Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Medieval Chinese Hospitality

Marco Polo mentions two radically different customs of hospitality in the China of the thirteenth century. In a province in the far west, a stranger was treated to excessive hospitality:

"A man does not think it an outrage if a stranger or some other man makes free with his wife or daughter or sister or any woman he may have in his house. But it is taken as a favour when anyone lies with them. For they say that by this act their gods and idols are propitiated, so as to enrich them with temporal blessings in great abundance. And for that reason they deal with their wives in the following open-handed fashion. You must know that when a man of this country sees that a stranger is coming to his house to lodge, he immediately walks out, telling his wife to let the stranger have his will without reservation. Then he goes his way to his fields or vineyards and does not return so long as the stranger remains in his house. And I assure you that he often stays three days and lies in bed with this wittol's wife."

In the south of China, a stranger was treated much differently:

"If it happened that a gentleman of quality, with a fine figure, or a 'good shadow', came to lodge in the house of a native of this province, they would murder him in the night, by poison or other means, so that he died. You must not suppose that they did this in order to rob him; they did it rather because they believed his 'good shadow' and the good grace with which he was blessed and his intelligence and soul would remain in the house."

I suppose that both of these medieval Chinese customs have died out during the past seven centuries. All the same, if I ever visit China, I think that I'll stay in a hotel.

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