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    The Marco Polo Bridge, Beijing's oldest bridge, became world famous because it was a Japanese attack on the bridge which started the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. The bridge was built in 1189 by the Jin Dynasty Shizong Emperor. Damaged by floods it was restored in 1444 and 1698. It has eleven arches and spans over a dried up Yongding River in south-west Beijing. The river was initially called Wuding River meaning Instability River because of its surging irregular water flow.

    It was called Marco Polo Bridge in the West because Marco Polo (1254-1324) described it in his travel book, "The Travels of Marco Polo". This book was apparently dictated by Marco Polo and penned by a fellow prisoner in Genoa called Rusticello of Pisa, purportedly the author of a romantic tale of King Arthur. The book fascinated Europe at that time with tales of the grandeur of Chinese culture and technology, but it was then so unbelievable that the book was called Il Milione, The Million Lies and Marco Polo received the nickname Marco Millione, i.e. Marco Polo of a million lies.

    The bridge was originally called Guangli Bridge, but Beijing locals called the bridge unceremoniously as Lugou Qiao or Reed Ditch Bridge. (Lu or reed can also mean black in old Beijing dialect, so the Yongding River was originally called Heishui or Black Water River.) In ancient times it was one of the Eight Great Sights of Yanjing (ancient Beijing) for people would go early in the pre-dawn morning to see the reflection of the moon in the river water.

    Whether Marco Polo did in fact reach Beijing and Eastern China is now debatable because his name as Governor of Yangzhou was not mentioned in the Yuan Dynasty archives. Also, he did not mention the Great Wall, the bounded lotus or lily feet of Chinese women and the tea houses in Yangzhou and Hangzhou. Frances Wood formerly of the British Museum wrote a book "Did Marco Polo go to China?" She contended that it was possible that Marco Polo did go on the Silk Road but not all the way to China because many of his descriptions could have been taken from Arabic or Persian books. Nevertheless, Chinese historians still maintain he could have been in China proper.