Marco Polo, perhaps the best know long distance traveler, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo, began the surge of long distance trade and travel. The Venetian family was among the first European merchants to visit China. They met the great Khubilai Khan, who took a special liking to Marco. Marco, a marvelous conversationalist and storyteller, was allowed by the khan to pursue his mercantile interests in China and also sent him on numerous diplomatic missions. In 1288, after 17 years in China, the Polo's returned home to Venice. By accident, Marcos travels were preserved in history. His native Venice and their rival Genoa were involved in conflict, and Marco was made a prisoner of war. Marco kept his fellow prisoners occupied by reciting his tales of his travels. One of the prisoners was a writer, and compiled the stories into a large volume that became very popular throughout Europe. His stories of textiles, spices, gems and other goods he observed during his travels excited other European merchants, who were eager to partake in the trade networks between Europe and Asia. Soon, hundreds of European merchants set on the journey to Asia. The Polo's travels had aided the increase of European participation in the great eastern hemisphere. .
Although great expansion occurred after the Polo's initial contact with Asia, disease was a horrid after effect of Europe's expansion. As Eurasian peoples traveled great distances exchanging goods and technologies, they also unwittingly spread disease pathogens. During the fourteenth century, bubonic plague erupted in epidemics that ravished societies in Asia, Europe, and north Africa. During the 1340's merchants and travelers spread the disease to places west of China. By the 1350's epidemics broke out so vast, that in parts of China 66% of the population was carried away. The worst case reported was in Hebei; the northern Chinese province lost 90 percent of its population.