Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Ancient Chinese Guide to Ancient Rome

Some time ago, a good friend gave me a charming little book: Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World: the Roman Empire The conceit is that it is a travel guide for the visitor to Ancient Rome, advising on everything from "how to get there" to "entertainment on a budget".

It turns out that back in the fourth century a true outsider's guide to the Roman Empire was in fact written, by an ancient Chinese writer. Among the useful things it tells you is even a bit about the entertainment on offer:
This country (the Roman Empire) has more than four hundred smaller cities and towns. It extends several thousand li in all directions. The king has his capital (that is, the city of Rome) close to the mouth of a river (the Tiber). The outer walls of the city are made of stone.

This region has pine trees, cypress, sophora, catalpa, bamboo, reeds, poplars, willows, parasol trees, and all sorts of plants. The people cultivate the five grains [traditionally: rice, glutinous and non-glutinous millet, wheat and beans], and they raise horses, mules, donkeys, camels and silkworms. (They have) a tradition of amazing conjuring. They can produce fire from their mouths, bind and then free themselves, and juggle twelve balls with extraordinary skill.

The ruler of this country is not permanent. When disasters result from unusual phenomena, they unceremoniously replace him, installing a virtuous man as king, and release the old king, who does not dare show resentment.

The common people are tall and virtuous like the Chinese, but wear hu (‘Western’) clothes. They say they originally came from China, but left it.

They have always wanted to communicate with China but, Anxi (Parthia), jealous of their profits, would not allow them to pass (through to China).

The common people can write in hu (‘Western’) script. They have multi-storeyed public buildings and private; (they fly) flags, beat drums, (and travel in) small carriages with white roofs, and have a postal service with relay sheds and postal stations, like in the Middle Kingdom (China).

I'm pretty impressed by the ability to juggle twelve balls and produce fire from their mouths, but even more so with the claim that deposed rulers did not dare show resentment. You don't find that just anywhere. The whole thing makes fascinating reading.


Anonymous said...

How could you fail to mention the origin of cotton?

"They have fine brocaded cloth that is said to be made from the down of ‘water-sheep’. It is called Haixi (‘Egyptian’) cloth."

Banshee said...

I think the "leaders" thing was talking about the Senate elections.