when I was in Shanxi.”

In 2004, Chai Jing interviewed a six-year-old girl named Wang Huiqing.

Chai: “Have you ever seen a real star before?”

Wang Huiqing: “No, I haven’t.”

Chai: “What about blue sky?”

Wang Huiqing: “I’ve seen one that’s a little blue.”

Chai: “What about white clouds?”

Wang Huiqing: “No, I haven’t.”

Chai then says: “When I interviewed this six-year-old girl in 2004, it didn’t cross my mind at all that what she said could be the same experience my daughter would have.”

Later on in her presentation Chai describes how difficult it was to explain to her daughter why she shouldn’t go outdoors. She says:

“These photos show each day of 2014 in Beijing. Only when the air quality was good would I dare to take my daughter outside with me. But how many good days were there? 175 were polluted. That means that in one year, half of the time I had no choice but to keep her at home like a prisoner.

Sometimes, when I get up in the morning, I see my daughter standing in front of our balcony smacking the glass window. This is her method of telling me that she wants to go outside.

I think, one day, she will ask me ‘Mama, why do you keep me shut inside? What is really out there? Will anything hurt me?’

Everything I have done throughout this year is to answer the questions she will ask me in the future. What is smog? Where does it come from? What can we do about it? ‘

Rivers in Shanxi: 84% are polluted, 62% are no longer usable. Chai speaks to an official named Wang.

Chai: “Sir, do you think this is still a river?”

Wang: “It’s not river water, it’s wastewater. Tests show that the annual average Benzopyrene is a powerful carcinogen. As time goes on, it accumulates in one’s body. Once enough of it accumulates, it increases a person’s risk of getting cancer.”

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Tourists wear facial masks while visiting the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing in January. (Photo: Li Wen/Xinhua/Landov)
Tourists wear facial masks while visiting the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing in January. (Photo: Li Wen/Xinhua/Landov)

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Chai Jing mentions the number of polluted days in some cities in China in 2014: Tianjin – 197, Shenyang – 152, Chengdu – 125, Lanzhou – 112, and Shijiazhuang – 264.

Chai Jing interviews local officials who protect industries that create jobs and pay taxes, but pollute the environment. She poses some tough questions about the politics and economics behind the smog. In one scene she confronts an official about fake emission stickers.

Chai: “So after so many years your law enforcement powers are still completely toothless?”

Officer: “Nowadays I don’t dare open my mouth out of fear that people will see I have no teeth.”

Some scenes in the film are shocking. In one scene during a visit to a hospital operating room, viewers are shown the damage China’s polluted air can do to a person’s lungs.

Chai Jing’s documentary focuses more on pollution and its effects on the daily lives of millions of Chinese. She doesn’t explicitly criticize China’s model of economic development. She does not assign any blame or call for China’s leaders or the party to be held accountable for their policies. However, she explains that the environmental pollution is due to the rapid industrialization. She blames the fast-growth development policies of the past which are linked to corruption for creating environmental side-effects.

Chai Jing’s documentary could be summarized by her words:

“I once watched a TV series titled ‘Under the Dome‘. It was about a small town suddenly enclosed by a dome that appeared out of nowhere. Cut off from the world, no way out. But one day, I realized that we’re all living in the same reality.”

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Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – Hypothetical Theories


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

From the day the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared many theories such as hijacking, disintegration in midair, missile attack, and so on, are being elucidated by pundits and amateurs for the possible disappearance of the flight that took off on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 00:41 MST from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 239 people, including 12 crew members.

Since the international search for the missing aircraft has not yielded any result and the hope of finding it is waning as the days dawn on, implausible and whimsical theories are now circulating in regular and online social media.

A meteor strike?

Some have suggested that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could have been struck by a powerful meteor that shattered it to smithereens, and the bits might have fallen into the sea.

Interception by aliens?

On the ForbiddenKnowledgeTV.com, a conspiracy theory site, Alexandra Bruce has interpreted the unusual data on Flightradar24.com on the date of the disappearance.  He suggests that a UFO might have intercepted the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The radar playback from Flightradar24.com website
The radar playback from Flightradar24.com website. Click image to view video.

Seeing the radar playback of the moments leading up to the plane’s disappearance, one may forgive Malaysia Airlines for not being more forward, in this case – because the radar playback is not only baffling, it shows two distinct anomalies, as pointed out by Intrepid citizen-reporter and YouTube popstar, DAHBOO7.

The radar playback depicts dozens of planes in flight over the region at the time. The first peculiarity is seen in the lower left of the screen. A round object appears in the vicinity of Flight 370 (and amid several others), which the radar does not automatically “read” as airplane. Suddenly, this round object take the form of a “plane” on the radar screen and accelerates at a rate of speed that must be at least five times the speed of the surrounding planes, heading eastward, over the South China Sea – and just as suddenly the object stops and appears to hover in place.

During this same time, there is some evidence that shortly after crossing the Malaysian Peninsula, Flight 370 was in trouble. The radar playback shows that the plane took three sharp turns: right, left, right at an altitude of 35,000 feet and at a speed of 473 knots – just before the radar readings instantly go from 35,000 feet to 0, with the plane still traveling at that speed for a few moments more, at 0 feet altitude before it vanishes from the screen. As of this writing, this plane remains missing, even though the sea is relatively shallow in the area where the lane went missing.

As for the other object described here, it disappears as well. There have been no reports about this object – or plane, or what have you; whether it was a commercial airliner, like the many others in flight during the final moments preceding the disappearance of Flight 370 – but the object in question certainly didn’t behave like a commercial airliner.

Regardless of whether or not this mystery object had anything to do with the demise of of Flight 370 – what IS evident is that the radar readings shown in this clip captured signals from what for now, can only be termed a UFO.

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Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – If Hijacked, Where Did It Go?


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.Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

On Saturday, March 15, 2014, a week after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters:

“Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off.”

This statement implies the Aircraft has been hijacked. It has raised questions about the person or people with deep experience at the controls in the cockpit of the aircraft when it disappeared.

Now, the investigators have started scrutinizing the background of the crew and passengers on board the aircraft more fervently. They are trying to find whether anyone on board other than Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (53) and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid (27) had training in aircraft navigation and deliberately or under coercion diverted the plane from its scheduled route after communication was lost.

Security on cockpit doors has been reinforced on all passenger aircraft after the terrorist attacks of September 11 in New York. Hence, forced entry into the cockpit would not be possible and the pilots would have had enough time to send a warning signal to the ground air traffic controllers.

The aircraft’s transponder in the cockpit was switched off just before the plane passed from Malaysian to the Ho Chi Minh Area air traffic control space – the optimum moment, when the aircraft was not controlled by air traffic controllers in Malaysia or Vietnam. Later, authorities in Thailand and China informed their Malaysian counterparts that the aircraft had not entered their airspace.

Controls in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-200ER (Source: flyawaysimulation.com)
Controls in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-200ER (Source: flyawaysimulation.com)

The Boeing 777-200ER is a large aircraft and relatively new. So, someone who has flown smaller passenger planes, or even smaller Boeings, could not have shut down the aircraft’s communications. The timing of turning off the transponder could be done only by someone who knew this aircraft well, knew the route, and knew how to avoid air traffic control without attracting attention. This certainly points to the involvement of the pilot, the first mate or one or more crew members, willing or unwilling.

On Thursday, March 13, 2014, a US official said during his brief on the search that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 sent signals to a satellite orbiting 22,250 miles over the middle of the Indian Ocean for four hours after the aircraft went missing. This indicates the missing aircraft was still flying for hundreds of miles or more after it was last contacted by ground controllers.

This map released by Malaysian officials shows two red lines representing the possible locations from which Flight 370 sent its last hourly transmission to a satellite at 8:11 a.m. on March 8, more than seven hours after it took off from Kuala Lumpur's airport, and when the plane would most likely have been running low on fuel. Credit Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Satellite contact map released by Malaysian officials shows two red lines representing the possible locations from which Flight 370 sent its last hourly transmissions. (Credit Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia)

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Satellite contact map by SERGIO PEÇANHA, ARCHIE TSE and TIM WALLACE (Source: Malaysian government)
Satellite contact map by SERGIO PEÇANHA, ARCHIE TSE and TIM WALLACE (Source: Malaysian government)

The above two maps released by officials of the Malaysian government and posted in The New York Times show the signals from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 came from somewhere along one of the two arcs shows in red. The northern arc runs from the southern border of Kazakhstan in central Asia to northern Thailand and the southern arc runs from a location near Jakarta to the Indian Ocean, roughly 1,000 miles off the west coast of Australia.

The land area the northern arc passes through encompasses portentous arenas of insurgency and highly militarized zones from Kazakhstan in central Asia to northern Thailand. The beginning of the arc lies close to northern Iran. It then passes through Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, northern India, the Himalayas and Myanmar.

If  Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370  had flown on that arc, it would have to pass through air defense networks in India and Pakistan, whose mutual long border is heavily militarized, as well as Afghanistan, where the United States and other NATO countries have operational air bases for more than a decade.

If hijacked, where did the airplane go? Did it land on firm terrain or crash into the deep Indian Ocean?

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Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – Was the Aircraft Hijacked?


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.Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

Theories such as hijacking, disintegration in midair, missile attack, and so on, are being expounded by pundits and amateurs for the plausible disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 that took off on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 00:41 MST from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 239 people, including 12 crew members, on a scheduled six-hour flight to Beijing. About two hours later, the aircraft was last seen on Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar at 02:40 MST. After that the aircraft ceased all communications, and the transponder signal was lost.

Was the Aircraft Hijacked?

On Saturday, March 15, 2014, a week after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters:

“Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off.”

The Prime Minister further said:

 “Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.”

I have reproduced below the full text of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s statement on the investigation into the missing Malaysia Airlines plane,  as provided by the Prime Minister’s office. I have used the two diagrams  from the very informative article published in the The New York Times titled “Search for Malaysian Jet Becomes Criminal Inquiry” authored by Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley.

Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia. (Source: .abc.net.au)
Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia. (Source: .abc.net.au)

Seven days ago Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared. We realize this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board. No words can describe the pain they must be going through. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them.

I have been appraised of the ongoing search operation round the clock. At the beginning of the operation, I ordered the search area to be broadened; I instructed the Malaysian authorities to share all relevant information freely and transparently with the wider investigation team; and I requested that our friends and allies join the operation. As of today, 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft are involved in the search. I wish to thank all the governments for their help at such a crucial time.

Since day one, the Malaysian authorities have worked hand-in-hand with our international partners – including neighboring countries, the aviation authorities and a multinational search force – many of whom have been here on the ground since Sunday.

We have shared information in real time with authorities who have the necessary experience to interpret the data. We have been working nonstop to assist the investigation. And we have put our national security second to the search for the missing plane.

It is widely understood that this has been a situation without precedent.

We have conducted search operations over land, in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean. At every stage, we acted on the basis of verified information, and we followed every credible lead. Sometimes these leads have led nowhere.

There has been intense speculation. We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world. But we have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated. And our primary motivation has always been to find the plane.

In the first phase of the search operation, we searched near MH370’s last known position, in the South China Sea. At the same time, it was brought to our attention by the Royal Malaysian Air Force that, based on their primary radar, an aircraft – the identity of which could not be confirmed – made a turn back. The primary radar data showed the aircraft proceeding on a flight path which took it to an area north of the Straits of Malacca.

Given this credible data, which was subsequently corroborated with the relevant international authorities, we expanded the area of search to include the Straits of Malacca and, later, to the Andaman Sea.

Early this morning I was briefed by the investigation team – which includes the F.A.A., N.T.S.B., the A.A.I.B., the Malaysian authorities and the acting minister of transport – on new information that sheds further light on what happened to MH370.

Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off.

The diagram published by New York Times citing Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (search areas); flightradar24.com (dotted flight path); Malaysia Airlines as sources.
The diagram published by New York Times citing Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (search areas); flightradar24.com (dotted flight path); Malaysia Airlines as sources.

From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed that an aircraft which was believed – but not confirmed – to be MH370 did indeed turn back. It then flew in a westerly direction back over Peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest. Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.

Today, based on raw satellite data that was obtained from the satellite data service provider, we can confirm that the aircraft shown in the primary radar data was flight MH370. After much forensic work and deliberation, the F.A.A., N.T.S.B., A.A.I.B. and the Malaysian authorities, working separately on the same data, concur.

According to the new data, the last confirmed communication between the plane and the satellite was at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time on Saturday 8th March. The investigations team is making further calculations which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after this last point of contact. This will help us to refine the search.

Due to the type of satellite data, we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with the satellite.

This map released by Malaysian officials shows two red lines representing the possible locations from which Flight 370 sent its last hourly transmission to a satellite at 8:11 a.m. on March 8, more than seven hours after it took off from Kuala Lumpur's airport, and when the plane would most likely have been running low on fuel. Credit Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
This map released by Malaysian officials shows two red lines representing the possible locations from which Flight 370 sent its last hourly transmission to a satellite at 8:11 a.m. on March 8, more than seven hours after it took off from Kuala Lumpur’s airport, and when the plane would most likely have been running low on fuel. Credit Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

However, based on this new data, the aviation authorities of Malaysia and their international counterparts have determined that the plane’s last communication with the satellite was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, or a southern corridor stretching approximately from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean. The investigation team is working to further refine the information.

In view of this latest development the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board. Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.

This new satellite information has a significant impact on the nature and scope of the search operation. We are ending our operations in the South China Sea and reassessing the redeployment of our assets. We are working with the relevant countries to request all information relevant to the search, including radar data.

As the two new corridors involve many countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been invited to a briefing on the new information today by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and the technical experts. I have also instructed the Foreign Ministry to provide a full briefing to foreign governments which had passengers on the plane. This morning, Malaysia Airlines has been informing the families of the passengers and crew of these new developments.

Clearly, the search for MH370 has entered a new phase. Over the last seven days, we have followed every lead and looked into every possibility. For the families and friends of those involved, we hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.

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Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – Did the Aircraft Disappear From Radar?


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.Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

On Saturday, March 8, 2014, the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) took off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 00:41 MST, with 239 people, including 12 crew members, on a scheduled six-hour flight to Beijing. About two hours later, the aircraft was last seen on Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar at 02:40 MST. After that the aircraft ceased all communications, and the transponder signal was lost just before tracking was passed off to the Ho Chi Minh Area Control Center in Vietnam. Airline authorities in Thailand and China informed their Malaysian counterparts that the aircraft had not entered their airspace.

From then on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been listed as missing. No one knows about its whereabouts. It has just vanished into thin air.

Theories such as hijacking, disintegration in midair, missile attack, and so on, are being expounded by pundits and amateurs for the plausible disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

On Thursday, March 13, 2014, a US official said during his brief on the search that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 sent signals to a satellite for four hours after the aircraft went missing. This was an indication that the missing aircraft was still flying for hundreds of miles or more after it was last contacted by ground controllers.

The Boeing Company offers a satellite service that can receive a data from an aircraft during its flight about its functioning and relay the information to the plane’s home base to help provide information before it lands on whether maintenance work or repairs are needed. Though Malaysia Airlines did not subscribe to that service, their aircraft still had the capability to connect with the satellite and was automatically sending pings to it to establish contact.

“It’s like when your cellphone is off, but it still sends out a little ‘I am here’ message to the cellphone network,” the official said. “That’s how sometimes they can triangulate your position even though you’re not calling because the phone every so often sends out a little bleep. That’s sort of what this thing was doing.”

However, there was no comment from Boeing.

Messages involving a different, more rudimentary data service also were received from the airliner for a short time after the plane’s transponder – a device used to identify the plane to radar – went silent, the official said.

A transponder is a radio transmitting device in the cockpit used to identify the aircraft to the ground radar with a four-digit identifying code known as the squawk code entered by the pilot for each flight. The transponder also helps air traffic controllers on the ground to ascertain the aircraft’s position, its altitude, speed, and direction.

There are codes for different situations: 7500 for a hijacking, 7600 for communications failure, etc.

A switch on the transponder can be moved to “ON” or “SBY” (standby) or “ALT” (altitude). Manually one can also pull the circuit breaker to turn off a transponder.

A transponder would be turned off during a normal flight if another aircraft gets closer while approaching an airport. The Air traffic controllers may then ask the pilots to switch off the transponders or to move the switch to SBY. At times the pilot might turn off the transponder if it sends faulty information. Even if the transponder is switched off the aircraft will still be visible on primary radar unless it gets below the radar’s visible range.

If the plane had disintegrated during flight or had suffered some other catastrophic failure, after the aircraft was last seen on Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar at 02:40, all signals – the pings to the satellite, the data messages and the transponder – would have stopped at the same time.

If the plane did not disintegrate during the flight and the transponders on the aircraft were disabled manually, the ground radar can still track the location of the aircraft using “passive radar systems” also known as “passive coherent location” and “passive covert radar.”

Passive radar systems

Conventional radar systems comprise an assembly of transmitter and receiver, sharing a common antenna to transmit and receive signals. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio waves or microwaves that bounce off any object in their path. The object echoes a tiny part of the wave’s energy to a dish or antenna that is usually located at the same site as the transmitter. The time taken for the pulse to travel to the object and back allows the distance of the object to be determined.

In a passive radar system, there is no dedicated transmitter. Instead, the receiver uses third-party transmitters in the environment, and measures the time difference of arrival between the signal coming directly from the transmitter and the signal arriving via reflection from the object. This allows the bistatic range of the object to be determined.

The term “bistatic range” refers to the basic measurement of distance calculated by a radar or sonar system with separated transmitter and receiver. The receiver measures separately the time for the arrival of the signal directly from the transmitter and the time for the arrival of the reflection from the target, and then measures the time difference between the two. This data defines an ellipse of constant bistatic range, called an iso-range contour, on which the target lies, with foci centred on the transmitter and receiver.

Illustration of bistatic range by Paul Howland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Illustration of bistatic range by Paul Howland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If the target is at range Rrx from the receiver and range Rtx from the transmitter, and the receiver and transmitter are a distance L apart, then the bistatic range is Rrx+RtxL. Motion of the target causes a rate of change of bistatic range, which results in bistatic Doppler shift.

Malaysia Airlines MH370 change of course (Source: fox6now.com)
Malaysia Airlines MH370 change of course (Source: fox6now.com)

On Wednesday, March 12, 2014, the Malaysian military acknowledged that it had recorded radar signals from the location where the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was last contacted by ground controllers, hypothetically indicating the aircraft might have changed its path from its northeastward course toward Beijing towards the west.

The Military radar detected an unidentified aircraft at several points, apparently headed west across the Malaysian peninsula and out into the Indian Ocean. The last detected point was hundreds of miles to the west of where search and rescue efforts were initially focused.

On Saturday when the aircraft went missing, the military took no immediate action to investigate the unidentified blips, whose path appeared to take the aircraft near the heavily populated island of Penang.

A senior US official told CNN that Malaysian authorities believe they have several “pings” from the airliner’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), transmitted to  the satellites in the four to five hours after the last transponder signal, suggesting the plane flew to the Indian Ocean.

The Military officials then realized the significance of blips on their radar.

If Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 crashed into the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean with depths of more than 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), the task faced by searchers would be indomitable like finding a needle in a haystack.

India joined the multi-national search operations and has stepped up its search deploying three aircraft and three ships in the region around Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

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Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 – Did the Aircraft Crash into the Sea?


. Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

. .

For the past six days the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) has not yielded any clue to its whereabouts and remains a puzzle. The pilot did not send any distress signal and his last transmitted message was a pleasantry to Malaysian air traffic controllers, “All right, good night” that did not give any indication that anything was wrong on board.

Location last seen on radar screens.
Location last seen on radar screens.

So far, there have been only wild-goose chase and fruitless leads in the search for Flight MH370. However, the search now continues across a total area of around 35,800 sq. miles (92,600 sq. km) on many fronts – South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Strait of Malacca, and even Andman Sea. India joined the multi-national search operations and has stepped up its search deploying three aircraft and three ships in the region around Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

On the night of March 12, 2014, China’s State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) published three satellite images of what appear to be three floating objects in the sea. The three objects are 13m × 18m, 14m × 19m, and 24m × 22m respectively. The missing Boeing 777-200ER jet aircraft had a wingspan of 60.9 meters and a length of 63.7 meters. These images were captured by a Chinese satellite on the day after the disappearance of the aircraft. These satellite images have not been verified for their authenticity.

An American military official said that if the Chinese satellite had seen the objects, then U.S. satellites too would have seen them, but did not.

The website news.com.au has quoted Tom Haueter, former aviation director of the US National Transportation Safety Board:

“Any aircraft structure that size would sink. It wouldn’t float like this… I don’t believe it’s the plane. We don’t have enough data to say what happened.”

Location of aircraft last seen on radar screen  and where the Chinese Satellite found three floating objects in the sea.
Location of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 last seen on radar screen and where the Chinese Satellite found three floating objects in the sea.

SASTIND gave coordinates of 6.7°N 105.63E which would place it in the sea about 143 miles (230 km) from where the aircraft was last seen on Malaysian Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar at 6.92°N 103.58°E before it disappeared. This was immediately considered the first major lead in the search for the missing aircraft. However, when Malaysian and Vietnamese aviation authorities flew over the area where the images showed the debris they did not find any trace of the missing aircraft.

Bob Woodruff, an ABC News correspondent, tweeted with a link to an image of an alleged email sent by Michael Jerome McKay, an oil rig worker working off the south coast of Vietnam to his employer stating he saw the crash:

Oil rig worker claims in employer confirmed letter-he saw the plane go down. Vietnamese say they found nothing  @ABCpic.twitter.com/k8y02se9aZ

— Bob Woodruff (@BobWoodruff) March 12, 2014

Image of email from Mike McKay, an oil rig worker, obtained by ABC’s Bob Woodruff (Source: globalsnews.ca)
Image of email from Mike McKay, an oil rig worker, obtained by ABC’s Bob Woodruff (Source: globalsnews.ca)

Mike McKay —–@—–
To: —–@—–

Gentlemen,

I believe I saw the Malaysian Airlines plane come down. The timing is right. I tried to contact the Malaysian and Vietnam officials several days ago. But I do not know if the message has been received.

I am on the oil-rig “Songa Mercur” off Vung Tau

The surface location of the observation is:
Lat 08°22’30.23″ N
Long. 108°47’22.26″ E

I observed (the plane?) burning at high altitude and on a compass bearing of 265° to 275° from our surface location.
It Is very difficult to Judge the distance but I’d say 50-70 km along the compass bearing 260° – 275°.

While I observed the burning (plane) it appeared to be in ONE piece.

The surface sea current at our location is. 2.0-2.3 knots in a direction of 225°-230°. The wind direction has been NE-ENE averaging 15-20 knots.

From when I first saw the burning (plane) until the flames went out (still at high altitude) was 10-15 seconds. There was no lateral movement, so it was either coming toward our location, stationary (falling) or going away from our location.

The general position of the observation was perpendicular / south-west of the normal flight paths (we see the Con-trails every day) and at a lower altitude than the normal flight paths. Or on the compass bearing 265°-275° intersecting the normal flight paths and at normal altitude but further away.

Good luck

Michael Jerome McKay

Location of aircraft last seen on radar screen  and alleged eye witness location of crash
Location of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 last seen on radar screen and alleged eye witness location of crash.

The distance from where the aircraft was last seen on Malaysian Air Traffic Control (ATC) radar at 6.92°N 103.58°E before it disappeared on Saturday, March 8, 2014, and  the coordinate  08°22’30.23″N  108°47’22.26″E as location of the so-called crash given by the oil rig worker, works out to 370 miles (600 km).

In a separate tweet, Woodruff warned that the oil rig worker’s claims are not confirmed and in fact could be a hoax:

The letter from oil rig worker is filled w/details yet could be a hoax. Vietnamese officials are investigating @ABC pic.twitter.com/6MSuNHZedU

— Bob Woodruff (@BobWoodruff) March 12, 2014

Malaysian authorities have acknowledged that they are not sure of the direction the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was following when it disappeared from their ATC radar screens. The Associated Press reported:

Indonesian air force Col. Umar Fathur said the country had received official information from Malaysian authorities that the plane was above the South China Sea, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kota Bharu, Malaysia, when it turned back toward the strait and then disappeared. That would place its last confirmed position closer to Malaysia than has previously been publicly disclosed.

Confusion over whether the plane had been spotted flying west has prompted speculation that different arms of the government have different opinions about where the plane is most likely to be, or even that authorities are holding back information.

Vietnam has scaled down its efforts to locate the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 because it waited for Malaysia to clarify the new direction the multi-national search group should follow from now onwards.

Vietnam’s deputy minister of transport Pham Quy Tieu said:

“We informed Malaysia on the day we lost contact with the flight that we noticed the flight turned back west but Malaysia did not respond.”

Aviation authorities in Malaysia said that so far no details on radar data revealed a possible “turn-back” of the aircraft. However, Malaysia’s air force reiterated on Wednesday that it had not ruled out the possibility of the Boeing 777 changing courses.

A statement issued by Air Force chief General Rodzali Daud said:

“For the time being, it would not be appropriate… to issue any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high amount of certainty and verification is achieved.”

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