ZHANG Longxi (City University of Hong Kong), Marco Polo, Chinese Cultural Identity, and an Alternative Model of East-West Encounter, English/23 Pages, March 2004.


Long before the nineteenth-century expansion of European colonialism, Marco Polo offered an account of China and the East from a perspective very different from that of European explorers several centuries later, and his narration was motivated by the desire to know and understand, not to conquer and colonize. Thus his book offers an alternative model of East-West encounter to European colonialism. Because Marco Polo associated himself mostly with the Mongolian nobility and other foreigners at the court of Kublai Khan, however, he did not come to know the majority Han Chinese and their culture. Had he known the Chinese cultural tradition, he might have found it compatible with his desire to integrate into a different culture and society, because in the Chinese tradition, there are two contradictory views of the idea of Chineseness. One defines the concept of identity in relation to kinship and ethnicity, whereas the other understands Chineseness as culturally defined and potentially all-embracing. It is this concept of a cultural identity that may go beyond ethnocentrism and, like Marco's book, offer the possibility of an alternative model of East-West encounter for better understanding between different cultures and traditions.