Culture Bias in the Travels Essay

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If it isn't demons, idols, and black magic, it's sex -- the most repressed impulse in the Western-Christian tradition.

During and after his time in the court of Kubla Khan, one notices an increased tone of rationality in the narrative. Less exoticized details of the life of people in the Orient begin to emerge, such as food and clothing habit, but the earlier sensationalism is not lost entirely -- perhaps cannot be, as it is such an engrained part of the Western perspective when viewing the sights of Asia. He travels to a region he identifies as "Bengala," which according to Latham is likely Bengal but could possibly be Pegu, which was in the process of being conquered during the time of the Great Khan's court (Latham, 189). Though this passage also contains a brief and simple message about the main sources of sustenance for the people in this region, it begins with the more familiar fantastical elements the readers were promised in the prologue and have come to expect from the rest of the work: "The people are grossly idolatrous. The province contains many eunuchs and supplies them to the nobles and lords of the surrounding territories. The oxen here are as high as elephants, though not so stout" (the Travels, 189). First, though the people of the Kashmir are the originators and biggest innovators of idol worship, these people are "grossly idolatrous" -- they're not just out there, the reader is told, they're way out there. Also, though eunuchs were not unheard of the idea that there is a province that exports them seems not only exotic, but a little far-fetched. What clinches the deal, however, and assures the modern reader that there is more sensationalism than truth at work in this passage, is the author's assertion that the oxen are as big as elephants (though not as stout, mind you). The very idea that the author of the Travels would include this detail -- let alone expect people to believe it -- belies the underlying dominant Westernized perspective of the entire text of the Travels and its view of the Middle and Far East.

The Western-Christian view of the pagans of the Orient was incredibly exoticized; every difference was seen as a strangeness, an feature easy to exaggerate in print.
The author's main drive in writing this book was not an accurate historical or cultural record, but the selling of books. The already biased perspective and the drive to make money combined to result in a highly sensationalized account of Marco Polo's travels and the people he encountered along the way. This Western-Christian ethnocentrism is not limited to Marco Polo, however, in fact far from it. He -- or whoever the author of the Travels of Marco Polo was -- would not have had a readership for this book had the perspective from which it was written not been shared by the vast majority of Europeans at the time. It is a problem that social scientists, reporters, businessmen, and many others still face today. Objectivity is hard to achieve -- impossible according to many theorists. Still, the author of the Travels did not even attempt to remain accurate. He views the pagan tribes by looking down his nose at them, and though he marvels at some of the feats they are able to accomplish and the way they live, it is as if he is viewing them in a side show. Or rather, he is the host of the show, and is dutifully describing the strange and gruesome of each of the tents' charges. This view of the Orient could hardly be considered fair, though for centuries it is what persisted.

Works Cited

Polo, Marco (attributed). The Travels of….....

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