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Shocking truths of Asian culture...that inspired 700 years of debate!
on May 24, 2009
"Few texts have aroused more controversy than the book of Marco Polo," notes the editor with good reason: the Asian tales that Marco Polo brought back to Renaissance Europe were absolutely unbelievable...except for the fact that most of them turn out to be provably true, especially in the context of this carefully crafted new edition.
Like many "Great Works" this is a famous title that most people (myself included) have heard of throughout their lives...but have never read. One lazy Sunday I drifted into watching a Marco Polo mini-series, which I thought was a rather silly, romanticized, sensationalized Hollywood treatment. It annoyed me, but I watched it to the end...and then ran to Amazon to find a book to get the facts.
Amazing news...the "sensationalized" mini-series barely scratched the surface of the astounding things Marco Polo reports in his actual book!
This new edition makes his fantastic voyage accessible, substantiating his discoveries with considerable new analysis. This is largely due to the contributions of Sino-linguist Editor, Peter Harris, whose unique ability to consult original Chinese texts brings a new level of understanding to this work (much as he does in his new translation of the 13th century work A Record of Cambodia: The Land and Its People, which relates to my field of study).
Back to the story itself, Polo was a merchant with the heart of an anthropologist. Accounts of terrain, natural resources, buildings and trade goods abound (and can be quite dry) but these are punctuated by his unusual observations of ethnicities, religions, social customs and royal intrigues.
Indeed, Marco Polo's home was less civilized than the society he witnessed in China, to the point that he often had no point of comparison. Yet, he conscientiously describes city planning, landscaping, shopping malls, hospitals, public welfare systems with job retraining, organized law enforcement, paper money, military technology and systems of management, homes with central coal heat, multi-lingual government agencies, fire departments, long distance messenger networks, paved roads, public and private parks, and much more.
And, perhaps explaining the book's centuries of commercial success, there are plenty of tales of cannibalism, polygamy, polyandry, cults of assassins, sexual behavior, dowry customs, human sacrifice, executions, funerary customs, prostitution, gambling, sport, magic ritual, strange beasts (rhinoceroses, elephants, leopards, crocodiles, serpents, the mythical Roc bird), etc.
One comes away from this book in awe of the high civilization that existed in China, and with great respect for this brave man who did an admirable job of capturing the infinite diversity of 13th century Asian life.
Read this account and share the adventures of his amazing journey!