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And why "distrusted"?

Widely reported, if somewhat distrusted, accounts by figures like the famous traveler from Venice, Marco Polo, of the willingness of people in China to trade with Europeans and of the immensity of the wealth to be gained by such contact made the idea irresistible.

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Your question is not easy to answer in a very simple manner as the sentence involves an absolute construction (clause) which you need to study intensively to understand such a structure. You can visit the link or Google "participle construction/clause" to find helpful links.

The object that people reported and distrusted is accounts (by a person like Marco Polo) as the subject of the main clause is accounts. You can rephrase the sentence as follows:

As accounts (by figures like the famous traveler from Venice, Marco Polo, of the willingness of people in China to trade with Europeans and of the immensity of the wealth to be gained by such contact) were widely reported, even though they (accounts) were somewhat distrusted, they (accounts) made the idea irresistible.

You will notice that the conjunction as and both subjects and the verb be (two were's) are omitted in the sentence as the absolute construction can be a non-finite clause.

The reason "distrusted" is used is that the omitted subject of the clause headed by "if" is accounts and the clause is in the passive voice.

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The writer is putting together two somewhat different ideas at the same time:

accounts by ... Marco Polo were widely reported

accounts by ... Marco Polo were somewhat distrusted

When the sentence is written like this, you can see that distrusted is acting as a passive participle, hence the -ed at the end.

The first idea- that the accounts were widely reported- is easily verifiable by consulting documents from the time. The second idea- that the accounts were somewhat distrusted- is possibly less well documented, and may be the opinion of the writer.

These two ideas are combined using if. The intended meaning is similar to but, with the suggestion that the information presented may be unreliable.

accounts by ... Marco Polo were widely reported, if somewhat distrusted.

accounts by ... Marco Polo were widely reported but possibly somewhat distrusted.

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