Marco Polo – An Early Vision of Global World

Written on December 21, 2007 by Santiago Iñiguez in Philosophy


Marco_polo Marco Polo (1254-1324):

The Travels

The book referenced was originally entitled "Description of the world" and represents probably one of the first narrations of the Far East and other world regions through Western Civilization eyes: the author claims in the prologue that he is the man that has traveled more extensively since Creation. It is particularly recommendable at times when literature on Asian culture and business is experiencing a renaissance given the increasing weight of China and India in the world’s economy.

According to tradition, the book was dictated by Marco Polo, a 13th century Venetian trader and explorer, to his fellow prisoner Rustichello de Pisa, after been incarcerated together after a battle between Genoa and Venice. “Prisons favor literature, remember Verlaine and Cervantes” once said J.L. Borges.

The book is interesting from a business perspective at least on three accounts. First, it shows how business promotes geographical exploration and knowledge of foreign cultures. The protagonists, both Marco Polo, his father and his uncle, “were men of good family, remarkable for their wisdom and foresight. After taking things over, they decided that they would go across the Black sea in the hope of a profitable venture” as we can read in the first pages. Indeed, they went far. From Crimea they moved to modern day Uzbekistan and further to Cathay (today’s China) where they served the Kublai Khan, King of the Mongols. The book continues to describe Polo’s way back to Europe through India, the Arabian Sea and the Tartar region. In every place they visited, business played a key role and we are told about multiple anecdotes evidencing the importance of trade in their relations with natives.

Map of Transasia Trade Routes

Second, diplomatic skills are core to cross-cultural management, essential for today’s global managers as they were to Marco Polo in his international venture. In fact, he was asked by Kublai Khan to be ambassador of his empire to the Pope and the kings of France and Spain, with the mission of bringing western educators to his country, something he could not fulfill due to the change in the Holy See.

Third, the book illustrates that what people imagine is not less real than what they call reality. We are told about the wall erected by Alexander to stop the tartars, a region where shadows appear and disappear, a tower filled with treasures where a king starves, a dessert where demons adopt voices and features of friends to disorientate travelers, or Adam’s tomb in a mountain’s summit, among an innumerable sequence of incredible episodes. Many contemporaries did not believe Marco Polo and questioned whether his travels were real or fictitious. However, would they have believed that some centuries after it would be possible to fly to Cathay in artificial birds designed by humans?


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