Life: 1562 AD - 1607 AD, Priest in the Jesuit Order on assignment in the East.
Bento de Góis was born in the year 1562 AD at Vila Franca do Campo on the Azores Islands, which were a part of Portugal.
He died on the 11Th of April 1607 AD in Suzhou, today generally known as Jiuquan (the Suzhou District of Jiuquan Prefecture) in the Hexi Corridor of Gansu Province in China. During his lifetime Bento De Gois was first a layman, who -eager to travel- enlisted soldier in the Portugese Army, and was sent to Goa in India. After arriving in Goa however, he joined the Society of Jesus as a lay brother (in 1584 AD), offering himself to work for the Mughal Mission, which was the Jesuit Embassy to the Indian Court. As such, in 1595 AD, when For the third time Emperor Akbar had requested that Jesuits be sent to his court, Bento De Gois accompanied Jesuit High Priests Jerome Xavier and Manuel Pinheiro to Lahore and the Mughal Khan's Capital at Agra. Gois returned to Goa in 1601 AD, after which he was given a new task.
In 1602 AD, roughly 100 years after the first portuguese ships had reached China (Cathay) by following the sea-routes charted in the 6 Missions under command of Zheng He, Jesuit Missionary Bento De Gois set out from Goa in India on a top secret mission with the aim of finding out whether or not the Nation named Cathay by Marco Polo is the same nation as China, which by then has been reached by Spanish and Portuguese Ships by overseas route and had an established Jesuit Mission under leadership of Father Matteo Ricci.
According to the Jesuit Mission in China that had reached Beijing in 1602 AD, the name Cathay was merely an older name for China, which had since fallen to disuse. The Jesuits in India and Rome however, weren't at all sure that Matteo Ricci and his party were right in their opinion.
A secondary reason for the Mission, explaining much of its secrecy, is the intention of contacting the mythical Christian Monks of the Far East, as seem to reported in the writings of Marco Polo the Venetian.
Retracing part of the route followed by Marco Polo in the 13Th Century, Benito de Gois set out from Goa to Agra in India, after which he traveled on to the City of Lahore in current day Pakistan.
At Lahore the Mission halted for the first time, allowing Bento de Gois to search for a Caravan that would take him in the correct direction and disguise himself as a Muslim Tradesman, so that he could travel unnoticed.
From Lahore the journey continued to Peshawar more to the North in Pakistan and onwards over the Hindu Kush and through dangerous regions awash with raiders and robbers to current day Kabul in Afghanistan. On the road, eventhough traveling in a Caravan with armed escort, the Jesuit almost lost his live when he was cut off from the main caravan by a group of robbers. Only managing to escape by throwing his bejewelled headwear to the ground and storming off on horseback, Bento De Gois than rejoined the Caravan to make it safely to Kabul.
A Satellite image of China and East-Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign ofthe Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features
of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall on the Great Wall of China.
After a grueling 3 year long overland journey, De Gois reached the far western end of the Great Wall of China. His arrival had proved that the land of Cathay described by Marco Polo did in fact exist. It was also proven that this was the same Nation already reached by sea-born
Map Trade Routes in Asia in the 13Th Century
A Schematic Map of the Eurasian Trade Routes existing in the 13Th Century. Clearly marked in Red Accent on the Map are the cities of the network of land-bound trading routes through Central Asia known as the Silk Road (the path of Marco Polo and others). Marked in Blue Accent are the Main Ports and Harbors of the Maritime Trade Routes that operated between the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and Coastal Cities, the Straights of Malacca, the South-China Sea's and beyond. As shown, Maritime Trade to China mainly entered through Southern Harbors, then was distributed internally by use of the Grand Canal, the Yangste River and the Yellow River.
Map includes the Route traveled by Marco Polo, William of Rubruck and John of Pian de Carpine, the three famed European Travelers of the Time.
Locations of Main Trading Ports and Cities on Trade Routes of the Time are marked.
Once There, Bento De Gois found himself in Regions through which Marco Polo had traveled. The journey from Lahore to Kabul alone had taken around 6 months, however China lay many more miles to the East on the other side of seemingly impassable Mountains.
From the trading city of Kabul Bento de Gois passed over the high passes of the Tian Shan Mountains on his way to Kashgar (Kashi), today the westernmost City in China. Underway, the cold was so terrible that 5 of the 7 horses used by the Mission froze to death or suffocated in the thin air on the passes, however at the end of their grueling journey he finally reached the Market Town of Kashgar, famous along the Silk Road.
During the journey of Marco Polo, Kashgar was part of the Continent wide Mongol Empire established under Genghis Khan (Life: 1162 AD - 1227 AD) of which the Cathay Khanate (China) had been an integral part. Kashgar at the Time of De Gois visit however had fallen out of Chinese Control and was not part of Chinese Territory, thus the mission had to move further West to reach Chinese Civilization.
From Kashgar Bento de Gois headed with the trade Caravan to Yarkant, where he could finally rest and regain his strength after the ordeals he had just survived.
In fact, at Yarkand the Mission waited for a quite while before the arrival of a another large Trade Caravan, which he had heard was to travel further Eastward and into Cathay.
Although Yarkant was a resting place, the entire mission was nearly finished when -during his stay in the City- the locals finally saw through De Gois disguise as a Muslim Trader and thus exposed the true nature of the Mission. Exposed as a 'Big Nose' westerner, a mob descended on the shaken missionary. He was about to be lynched when, by sheer luck the local Ruler passed by to witness the upheaval and intervene. Taken into the protection of this Highly Positioned person, De Gois was saved from being butchered on the spot and in fact, was given the opportunity to travel around. Among things he had a sight-seeing tour of the Jade Mines at Khotan, which were
famous along the Silk Road, but had never be seen by westerners.
By joining the Caravan from Yarkand to Beijing De Gois had chosen to travel along the Northern Route around the Taklamakan Desert which led him through Aksu to Turpan, and Hami. In Hami Bento de Gois stayed long enough to be able to meet and entertain the local King, who had turned out to be a 12 year old boy. During the friendly exchanges with the King, Bento De Gois presented him with some blocks of sugar, common in India but rare in these far flung regions. Therafter, a ceremonial dance was held in order to welcome the visitor from afar (who had brought sugar candy) and the missionary danced to entertain his hosts. It was quite an eventful visit, after which the journey could continue eastward to the re-unification of the Northern and Southern Routes at the Oasis Town of Shazhou (Dunhuang). From Dunhuang it was only a short desert journey to the missions' primary destination, the Great Wall of China at JiaYuGuan. It was however another dangerous road. In this section, wedged between the extends of the gargantuan Gobi desert to the East and the sandy and barren Taklamakan Desert to the West, the road was littered with the bleached bones of those who had been caught by seasonal dust storms, and/or succumbed to the rigors of the path and the thirst and heat of the blistering daytimes. Shifting Sands made navigation treacherous to the inexperienced and Bands of marauding Mongols on Horse-back could show up at any time, day or night. According to De Gois' notes from the journey at the time it was only possible to traverse this region living in the utmost fear of attack, under the cover of night and while maintaining absolute silence.
View of the Great Wall of China stretching across the Desert Floor of the JiaYu Pass from Taolai River Gorge to the Fortress of JiaYuGuan (Photo November 2007 AD).
Traders and a Christian Mission including the now famous Matteo Ricci, which had traveled to Macau and knew it as China.
Having traveled the treacherous path of the Silk Road to the Chinese Western Border De Gois was unable to travel further on to his secondary goal, the Imperial Court at Beijing.
Just some miles beyond the Magnificent Westernmost Gate under Heaven, the Gate of Sorrows at the Jiayuguan Fortess, the Jesuit was struck by a third and final Misfortune. At Jiuquan/Suzhou, the administrative center of this far western district, De Gois inquired rather publicly whether the Nation he had just arrived in was China, Cathay or both. In so doing, he encountered a Trading Mission which had come from Beijing and was traveling West. De Gois got the answers he was searching
for from this trading party, and, among things, learned that one of the Beijing Traders was personally befriended with Father Matteo Ricci, who had taken up residence in the Imperial Capital in 1601 AD and was there working for the Court.
The entire story however exposed De Gois as a Jesuit, a Christian and a Western Traveler. His fellow travelers in the trading caravan would not respond kindly to this. After being heckled and ridiculed the fake marchant was robbed and stripped of most of his belongings. Having been thus humiliated, not much therafter he found himself left stuck in Suzhou (now Jiuquan) as no one would take him further along.
Although De Gois managed to sent a notice of his dire situation by use of a Beijing Trader as messenger to the Jesuit Mission now active in far Southern China and the leading Jesuit Matteo Ricci in Peking, communications were to say the least slow. The message arrived after one whole year.
Although the Jesuits in Beijing received his message and swiftly responded by dispatching a 1 servant rescue party to Benito De Gois, when the servant sent found De Góis at Jiuquan the tough old Jesuit traveler was already at the point of death. Although this is uncertain he had likely been poisened by local enemies for his being a Christian in Muslim lands. Bento De Gois expired on April 11Th of 1607 AD at Jiuquan, far away from any Christian Monks, Rome or the Peking Court.
No Grave, Tomb or Memorial to the Brave Jesuit can be found in Jiuquan today.
Bento De Gois did leave his daily reports as a testimony to his historic achievement of solving the Cathay Question and reaching China. Among things his writings on Jiuquan reveal that at the time the city was visited by many foreign traders from the West. It was the place where they were gathered by local authorities in order to identify them and their purpose of travel, and determine their ultimate fate within China.
De Gois describes that the City of Suzhou was divided into two parts, one half of the City for the Han Chinese Citizens, the other half the place of home of Muslim Residents , the Hui who counted those who immigrated from the West and families derived from those who had come to China and stayed to marry with Chinese Women. At night the Muslims kept away from the Chinese and vice versa.
The hordes of Silk Road travelers were herded into the Muslim Section of Town.
According to official Chinese Records, the Muslim Section was known as Dongguan, which is still a part of Jiuquan today and is the location of its only ancient landmark, the Bell & Drum Tower.
Sound Bonus: Marco Polo- "L'Addio - Gli Affeti", by Rondo Venetiano.
Interestingly Bento De Gois writes in his diaries on how many of the Travelers into China boast of being official emmisaries or are otherwise deceitful. It was exactly the opposite of his own crime. Bento De Gois could consider himself a scout and had concealed his identity until reaching the Gates of the Great Wall of China.
He further describes that official emmisaries to the Imperial Court must come to the border bearing Jade Gifts to present to the Emperor. Although the investment required was considerable, being recognized as a 'connected man', an emmisary with connections to the Imperial Court would reap many benifits, and thus it was a popular claim to try and make.