c. 860 | China

License and Registration

Traveling in medieval China.

If a man would travel from one place to another, he must take two passes with him: the one from the governor; the other from the eunuch or lieutenant.

The governor’s pass permits him to set out on his journey, and takes notice of the name of the traveler, and of those also of his company, the age and family of the one and the other. For everybody in China, whether a native or an Arab, or any other foreigner, is obliged to declare all he knows of himself, nor can he possibly be excused from doing so. The eunuch’s or lieutenant’s pass specifies the quantities of money or goods which the traveler and those with him take along with them. And this is done for the information of the frontier places where these two passes are examined; for whenever a traveler arrives at any of them, it is registered: That such a one, the son of such a one, of such a family, passed through this place on such a day, in such a month, in such a year, and in such company. And by this means they prevent anyone from carrying off the money or effects of other persons, or their being lost; so that if anything has been carried off unjustly, or the traveler dies on the road, they immediately know what has become of the things, and they are either restored to the claimant, or to the heirs.

About This Text

Sulayman al-Tajir, from Ancient Accounts of India and China. This book, first published in English in 1733, contains accounts of two Arab merchants’ trips to the aforementioned regions in the mid-ninth century; the other is attributed to Hasan ibn Yazid Abu Zayd al-Sirafi. They are the earliest known Muslim reports of trade with China. Among other observations contained in the work is: “The Chinese are dressed in silk both the winter and summer; and this kind of dress is common to the prince, the soldier, and to every other person, though of the lowest degree.”